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If you think Tom Pidcock is having a good cyclocross season, wait until he hits the road this spring.
Pidcock is racing toward the 2022 classics older, wiser, and as bullish as ever.
After being touted as a mini-Wout van Aert or Mathieu van der Poel in 2021, the cross-discipline dynamo believes he can sit alongside the two superstars across all terrain sometime very soon.
“I believe that I am as good as them, or will be as good as them,” Pidcock to VeloNews.
“I think they’re the top echelon of the sport, so it’s great to be placed next to them,” Pidcock said of his multi-sport rivals. “Some people seem to think I’m there now, but I need more results to really be next to them, let’s be honest. And so that’s what I’m going to work to achieve.”
After continually nipping at van Aert and van der Poel’s heels in his breakout WorldTour debut last year, Pidcock has reinforced he’s the lone rider able to come close to the two ‘cross kings this ‘cross season.
Van der Poel has largely been on the medic’s table, but Pidcock has been keeping van Aert on his toes when their schedules have aligned this winter.
The 22-year-old finished second behind the bombastic Belgian at the GP Sven Nys, and took the top step when a mechanical derailed his rival’s race at World Cup Hulst the following day.
Pidcock, van Aert, and van der Poel will be thrown together a number of times on the road this spring as the Brit plans a full cobbled and hilly classics program. And those six-hour sufferfests are where Pidcock believes the gains of his rookie year with Ineos Grenadiers will shine strong.
‘I’ll be another step up’
A full classics program and debut grand tour at the Vuelta a España in 2021 has primed Pidcock’s raw and raucous engine into a more refined machine.
“I think I’ll be another step up next year,” Pidcock said in a phone call.
“Doing a grand tour, even if I was not there firing on all cylinders, I was still there every day, pushing,” he said. “Coming out the back of that the fitness I had was actually kind of insane once I recovered from it. It was like nothing I’ve had before, my resting heart rate was like six beats minute beats less than normal.”
Scooping up the overall at the prestigious “Baby Giro” GC in his final year with Trinity Racing in 2020 showed Pidcock’s slower burn road revving could match the top-end ‘cross accelerator that earned him a U23 cyclocross world title the year prior.
But the big miles of the WorldTour was a different prospect to the fast and frenetic racing in the feeder ranks when Pidcock turned pro last winter.
“The big thing going into the road season in 2021 was the endurance and being able to race the distance of pro races,” Pidcock said. “The intensity wasn’t so much an issue – it doesn’t get more intense than ‘cross. Not to say I would be the best but I knew, intense intensity-wise, I could be up there.”
Pidcock more-than-impressed last year, despite his relatively untested engine.
A series of swaggering accelerations through his WorldTour debut at Omloop Het Nieuwsblad made for a searing start to a spring spent elbowing alongside riders like van der Poel, van Aert, and Julian Alaphilippe.
Top six finishes at Kuurne-Brussel-Kuurne, Strade Bianche, Amstel Gold, Flèche Wallonne, and a sprint victory over van Aert at Brabantse Pijl followed to make it a classics calendar for any then-21-year old to savor.
Pidcock hopes that almost 40 days of pro racing last year and weeks on the Ineos team bus alongside classics and grand tour veterans like Michal Kwiatkowski, Dylan van Baarle and Salvatore Puccio will convert a series of close calls into trips to the podium this spring.
“I was the least experienced person in the team this year,” he said. “When you’re racing with these guys that are so experienced you’re just always constantly picking up little things and you adjust to how the more experienced guys operate.
“I think with a bit more experience I could have done more with the shape I had this year, but it went pretty well anyway. I learned a lot, and I showed I can be at the front of races.
“Next year with more experience I can go into all the races a bit differently. I want to win some more.”
More experience, more endurance, same swagger for 2022
More experience doesn’t mean Pidcock will be more conservative in his sophomore season.
The type of unhinged attacks seen at last year’s Milano-Sanremo and Tour of Flanders will continue to light up the spring of 2022.
But this year, they might be more targeted and maybe more effective.
“There’s certainly a time and a place for it [attacking]. It’s not all the time that I will attack but it’s a part of how I ride. I like to race, I enjoy when I’m having fun and enjoying racing – I seem to ride faster when I do,” Pidcock said.
Van Aert and van der Poel will be waiting with bated breath.