For many riders, a first Tour de France is one for growing up, to experience the sheer speed and pressure that comes with the biggest bike race in the world. It's often been a loosener, one to get the legs and the brain up to speed. Think Geraint Thomas and Chris Froome at the 2007 and 2008 Tours, respectively, both with Barloworld. It would be a few years before either made a huge impact at the race.
Modern cycling demands something different. Tadej Pogačar came into the Grand Tour and won it at his first attempt in 2020, and his second attempt too. It seems like a different age now, one where young men come into their first edition and attempt something at the first try.
Tom Pidcock, the 22-year-old Ineos Grenadiers rider is no different. Fresh from an impressive classics season, where he finished third at Dwaars door Vlaanderen and fifth at Brabantse Pijl, he has been thrown into his first Tour for the demanding team.
This is the squad that has won seven of the last ten editions. There is usually no room for passengers on the British squad, and Pidcock is under no illusions.
“The stress is a bit more, the speed not so much yet," he explained ahead of stage four earlier this week. "We haven’t raced properly, maybe today I think we may race a bit more. Think more people we want to get ahead of the race.
“Personally I’m not exactly satisfied with gaining experience, it’s a bit boring and dull. I’m not that interested [in that], I want to do something and make my impact on the race, that’s what I want to do. “I can get experience doing that. But this year riding around, gaining experience, that’s boring.”
He nearly didn't get this experience, dull or otherwise, after catching Covid at the Tour de Suisse. This week, Pidcock revealed more about his novel method for beating the virus: eating raw garlic.
“Garlic is…I don’t know what it is actually…it’s good for your immune system isn’t it? So I was smashing the garlic," he explained. “Raw garlic... at mealtimes I’d have some.”
Pidcock was visible on the cobbles on Wednesday, helping his team leaders Geraint Thomas, Dani Martínez and Adam Yates to the front; it was a notable ride from the young man from Leeds, although there is a suspicion that he is here with more a free role than one of subservience.
Perhaps that's natural for someone who won the cyclocross World Championships at the beginning of the year and the Mountain Biking at the Olympics last summer, he is more than just a domestique.
"It's a nice learning experience," he said. "We will see what's possible, it's difficult with GC guys you need to look after."
On Thursday, the Ineos rider showed that he is starting to settle into his first Tour. He finished fourth behind stage winner Tadej Pogačar, equalling his best stage finish at a Grand Tour, and might be building into his form.
“My legs came good in the last 3km but after that start and trying to get in the breakaway I was thinking that there’s no way I could contest this final," he explained after the stage.
On Friday, the peloton will tackle La Super Planche des Belles Filles, a climb that Pidcock has raced before at under-23 level. He won a stage of the Tour Alsace up to Planche des Belles Filles, the non-super version, before going on to win the race overall in 2018.
It might be a stretch to suggest he will win there, but it could be that he manages to do something.
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