There was a moment more than 150km into Strade Bianche where Tom Pidcock looked around and found himself surrounded by only the best riders this planet has to offer.
Two Tour de France winners in Tadej Pogačar (UAE Team Emirates) and Egan Bernal (Ineos Grenadiers), world champion Julian Alaphilippe (Deceuninck - Quick-Step), and the eponymous pairing of Mathieu van der Poel and Wout van Aert battled it out in what was a mouthwatering spectacle against the picturesque Tuscan setting.
After an increasingly impressive start to his debut WorldTour season, it's surely only a matter of when and not if Pidcock will take a major win, have a race-winning prefix added to his name, and join the ranks of the above riders in stature, even if he's already finishing alongside them in the big WorldTour events.
"I was thinking, yeah this is quite cool, these are the biggest riders in the world, and then I was there as well. That was pretty cool," Pidcock says of making one of the final selections at Strade Bianche, finishing fifth after outsprinting Pogačar, Van der Poel having already dragged Alaphilippe and team-mate Bernal clear before the Dutchman powered to a stunning victory in the Piazza del Campo.
Pidcock survived unscathed after a puncture threatened to distance him from the pointy end of proceedings, a fate that befell fellow youngster Quinn Simmons (Trek-Segafredo). Despite lacking the punch required to keep up with the likes of Van der Poel, a third and fifth for Ineos Grenadiers adds truth to the British squad's promise to excite fans in 2021.
"It was good fun yeah, it was a hard day out. I'm quite pleased, I punctured just before Santa Maria, the sector before, so it was not ideal. But Puccio gave me his wheel so I didn't lose too much time and got back in before the end of the sector," Pidcock said.
"Yeah it was pretty good, Egan finished on the podium, we were coming to win but it's good to be on the podium, I'm quite happy with how I went, I didn't feel I had that much of a punch but...yeah it was good fun."
After also taking third at Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne, any pressure on Pidcock to live up to his billing has already evaporated, and the Brit will now continue his trajectory towards the top.
"I just didn't really have the legs to go any faster to be honest," Pidcock says of the moment he was finally detached alongside Wout van Aert after one of Van der Poel's numerous attacks. "But I can't complain, I'm there in the front group with those guys. It will take a few more races, a bit more experience, miles in the legs, and I'm sure I'll be there soon."
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