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Tour de France

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

Pidcock's longtime mentor Kurt Bogaerts says ‘there is no door closed’ regarding the Alpe d’Huez winner’s potential.

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Ineos Grenadiers’ hopes of a Tour de France win may hinge on an unexpected last-minute turnaround in the general classification, but whatever happens in the final stages, the team exits the race with a clear future direction in Tom Pidcock.

The young British rider has shone in the 2022 Tour, impressing many with a stage 12 descending and climbing masterclass which culminated in him becoming the youngest-ever winner on Alpe d’Huez. Pidcock started stage 16 sitting ninth overall in his first Tour de France and even if he lost time and slipped to 10th, being just 22 years of age means he can realistically expect a lot more in the future.

Kurt Bogaerts knows Pidcock better than most, having worked closely alongside him and coached him over the past five years. The Belgian sports director is clear about his qualities and what sets him apart from many other riders of his age.

“I think Tom’s a hard worker. Ambitious. Smart. He picks things up quite quickly. He’s is a bit like a sponge. He listens good. And he learns quickly,” Bogaerts VeloNews by phone on Monday’s third rest day at the Tour.

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“I think he’s a bit of a unique personality, a unique person. I think he’s very driven. I think he’s extremely good. Very talented. Very versatile. More normal riders have one specific talent, like a sprinter or a climber or a time trialist. With him, you see many things coming together in one person.”

Winning atop Alpe d’Huez is a career highlight for Tom Pidcock. (Photo: Alex Broadway/Getty Images)

“A bit different … believing everything is possible’

Bogaerts began working with Pidcock at Team Wiggins in 2018. Before then the Belgian had run the An Post Chainreaction team with Sean Kelly, but when that folded he moved across to the British setup.

The team was established to help nurture the next wave of talent, and the then-18 year old Pidcock immediately stood out.

“Right from the beginning you could see he was a bit different,” Bogaerts said. “He is very attractive [stylish] on the bike. Very good technique. No fear. Believing everything is possible. He really is outspoken about his ambitions.

“That was more in the beginning; now, I think he is more realistic. He knows time will play a role to make his ambitions come true.”

Bogaerts is referring to Pidcock’s hunger to get to the top as soon as possible. Winner of Paris-Roubaix, the world championship time trial, the European cyclocross championships and world cyclocross championships as a junior, he also dazzled in his first year as a senior rider.

He won the U23 World Cup series and was second in the European under 23 cyclocross championships. He impressed on the road too, netting sixth in the 1.1-ranked Market Heistse Pijl plus sixth on a stage of the 2.HC Tour of Britain against elite riders who were far older than he.

The following year he became both European and world cyclocross champion in the U23 age category and took the U23 World Cup series, won Paris-Roubaix Espoirs and was third in the world U23 road race championships. And the results kept building as he got older.

Notwithstanding that early success, Bogaerts said that learning patience and biding his time has been important for Pidcock.

“In the beginning, I think he was short-term very ambitious with the biggest goals you can have. And now I think he learned a lot more about the sport, about the level of the sport in its different aspects. He’s now going after his goals in a more step-by-step way.”

Tom Pidcock has had the attention of the world’s media on him at the 2022 Tour de France, particularly after winning atop Alpe d’Huez on stage 12. (Photo: Michael Steele/Getty Images)

Giving guidance and a push on the back

There have been many riders in the history of cycling who shone brightly but also shone briefly. One doesn’t get the impression that this will be the case with Pidcock.

He’s got a maturity and a confidence that bely his youth, and also something else, a quality that’s hard to name and impossible to fake.

“I saw many times when someone is good they are a bit special,” Bogaerts said. “They are good people, but they are determined. They are really focused on achieving their goals.

“Sometimes they don’t pay attention to what happens around them, and then you need to guide them into the right place. They’re going straight after their goals and for that they need to make a lot of sacrifices.

“They spend their energy basically on trying to be extremely fit and mentally fresh to achieve their goals.”

Where needed, Bogaerts has helped with guidance, encouragement and advice and Pidcock’s results have continued to rack up as he has got a little older.

Overall success in the 2020 Baby Giro/Giro Ciclistico d’Italia, for one. The e-mountain bike world title and under 23 world MTB title that same season. The Olympic MTB gold medal and Brabantse Pijl victories in 2021. The world cyclocross championship triumph earlier this year.

And, most recently, his impressive results in this year’s Tour de France.

Tom Pidcock has been rubbing shoulders with race leader Jonas Vingegaard (Jumbo-Visma) at the 2022 Tour de France. Taking the yellow jersey is a big career goal for the Briton. (Photo: Dario Belingheri/Getty Images)

Of course it hasn’t all been smooth sailing. Part of Pidcock’s rise has depended on getting back on track after setbacks. Like anyone in professional cycling, mishaps, illness and injury are an occupational hazard. Every rider has had to overcome adversity along the way and while some lose momentum and confidence, the very best return fully from the hard knocks.

Bogaerts has played a role in this regard, helping guide and encourage Pidcock when things went wrong.

