For a season that’s been ravaged by the global health situation, Tom Pidcock has managed to rack-up a seriously impressive number of results. Back-to-back wins in the U23 XCO races at the Nové Město UCI MTB World Cup followed the general classification victory at the Baby Giro on the road and a second-place finish during his first tilt at the Elite Cyclocross World Championships back in February.
Up next for the 21-year-old Yorkshire native is the 2020 U23 XCO World Championships in Leogang, Austria in what is only his sixth mountain bike race. Considering his performances to date, you wouldn’t bet against Pidcock adding to his burgeoning rainbow jersey collection.
Here, he talks about winning from the back of the grid, going to races as the favourite and his hopes for his first season with his new team for 2021 and beyond, INEOS Grenadiers.
You raced in your first UCI Mountain Bike World Cup in Nové Město, winning both U23 races despite starting at the back of the grid. Did you go into it thinking you’d win?
I did have the confidence that I could be up there, for sure. I only ride Elite now in cyclocross and I was going back down to U23, so I knew I’d have the level. The start was also very favourable for coming the back, because the start loop was very wide.
First of all, I had to get to the front, which I did pretty well – the first time through the finish line, I was in the front group. I was sussing everyone out and understanding what the score was. Once I knew that, I made a little bluff attack on the flat through the finish and they didn’t chase me, so I was like, ‘right, I’m going then’.” There are only so many opportunities this year, so it’s nice to win the few races that I have been doing.
I feel like I have the ability to win if anything doesn’t go wrong, so I don’t feel pressured
How did the technical aspects compare to a cyclocross race?
It was definitely different, but after a while, I got into it pretty well. In a cross-country race it’s about drilling the lines and then you hit it with more speed than you ever would before. I’d say that naturally I’m skillful and good at hitting lines for the first time. I obviously needed to learn the lines, but once that happened it was cool.
Your fastest lap from both races was seven seconds faster than the fastest Elite rider. Is the Elite class now on the cards?
At the moment, I think I’ll just stick with the U23s – I need to find my place and get some points. But next year, I’m hoping to compete in the Elites. They do lap faster consistently, but the lap that I attacked was faster, so it gives me confidence. When I went from U23 to Elite in cyclocross, the gap was pretty similar and I could compete in the Elites and get on the podium quite consistently.
Next up for you is the U23 XCO World Championships in Leogang. Have you had a chance to ride the course?
Not yet, but it’s on the side of the mountain, so I think it’s going to be quite a bit more hilly than Nové Město. That was a pretty lumpy course, but Leogang has got proper climbs that are longer, so I’ll have to settle into a more of a rhythm
Your wins in Nové Město mean you go in as a favourite for victory. Does that add any pressure?
I don’t think so. I feel like I have the ability to win if anything doesn’t go wrong, so I don’t feel pressured.
What’s your racing schedule like post-Worlds?
I’m going to have three weeks off. I haven’t raced as much this year, but it’s still been very mentally difficult. It’s been very intense and I’m ready for a break. The last part of the year I’ve spent a lot of time away from home, so it’ll be nice to go home and try and forget about the global situation and racing – although you can’t get away from wearing a mask. I’ll then see what’s happening with cyclocross, because at the moment a lot of races are getting cancelled.
How has the experience been racing without crowds?
It’s not the same at all. It’s a shame, but it’s better than no racing, so I can’t complain too much. I can’t wait until the crowds can come back. It’s half the thing of racing. If you’re racing without a crowd then it’s almost like training. Sport is entertainment and if there’s no one there to entertain what are you doing?
For the last 30km all I could do was turn the pedals and get to the finish
Your first race at Nove Mesto was just four days after you finished 42nd in your first Elite Road World Championships. How was that experience for you?
It was good and I wasn’t far away. I was never going to win, though. Even though I had a good ride and we rode it very well as a team, I just didn’t have the endurance – I’m never going to have the legs to race 260km from doing U23 races. That was always going to be the case. It’s preparation for the future and now I know where I am – I can do 230km and then my legs fall off.
I wouldn’t say it was ever that hard, the race, but it’s just wearing. For the last 30km all I could do was turn the pedals and get to the finish. Plus, 42nd in the world’s not bad, actually.
The race coincided with the announcement that you’d be joining INEOS Grenadiers from March 2021. Do you know what your race schedule looks like next year?
No, but I want to do Strade Bianche, Tour de Yorkshire and the Worlds in Flanders – there are a few that stand out to me. I’ll still be doing cross and mountain bike, though.
What style of rider do you see yourself developing into?
I eventually want to experience what it’s like to commit to try and win a Grand Tour. That’s the ultimate experience of trying to become the best possible athlete you can – basically living like a monk. I want to do well in the classics, too, like what Wout van Aert and Mathieu van der Poel are doing – they’re very good at everything. I’ll probably be better at climbing and less good at sprinting, but I think being good at everything is important.
Are they inspirations to you?
I wouldn’t say that anyone inspires me anymore, because I need to race these guys now, but they’re incredibly good bike riders and show you can do whatever you want on whatever bike. I guess I show that, too.