Picture the scene. You’ve just completed an arduous Classics campaign, fending off illness while still managing to pick up some decent results. In the final race, Liège-Bastogne-Liège, you’re involved in a huge, nasty pile-up where you’re sent flying into a ditch, left to chase back on before eventually finishing 103rd as the race goes up the road without you.
The very next day, you recon the entire 155km of the cobbled stage five of the 2022 Tour de France.
Now, does that sound like a rider who won’t be on the start line in Copenhagen in 66 days’ time?
“Life goals…recovery ride on Roubaix cobbles,” tweeted Michał Kwiatkowski, tongue in cheek, the schedule of WorldTour riders ever demanding.
Accompanying that sentiment was a video of the Pole rattling away on the cobbles before panning over to Tom Pidcock casting a path across the parallel farmer’s field, muddy terrain most likely making the cyclocross world champion feel right at home.
Setting out from Lille, Pidcock and Kwiatkowski headed south, taking in nearly all of the 21 km of cobbles across 11 sectors. And remember, five of these 11 have never been included in Paris-Roubaix or any other race before.
We’ve seen Primož Roglič get stuck into some cobbled racing this spring at the GP Denain in preparation for another tilt at the yellow jersey, while reigning champion Tadej Pogačar also made his Flandrian debut this year, coming close to victory at the Tour of Flanders before teasing everyone with a Paris-Roubaix troll as he feined at a future as a cobbled specialist.
While Pidcock has been expected to line up at next month’s Giro d’Italia for his second-ever Grand Tour, which he may still do, his Tour de France inclusion now makes a lot more sense than it did a few months ago.
The main reason is the unfortunate absence of Egan Bernal, who is still recovering from his horrible training ride crash in Colombia. While Geraint Thomas still harbours hopes of another stab at another Tour title, Egan Bernal was Ineos’ main chance of challenging the Slovenian duopoly of Tadej Pogačar and Primož Roglič this July. Instead, with Dani Martinez and Adam Yates likely to headline the British outfit’s Tour de France squad, a podium finish would prove a great return for the previously dominant Tour team.
Without a top contender, this gives Ineos the room to not meticulously gear their squad towards gaining and subsequently protecting the yellow jersey. There is space for a rider they believe in enough to give a contract that runs until 2028 to a taste of Tour de France action.
“Of course someday I do want to try to win the Tour,” Pidcock said earlier in the spring. “I’ve made that clear. When, I am not sure.”
While there is a long road ahead to eventual Grand Boucle glory, his first taste of Grand Tour racing came at the Vuelta a España last year, where his best result was a fourth atop Pico Villueracas from the breakaway, eventually finishing 67th overall.
Pidcock has raced fairly solidly since December 2021, his cyclocross season culminating in securing the rainbow jersey before a full spring Classics campaign. Going on to take the start line of both the Giro and Tour would be some undertaking, but on the current evidence, a Tour start in Denmark on July 1 seems to be very much on the cards.