“When we started working, he had had a bad world championships the year before in cyclocross,” he said, detailing some of Pidcock’s challenges. “So in the beginning it was about picking him up and motivating him.

“And then, there was a crash in l’Avenir [in 2019] which we needed to come back from, the collarbone last year. Now COVID [before the Tour]. There were small moments that he needed a push on the back to convince him that the goal that you try to achieve in the short term is still possible to reach.”

The l’Avenir crash was in particular a big setback. Pidcock suffered concussion and memory loss, broke two teeth and had hairline fractures in four bones, including his hip, kneecap, and femur.

He credits Bogaerts with helping him get back into shape after the injury. They went to altitude and he worked hard, bouncing back from that to take third in that year’s U23 world championship road race. They were so focused on the worlds that Pidcock waited until after that race to get his broken teeth fixed.

Prior to that, Bogaerts had worked closely with Sam Bennett when the Irishman was trying to deal with a persistent knee injury. He convinced Bennett to keep going, telling him it was possible to make a breakthrough in the sport. The Irishman did continue, and in 2020 took the green jersey plus two stages in the Tour de France.

Did that experience lead to knowledge which Bogaerts could later use with Pidcock?

The Belgian said it did, but he also pays a lot of credit to his time working alongside cycling legend Sean Kelly.

“For me a lot goes back to Sean,” he said. “He was an extremely good rider who was also versatile in road cycling. He was a good Classics rider, he was a good sprinter, he was a good grand tour rider, taking fourth and fifth in the Tour, four green jerseys, winning the Vuelta, winning the Tour de Suisse. And extremely professional, with an eye for detail.

“Spending a lot of time with Sean helped understand the level, making riders independent, really letting them think. Making decisions on the road, asking the right questions. Seeing with their eyes. I think I learned a lot from Sean.

“And of course, then Sam [Bennett] was one of the first that I’ve worked with that really delivered on the highest level. That helps, of course, [showing] that the philosophies that me and Sean share are the right ones to deliver results on the highest level.”

‘There is no door closed’

TOPSHOT - Ineos Grenadiers team's British rider Thomas Pidcock cycles in a breakaway past "Dutch corner" in the ascent of Alpe d'Huez during the 12th stage of the 109th edition of the Tour de France cycling race, 165,1 km between Briancon and L'Alpe-d'Huez, in the French Alps, on July 14, 2022. (Photo by Marco BERTORELLO / AFP) (Photo by MARCO BERTORELLO/AFP via Getty Images)
Tom Pidcock races past Dutch Corner on Alpe d’Huez, heading for victory on stage 12 of the 2022 Tour de France. (Photo: Marco Bertorello/AFP via Getty Images)

Pidcock is now racing in the biggest event in cycling, and pulled off a huge feat in becoming the youngest stage winner at Alpe d’Huez. Prior to last week the famous Colombian climber Luis Herrera was the holder of that record, having triumphed there at 23. Pidcock has now done the same, but at 22.

Bogaerts is encouraged by what he sees in Pidcock’s freshman Tour.

“In general, I think it’s a good Tour for Tom,” he said. “The preparation was a bit disturbed with COVID, but he was quite good from the beginning. And then, of course, the performance on Alpe d’Huez was extremely good. There’s not much more you can say about that, I think.”

So what about the future, where does Bogaerts see Pidcock going?

“Well, I think he has a lot of potential. At the moment, there is no door closed, in any aspect,” he said.

And, he believes it is important to plan things in order to ensure that Pidcock grows in the best way.

“It’s about being careful with what you go after first, how you build up his career, how you build up the seasons, and in staying mentally and physically fresh,” Bogaerts said.

“Once we have control over that, then we’ll see whatever he does after that, what he achieves and how long it takes to do that. We are speaking about really high goals at World Championships, classics, grand tours. I think he has characteristics that means we cannot say that these things are impossible.”

That echoes what he told Wielerflits in the wake of Pidcock’s Alpe d’Huez triumph. “Nothing is excluded at the moment,” he said last week. “We’re going to see how much he can achieve and what his limits are. Win the Tour de France? It is not excluded.”

Perhaps mindful of the pressure such suggestions might put on Pidcock’s shoulders, Bogaerts qualifies the statement now.

“We should be realistic that there’s a big peloton and there is a new generation standing up every year,” he said. “A few years ago, we wouldn’t know that we had a Pogačar or a Jonas Vingegaard. So maybe there is one coming from the under 23 ranks again that is extremely good. A lot also depends on your opposition.”

And so Bogaerts adopts the well-known sports psychology approach of controlling the controllables.

“Our goal with Tom is to take what he has got from talent and, with his work ethic, to try to make him the best he can be,” he said. “To let him fight for it. And then we will see what is that level.

“Does that deliver wins, or does that deliver something else? It’s the goal to be well prepared, to give him a good chance, and to let him enjoy cycling as long as he can. Because Tom loves the sport.”

An American in France

What’s it like to be an American cyclist living in France? Watch to get professional road cyclist Joe Dombrowski’s view.