Much of the focus at cycling’s upcoming trio of Belgian classics will be on 21-year-old Briton Tom Pidcock, winner of the Brabantse Pijl cobbled classic in midweek, leaving world-class riders trailing in his wake. All this just three months after the rider from Leeds in northern England signed his first professional contract with star-studded British outfit Ineos, some of whose riders may already be peering anxiously over their shoulders. Pidcock’s bike-handling skills were picked up in cyclocross, and he says his main aim this year is to qualify for the Tokyo Olympics mountain bike event.
“I’ve been riding bikes daily since I was four, nothing is out of my comfort zone,” the confident youngster said in a recent interview.
Now the clean-cut Pidcock, who says he has never even drunk a coffee or eaten a sneaky pot noodle, is a star in the making in road racing too. With three high-profile Belgian one-day races coming up this week, Pidcock laid down a landmark victory by out-racing the most feared man in one-day classics, local hero Wout van Aert.’
“Now that was a proper bike race,” said Jumbo Visma’s Van Aert, who also loves mountain biking and elbow-to-elbow racing.
“I tried my best but there was one guy stronger. I just saw the replay, he was stronger and I have to accept it,” Van Aert said.
Matteo Trentin, who was third on Wednesday, showed his respect for Pidcock, saying “the best man won”.
Not that he celebrated much. “I feel a bit silly celebrating, I’ve grown out of it,” said Pidcock, who admits however he still loves to play Fortnite.
One of the top newspapers in cycling-mad Belgium, Het Nieuwsblad, ran an editorial the day following his win with the English title “Tom Pidcock is the next big thing.”
Under the name of Sky, Ineos was the former home of Tour de France winners Bradley Wiggins and Chris Froome. Team chief Dave Brailsford has a track record of bringing riders through as he proved with Egan Bernal and his 2019 Tour de France win, when he was just 22.
Ineos’s Welsh road captain Luke Rowe was instrumental in teaching Bernal road nous, and Pidcock was swift to thank Rowe after his own first win.
“I’m here (in Belgium) to find my feet in road cycling, and I’ve been up there in a few races already,” he said in reference to the rave reviews he earned after Milan-San Remo and Strade Bianche, where he stood up well among an elite clique of the world’s top riders.
“Winning this race is good as it stops that trend of being up there but not winning,” Pidcock said at the finish line Wednesday.
“Positioning is the most important thing in these races. I have to thank Luke and the team for that, Luke does a super good job,” he said.
Pidcock admitted that he was feeling the pressure of the move up in quality.
“Before I could kind of correct bad positioning or whatever because I was stronger in the younger categories,” he said.
“I might not even be in the front group at the next race, consistency is hard now, the level is so high.
“But I’ll race Amstel, La Fleche and possibly Liege too,” he said. Ineos have handed the rookie a lead role even with a string of stars alongside him including Giro winner Richard Carapaz and Adam Yates.
After this week the mixed event rider will dovetail his activities in order to qualify for Tokyo, with his first mountain bike race scheduled for May 1.
RBA/AFP Photos: Bettini