By James Shrubsall published
Tom Pidcock does things his way. If he was a junk food aficionado, his establishment of choice would definitely be BK (though he insists the worst it gets on this front is dark chocolate and digestives), while if he was a Rat Pack crooner, well…you know what song he’d sing. Thankfully for British bike fans, he’s neither of those things – instead, he’s one of the hottest young bike racing talents.
Few would argue that the 20-year-old Yorkshireman is not WorldTour material, despite his tender years. And yet at Trinity Racing – a team essentially built around him and named after his management company – Pidcock isn’t even in a UCI team. However, also key in his set-up is his sponsorship deal with Red Bull, whose striking helmet livery you will inevitably see him racing in, whether on road, cyclo-cross or MTB. Current titles on his palmarès include those of national champion in cross and also Under-23 MTB; he is also the current U23 Paris-Roubaix champ.
We are almost conditioned to seeing the fabled and extremely effective yellow brick road from GB track to GB road to the cycling Land of Oz that is the WorldTour, but Pidcock has made his own pathway. It’s almost as if he is dabbling a bit here, a bit there, trying to make up his mind as to which sporting arena he most fancies becoming a full-time elite level world-beater in, and Red Bull facilitates that.
"Doing cool stuff is what their brand is all about, and doing three different disciplines is cool," says Pidcock, on whom the marketing responsibilities that come with elite level sport are certainly not lost. "I think also being a sportsman is about elite performance, and also being someone that’s marketable. And doing three different things, three different ways to market them I guess, is three different opportunities."
That’s not to say Pidcock has lost sight of the purity of bike riding. When we caught up with him during lockdown, he was still keeping his edge sharp, but all while riding for the sheer hell of it.
"At the moment, when you are just riding for the sake of riding because you don’t know what you’re training for...the weather’s nice, it’s super nice to just go out in the Dales and just enjoy riding the bike," he said.
Having planned a summer mixing road racing with mountain bike racing, Pidcock is getting plenty of knobbly-tyred action in, but, as he alluded to, there is currently no racing to be had. In fact, having finished his cyclo-cross season in February and not raced since, he may currently be looking at missing an entire summer and restarting again on the CX bike in the autumn. "That would be very strange," he says.
For the moment, he is making the best of a lockdown which, on a personal level, brings with it positives and negatives for Pidcock.
"There are two elements for me, certainly having a rest, having not had a proper off-season in, like, four years. And then, I think the main thing is there’s just so many unknowns, like when will we start racing again? Nobody knows. That’s not nice. I mean, we understand [why there’s no racing], but that’s not so nice," he says.
Based at home in Leeds, Pidcock has tried to keep race-sharp while having fun: "I just use things that are mentally easy to train, like getting KOMs, I go mountain biking two or three times a week. And now, I’m doing some Zwift races, so I keep all my top-end," he says. He admits that, without anyone else to compare himself to, there’s always the concern that going back to racing could prove a rude reawakening.
"There’s that worry that you’re just going for bike rides and you’re going to get a right kicking when you come back to racing because you’ve only got one speed," he says. "That’s something I think about because that’s something I do have – I can change speed a lot because I do cross, because I race in the winter…I don’t want to lose that, because I’ve never had such a long period of isolation. For some people, it’s just like going back to the winter again, and they know how to do that. But I don’t."
Whether he loses any form or not, one thing working resolutely in Pidcock’s favour is his age. He’ll be 21 in July, still plenty young enough to remain hot property and, unlike someone of, say, Chris Froome’s age, young enough that a six-month enforced sabbatical doesn’t represent a significant percentage of what is left of his career. In fact, you can’t help but feel that if anyone is going to go against the grain and emerge from isolation even more of a lean, mean, race-winning machine than they were before, it’s this understated lad from the north.
Perhaps the break will give him time to think about where he ultimately wants his career to go, although he insists: "At the moment I don’t think I’m in a position to have to specify. Riders like G [Geraint Thomas] have done well in Roubaix and he’s also won the Tour. The only thing is, I’m quite light [he’s 50kg] to be winning Roubaix, so we’ll see how that affects me. The junior races and U23 races are quite different to the elite race."
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Paris-Roubaix, the Tour de France — one thing you can surmise from that quote is that Pidcock is certainly thinking big. And why not? He has, after all, won both the junior and U23 editions of Roubaix, so the elite version of that is an obvious next step.
Used to stepping hard on the pedals and watching his rivals slowly disappear in a sea of pained visages, Pidcock does not think small. He does not think in top-10s (although that is something he is having to force himself to adjust to having made the step up to elite level); he thinks in wins.
The thing he will admit, and this is perhaps where his need to break away comes from, is that he will never win a bunch sprint.
"The thing I’m worst at is bunch sprints. Put it like that. I’m always working on sprints, because they’re good for cross, and you’ve got to have a good sprint to win a bike race from any group. But I’m never going to be a bunch winner in a WorldTour race. I will never be able to do 600 watts…" he corrects himself, "1,600 watts, I mean!"
Whatever he goes on to win on the road, it’s hard to get away from the fact that Pidcock is very much a CX racer at heart, and places his win in the 2017 Junior CX Worlds at the top of his list.
"The elite Worlds, coming second [this year] was probably the biggest result," he says, but, "the junior Worlds mean the most to me. I’d been dreaming about it for a year since the Worlds before, and then to have the three of us on the podium [fellow Brits Dan Tulett and Ben Turner were second and third]…that’s why."
A betting man might wager that in a few years, he will be riding for a WorldTour team and doing great things, but for now he is absolutely right. He doesn’t need to specify. He is, after all, the very definition of a "talented multi-threat of a rider", as Red Bull puts it.
Expect him to exit lockdown stronger, wiser, but still on the only path he knows — his own.
This feature originally appeared in the print edition of Cycling Weekly, on sale in newsagents and supermarkets, priced £3.25.
After cutting his teeth on local and national newspapers, James began at Cycling Weekly as a sub-editor in 2000 when the current office was literally all fields.
Eventually becoming chief sub-editor, in 2016 he switched to the job of full-time writer, and covers news, racing and features.
A lifelong cyclist and cycling fan, James's racing days (and most of his fitness) are now in the past, although that doesn't stop him banging on tirelessly about "that one time" he nearly rode a 20-minute '10', and planning the big comeback that everyone knows will never actually happen.
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