Why Tom Pidcock is a mystery before UCI World Championships assault

Pidcock will be a key medal hope for Great Britain this week when he takes to the mountain bike course in Glentress Forest for the short-track and cross-country Olympic races

Imogen Ainsworth
Thursday 10 August 2023 07:14 BST
<p>Tom Pidcock during the 2022 European Championships in Munich</p>

Tom Pidcock during the 2022 European Championships in Munich

A skilled bike handler and cycling triple-threat, Tom Pidcock has an impressive palmarès which spans the road, cyclo-cross, and mountain bike disciplines.

The Yorkshireman won an Olympic gold medal at Tokyo 2020 in mountain biking and is the current European champion, was crowned cyclo-cross world champion in January 2022 and held the national champion title in both the 2018/19 and 2019/20 seasons, and has road race victories including stage 12 of the 2022 Tour de France, and one-day races Strade Bianche and Brabantse Pijl.

As a result of the new Tour de France: Unchained documentary, many new cycling fans will have the vivid vision from episode five of Pidcock confidently descending Col du Galibier on stage 12 of last year’s Tour de France ingrained in their memory, as will many long-standing fans of the sport who watched the stage unfold last summer.

Now, a year out from Paris 2024, where Pidcock will have an opportunity to defend his Olympic mountain bike title, he will go in search of two revered rainbow jerseys on British soil at the World Championships this week.

While the focus on the World Championships is of paramount importance at this stage in the calendar, any results achieved in Scotland could also provide an indication of the British rider’s form going into the Olympics next year.

He was not part of the road race team at the World Championships but will be a key medal hope for Great Britain when he takes to the mountain bike course in Glentress Forest for the short-track (XCC) and cross-country Olympic (XCO) races.

The start of the 2023 road season saw him triumph through the steep Tuscan streets at Strade Bianche where he became the first man from Yorkshire to win the Spring Classic. He went on to finish third at Amstel Gold before he took second place at Liège–Bastogne–Liège to round off a memorable few weeks.

His presence at this year’s Tour de France was less noticeable than his debut the previous year, with his best finishes being fourth place on stage two and fifth on stage 13. Apart from these and a 10th-place finish on stage 19, he finished outside of the top 10 on all 18 remaining stages.

Tom Pidcock rides on the front of a breakaway during the Tour de France

It would be churlish to judge his mountain bike form going into the World Championships on his recent road results from the past few weeks, but a lack of opportunities to see him compete on a mountain bike in the build-up to the competition has provided a somewhat veiled outlook on what is to be expected from the current XCO European champion.

Pidcock emphatically started his mountain bike season this year by winning both the XCC and the XCO disciplines at the UCI Mountain Bike World Series in the Czech Republic in May.

It was the first round of the World Series and Pidcock, while also balancing road race training in the surrounding weeks, only found out he would race in the XCC a few hours before the start, after already taking part in a three-and-a-half-hour training ride earlier in the day.

It’s a route that he knew well, having also won the XCO there in 2021 and 2022, and that, combined with a win in the XCC race on the Friday despite starting second from last at the back of the group in 40th with little preparation time, set him up well for the start of the XCO race on the Sunday.

A hard crash in the fifth lap of the XCO didn’t deter the Ineos Grenadiers rider, who went on to secure a third win in consecutive years on the Czech course.

Since then, he hasn’t competed in the World Series, so goes into the World Championships with his most recent appearances in the season being his two wins in Nové Město three months ago.

His previous mountain bike results throughout the seasons however speak for themselves, and if they are anything to go by, he will be a strong contender to watch in Scotland.

Despite having not yet conquered the elite mountain bike World Championships, Pidcock has previously worn the rainbow bands in the younger age category of the discipline. In 2020 he was crowned U23 World Champion, a success he will be hoping to now follow as an elite rider. In 2022 he got his first taste of elite World Championships glory with a win in cyclo-cross, and will no doubt be hungry to add another UCI rainbow to his collection.

Pidcock enjoyed a breakthrough moment with Olympic gold in Tokyo (PA)

A mountain bike rainbow jersey would make the perfect addition to Pidcock’s Olympic and European titles, thus completing the most sought-after feats in the discipline.

He’ll have to put up a strong fight against the world’s best if he hopes to take the title, and he’s not the only skilled rider who will be aiming to transfer their successes in different disciplines to the mountain bike course.

The winner of last Sunday’s road race, The Netherlands’ Mathieu van der Poel will also be on the start line in Glentress. Van der Poel is somewhat of a triple (if not more) threat himself, with five cyclo-cross World titles, European and Dutch national mountain bike titles in 2019 and 2018 respectively. He also has stage wins at the Tour de France and Giro d’Italia in addition to first place finishes this season at Paris–Roubaix, the race that’s commonly known as ‘The Hell of the North’, and Milan–San Remo, the longest one-day race in modern professional cycling.

Like Pidcock, he has also won Strade Bianche, as well as winning the Dutch national championships alongside other notable feats including the Amstel Gold. Albeit in a different event, his recent World road race win will provide a confidence boost. But having already completed 271.1km of racing in the past week may take a toll.

Alongside them will be another familiar face, the equally decorated road racer, Peter Sagan. The Slovak will also be turning his hand to mountain biking once more as he too has his sights set on the Olympics next year. After announcing he would retire from road racing at the end of this season, Sagan has made his intentions to strive for an Olympic medal clear. He will act as fierce competition for Pidcock both this year in Glentress and next year in Paris.

At 24, Pidcock has a bright future ahead of him, and while he may one day choose to specialise in one discipline over the rest, for now, we are fortunate to have the luxury of being able to marvel at his excellence across all three.

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