Patience for Tom Pidcock: ‘If I never win the Tour de France I won’t go to bed crying’

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LONDON (VN) — The 2022 season was packed with highs and lows for Tom Pidcock.

From winning an elite-level cyclocross world title to a European mountain biking win, and an epic Tour de France stage win on the Alpe d’Huez, there were plenty of highlights to add to his already glittering career.

There were disappointments, too. A crash took him out of contention at MTB worlds and illness robbed him of his best form at the spring classics, but the 23-year-old isn’t known for resting on his laurels and with his ‘cross season about to kick start, the Ineos Grenadiers all-rounder has his sights set on even more success in 2023.

We meet Pidcock at King’s Cross station in central London. He’s just returned from a short stint in Belgium where he has recently bought a home in the same village as his coach. With him, a small suitcase and a roof rack for his father that he needs to return. His stay here will be brief with a short photo shoot and appearance at “Rouleur Live” before he’s traveling once more.

Off-season? What off-season?

“I’ve been training for a few weeks now,” he tells VeloNews over coffee.

“I’m getting fit and enjoying myself. I ended the season quite early, and I had a short time off. I was still riding, apart from when I had the plate removed from my shoulder. After last year, when I had three and a half weeks off, I didn’t really want to do that again. I feel like I’ve had a good time off, and I’m looking forward to ‘cross.”

Also read: Ineos Grenadiers to let Pidcock ‘keep following his ambition’ after Tour triumph

His complete ‘cross season is unclear at this stage with a big question mark hanging over the world championships in the new year. Dovetailing so many ambitions and talents comes with rewards but there’s always a price, and taking aim at one goal often means sacrificing another.

“Maybe,” he says when asked about worlds.

“Because if I race worlds then it’s a full-gas build up and then a peak in January. If I go into racing on the road in February, that’s hard mentally and physically, it’s not the right preparation. This year, after getting sick, I want to be more robust.”

Pidcock paid for a lack of robustness this spring. He went into the classics as a major contender for top honors but illness on the eve of Strade Bianche meant he couldn’t take part in a race perfectly suited to his characteristics.

The stomach bug that took him down resurfaced in Belgium too and once that momentum was lost the British rider was never able to regain his footing. There was the odd flash of his class and panache on the bike, but in the major races he was either anonymous or a non-starter.

“My stomach was bad for a week but you can generally get over that quite quickly. It’s not the end of the world because the classics stretch out over two months. But when you think that you’re over the illness and you feel like you’ve had a good block of training and it comes back, then it’s tough,” he says.

“For me to race well I need confidence, and to do that I need to race well. A bad race can put me in a deeper hole. Confidence is important for me and that comes from racing and consistent training, so if you’re ill then it’s so much tougher.”

Also read: An insider’s view of Tour de France stage winner Tom Pidcock: ‘A bit special … very driven, extremely good’

The standout moment for the Ineos rider came at the Tour de France, where he formed and then won from the break on an epic day of racing to the crest of Alpe d’Huez.

Pidcock was an unstoppable force that day, infiltrating moves, showcasing his jaw-dropping descending skills, and then winning alone having dropped the likes of Chris Froome on the final climb of the race.

His 16th place overall, a stage win, a spell in white and a visit to the Paris podium after winning the teams classification was a major return on his debut in the race, especially given the fact that he had contracted COVID-19 just weeks before the grand départ in Denmark.

“There were a lot of ups and downs this year. Becoming world champion, then getting ill for the spring classics, and then COVID, Tour, and mountain bike worlds. It was pretty up and down and of course there were some nice successes but I had more than my fair share of hiccups. It was a long year,” he says.

“The highlight was the Tour. When we decided that I’d go to the Tour it was about trying to figure out what my objectives would be. I needed a purpose so it was about winning a stage, wearing a jersey and then doing good work for my teammates in the mountains. I think that I achieved all of them, but maybe the least achieved was the one about helping my teammates in the mountains because I was just trying to hang on there, but the Tour was a great learning experience and it’s given me a great platform and benchmark for future years.”

There is no secret of Ineos’ desire to win the Tour again.

It’s been three years since Egan Bernal won the squad’s last yellow jersey – the longest drought the team has gone through since its inception as Team Sky in 2010. There is a sense of impatience and frustration at team ownership level, and there was little surprise when news broke that regarding a possible buyout of Remco Evenepoel’s existing contract at Quick-Step.

Not that Pidcock is phased by such speculation or pressure. He knows that the team have long-term plans for his development and he himself talked publicly about trying to win the Tour in years to come.

But there’s no rush on his part. Although still young, he recognizes that riders develop at different rates, and just because one sensation can light up the world at 20, it doesn’t necessarily mean than it’s sustainable or that riders who reach those milestones in their late 20s are behind the curve.

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“It’s not a secret that the team wants to win the Tour de France again and if that ends up being me, then it’s also one of my dreams,” he says.

“To be honest I don’t look too far ahead. I just take it one step at a time. I don’t think that I’m able to win the Tour de France next year, if I’m honest, so it’s about building and then ultimately seeing if the time is right to win the Tour de France.”

Development, in the eyes of Pidcock, is individualistic and old-school thinking has been thrown out the window in the last few years by the likes of Tadej Pogačar and Jonas Vingegaard.

“Recent riders have shown that you don’t need to follow the old paths of trying to win a grand tour. Also, you don’t really know when you’re going to peak or when your best years will be. The racing is very different now and it’s full gas.

“I don’t think that the old way of doing it, that perhaps Team Sky invented with low carbs and long endurance rides works anymore. You can’t win the Tour with that, you need to be explosive and fast but if I never win the Tour, I won’t go to bed crying.”

At some point Pidcock may need to choose and specialize in one discipline. There’s no certainty in that but there is a nagging sense — at least from the outside — that if Pidcock is truly serious about Tour de France success then he needs to forgo his passions in either cyclocross or mountain biking. Or both.

For now, however, the plan is to remain a multi-disciplined athlete who has the opportunity and the skills to flip between targets.

“The honest answer is that I don’t know,” he says when asked whether he will specialize.

“Until the Olympics I want to continue to race mountain bikes and ‘cross. I think that it’s good for me and I enjoy it. At the moment I only see it benefitting and complementing each discipline. It’s only a positive.”

So in 2023 the plan is to take aim on the spring classics, win that elite men’s mountain bike world title and then stretch himself to new heights at the Tour de France.

“I want to go back to mountain bike worlds and have good form there. That’s the first goal. I want to have a good classics season and then go back to the Tour.”

Given the bad luck he endured this spring, it feels as though there’s unfinished business with the classics. Second in Amstel Gold two years ago and a win in De Brabantse Pijl-La Flèche Brabançonne in 2021, perhaps a monument win is the next stepping stone before Pidcock moves ever closer to a serious Tour bid.

“For the classics, it’s going to be really nice that we have a fresh team in that sense. We can write our own way of racing and I think that’s going to be really valuable to us. We’ve shown that we’re all strong enough and we’ve shown how we race, and that’s one of strengths. We’ve got the strongest classics squad that this team has ever had.”

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