Tom Pidcock’s second year with Ineos Grenadiers is a little like “second album syndrome” that many great bands have experienced in their career. Brilliant in its own right, just like the first, although by bike rider and rock band’s own admission, not quite hitting the high notes of that debut masterpiece, or an Olympic gold medal.
But that’s a testament to the quality of Tom Pidcock that even his 8/10 years would be many other pros chart toppers.
Speaking to Cycling Weekly, Pidcock says that despite the undoubted highs of the year gone by, 2021 was "much better".
“I had some good results this year, but last year was much better. It was my first year as a pro, I won Brabantse and arguably Amstel,” Pidcock says. “Not arguably actually,” he adds with a smile.
Last year, Pidcock took his debut road season by storm winning Brabantse Pijl in Belgium before narrowly missing out on an Amstel Gold title to Belgium’s Wout Van Aert. A dubious photo finish declared the Belgian the winner. A sensational mountain bike gold medal at the Tokyo Olympics would soon follow.
Fast forward twelve months and you can add cyclocross world champion, a maiden Tour de France stage win on Alpe d’Huez, and a European mountain bike title to that list, although the likeable Yorkshireman still tells us that things could have been “much better” in 2022.
Even with his Olympic achievements considered, it’s one result this summer that’s drawn him level with the greats of old such as Marco Pantani, Bernard Hinault and Fausto Coppi. That win on Alpe d’Huez.
However according to Pidcock, “it looked better than it really was on TV,” he jokes when the topic of that fateful afternoon comes up. A Tour stage win is huge at any point in your career, let alone at the first time of asking and his complete performance on the bike that baking July afternoon firmly etched his name into cycling folklore.
Although typically, Pidcock still thinks he could have done better in 2022.
“Yeah, Alpe d’Huez was the highlight this year of course, but there were too many other things that went wrong,” he says. “I got pretty ill at one point, so I had two good parts of the year really and it could have gone much better.”
"IT LOOKED BETTER THAN IT REALLY WAS ON TV"
Illness and injury saw him miss Strade Bianche, a race he says he’d like to win in future, and abandon Milan-San Remo. Pidcock explains that both events knocked his confidence particularly when returning to racing at Gent-Wevelgem, a race not on his original schedule, with his preparation interrupted.
“For me to be at my absolute best, I need a smooth run into a race with good results beforehand that give me confidence,” he says, “with good training and buildup.” Otherwise, Pidcock explains that interruptions to that tried and tested routine leave him wondering what could have been.
“I always end up finishing with regrets otherwise because I think, ‘I know I can do better, or I should have done this or that when I race without that confidence,” he says.
Equally, he tells us that spring was a learning curve and that now and again, it’s good to “just take a step back and chill out a bit” when things don’t go your way. Pidcock is the first to admit that he has high expectations of his own performance, something which saw him look to play down that now famous day at the Tour.
That afternoon he put in a performance that gave off the allure of a grand tour rider who had seen it all before, and brought home the souvenir t-shirt for good measure.
After controlling a breakaway containing established racers like Italian Giulio Ciccone, Pidcock then put on a masterful display of descending, as he plunged down the Col du Galibier, and then later the Col de la Croix de Fer on the way to the famous hairpins.
In that moment, he used his bike like a paintbrush as he slalomed down the alpine monoliths, in a display that truly encapsulated descending as an artform. It seemed so pure and iconic that many joked that the footage should be displayed in the Louvre.
It simply oozed confidence, although he explains that it hasn’t always been plain sailing when the road goes downhill. “After my crash at Tour de l’Avenir I lost my confidence and even now, when it’s wet I hesitate,” he says. “I think before you have a big accident you can be naïve to what can go wrong. I don’t remember the crash, but I’m still baffled as to how it happened because I’m normally very calculated in the risks I take.”
Although his barnstorming descent was not Pidcock’s overarching memory of the chaos of Bastille Day on Alpe d’Huez. Instead it's the hordes of alcohol-fuelled crowds that he parted like Moses on the way to the top.
“I remember the crowds more than anything on Alpe d’Huez, that distracted a lot from winning,” he says. “When you experience something like that, for the first time, it shakes up all your emotions. At times it just seemed like there was no road in front of me, then suddenly people would move and I could ride through.”
ALPE D'HUEZ JUST A STEPPING STONE
That taste of the crowds screaming your name clearly left the boy wonder from Leeds wanting more.
At the recent 2023 Tour route presentation in Paris, Pidcock hinted that he was up for the task of taking on the likes of Tadej Pogačar and Jonas Vingegaard for a shot at Tour glory. Those bigger, grander aims explain his reluctance to dive too far into the significance of a maiden stage win.
“Sure, it was great, yeah, although I won from a breakaway. I didn’t win from the best riders in the world,” he explains. “It was a nice stepping stone if you like,” he adds with a glint in his eye.
Based on his displays the last eighteen months, you wouldn’t bet against him taking one more stepping stone onto the podium in Paris. However, Pidcock explains that in order to take that next step in a grand tour, pushing other aims in the classics temporarily to one side would be a necessity.
“In some ways you would need to sacrifice the classics, you couldn’t do them all. I think this year Tadej did more classics than he’s ever done before and he didn’t win the Tour, which may or may not be related,” he says. “The thing with racing at the Tour now is that it’s just full gas, all the time. When you’re going up the long climbs and you’re at threshold, and then you’re attacking each other it’s just so explosive. It’s really like nothing else.”
Based out in Andorra now in a dream landscape for a cyclist aiming to become the very best, Pidcock explains that with a newly renovated house in the making, and plenty of Ineos teammates based in the area, he is now there to stay.
“With altitude training it makes sense. There are 16 riders from the team at least in Andorra, with more maybe moving,” he reveals, “it’s a bit like the team are creating a base out there now.”
"IT'S MORE FUN WHEN YOU OUTSMART EVERYONE ELSE"
In stark contrast to their former identity as Sky, Pidcock’s team complete with a new generation of talent have slowly begun to recast themselves as a free-flowing attacking outfit full of surprises. The multi-dimensional Pidcock is central to that reshuffling process, and insists that if he is eventually backed and given a shot at general classification racing by the powers that be, he would remain true to the identity he’s gradually been building so far.
“I’d still find a way to race how I race, that’s for sure,” he says convincingly. “I always prefer racing with my head than my legs because it’s more fun when it works out and you’ve outsmarted everyone else,” he adds with a smile.
Even if he would have you think it wasn’t as big as it was made to seem in July, he reveals that he still got a kick out of outsmarting his rivals on the road to Alpe d’Huez. “Nobody was expecting that in the Tour though were they, me attacking on the descent,” he grins.
That playful nature, looking to prise out opportunities to win from every metre of road and catch others unawares, is something that Pidcock shares in common with UAE Team Emirates’ leader Pogačar. After taking the yellow jersey last year, Jonas Vingegaard was locked onto every attempt from the two-time Tour champion to outsmart him.
The prospect of bringing the jack of all trades Yorkshireman into that battle in years to come is simply mouth watering. Maybe this time next year, even the modest Pidcock would allow himself five minutes to marvel in his magnificence if racing with his head brings a yellow jersey next July.
This interview originally appeared in Cycling Weekly magazine on 1 December. Subscribe now and don't miss an issue in 2023.
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