After signing a bumper five-year contract with Ineos Grenadiers, Tom Pidcock is aiming for the top of cycling.
“Of course someday I do want to try to win the Tour,” he told the media over Zoom. “I’ve made that clear. When, I am not sure."
The 22-year-old has already proved himself on the world stage, becoming cyclocross world champion this year after winning gold in the mountain bike event at the Tokyo Olympics last year. He has proved that he is a force to be reckoned with on the road over the past year, and heads into Sunday's Ronde as a favourite, although he denies this.
Asked if he was on of the top picks for Flanders, he responded: “No, I don’t think so. There are guys who have proven themselves in this race before. I have a chance but yeah… it needs to play out right in the race."
The new deal with Ineos ended months of speculation over his future, with the world's leading bike brands keen to see such a multitalented rider on their products across disciplines.
The agreement with the British team can be seen as part of a new era at the squad, young riders like Magnus Sheffield, Kim Heiduk and Ben Turner all coming in for this year. Pidcock implied that this was one of the reasons he chose to stay at Ineos.
“Now you’re seeing signing of quite a few young guys, and we are building the next wave of riders,” he said. “I think if I can lead that and be the guide of these new riders coming up and creating our own bubble and group. I think we can be really successful.
“Ben and Magnus are already punching above the pay grade, if you like, and that’s really special to be a part of.”
Speaking in the same press conference, Ineos DS Servais Knaven backed up the idea of Pidcock going to the top of the sport, but said that he should focus on the Classics first, as he currently is.
"We all know Tom has great potential everywhere," Knaven said. "He can climb, he's good in a TT, he's fast. For sure he can do well in Grand Tours as well.
"First I’d say try to win some one-day races and chase these dreams, then give it a go in the Grand Tours."
Focus on Flanders
It has been a good week for Pidcock: third at Dwars door Vlaanderen on Wednesday, the announcement of his new contract on Thursday, and the news that Wout van Aert, the favourite for Flanders, might be out of the race.
“It will change the race for sure,” he said .“It will change the number of people in the final and also the strength of Jumbo [Visma]."
His ride at Dwars marked his comeback from health injuries that delayed his full start to the season, and surely showed that he could perform in the Tour of Flanders on Sunday.
“I took a lot of confidence from Dwars,” Pidcock said. “It was a hard race, we took it on, and maybe the final didn’t go perfectly, but I was happy how I raced and with my legs, and how we raced as a team.
“I feel very positive after Wednesday. I felt back to myself. I was back at the front and getting a taste and feel for it again. That’s important going into this weekend. Whether I’m entirely recovered, I’m not sure, but on Wednesday I felt pretty good. That’s all I know really.”
One difference with a race like the Tour of Flanders is the distance: Sunday's race will be about 90km more than Wednesday's, with the threat of race-winning moves happening at any time.
“The distance is certainly a factor with my recent health issues and as a guy who hasn’t had so many races of that distance in the legs, but I don’t think it’s a limiting factor,” Pidcock said.
If Van Aert doesn't ride, it might open the door up for the British rider, or others like Mathieu van der Poel or Tadej Pogačar, the latter of whom is making his debut at the race.
“Nowadays there’s no place for caution,” he said. “If the race goes early, you need to be there or you’re not going to be there.
“I can see it going early. Like I was saying about Pogačar, perhaps he’s got less experience and if he goes early, when easier to position and maybe it’s a smaller group, it’s only his legs that are going to show. You have to expect anything.”
This will be Pidcock's second appearance at Flanders, something he admits might count against him. It will also be his first time racing in front of fans, after 2021's edition was held behind closed doors as a result of the pandemic.
“What makes the race so special is the crowd, which I have yet to experience. Along with the history of the race,” he said. “Winning in Flanders, it’s a Monument, the biggest race of the year for Belgians. I have spent a lot of time here, and it’s a race I want to win in my career for sure.
Away from East Flanders, one big bits of news this week was the announcement that Netflix will be producing a documentary series on the Tour de France, and that Ineos Grenadiers will be one of eight teams involved.
It will be partly made by the producers of the highly-rated Netflix series Drive to Survive, which tells the inside stories of selected Formula One teams throughout the racing season.
“I think it’s great for the sport,” Pidcock said. “I think it’s going to showcase the sport to a wider audience and give insight into the sport. I think Formula One is easier to understand, but cycling is a little bit more complicated because there is not really a series like that. The [show] will be massive for the sport.”
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