Ineos Grenadiers DS: Tom Pidcock won Strade Bianche ‘on the downhills’

Matteo Tosatto recounts key moments of victory: 'Tom never once looked back until the very final wall.'

Photo: Chris Auld/VeloNews

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Matteo Tosatto sat in awe from his front-row seat to Tom Pidcock‘s stunning victory Saturday at Strade Bianche.

The Italian sport director at Ineos Grenadiers said Pidcock’s bike-handling skills and grace under pressure as the entire peloton was breathing down his neck delivered the sublime solo win.

“Tom won Strade Bianche on the downhill,” Tosatto told VeloNews. “He could recover on the descents, and he was taking back four, five, eight seconds on the gravel. In the end, Tom had super legs.”

Pidcock’s superb bike-handling skills honed on the mountain bike and cyclocross circuits paid dividends Saturday when he slipped away from the entire peloton.

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By consistently opening gaps on the descents, Pidcock was doing two things, Tosatto said in a phone call Monday.

First, Pidcock could recover and then ride the steepest climbs a bit more conservatively. And second, that allowed him to save his legs for the final decisive kilometers when the chase hit its peak.

That calculus added up to Pidcock’s biggest one-day road win of one his young and promising career.

“Saturday was a special race. At one moment the gap was only nine or 10 seconds,” Tosatto said. “I told him on the radio that no one behind him had super legs, and that gave him a lot of motivation for the finale. He could take time on the descents, and then push on until the end.”

‘Tom never once braked on the descents’

Pidcock celebrates his biggest one-day race of his young road career. (Photo: Sara Cavallini/Getty Images)

Riding tubeless tires coupled with his seamless descending skills, Pidcock was putting the entire peloton on edge over the greasy, uneven “steratti” on the Tuscan Hills.

“Tom never once braked on the descents, except maybe one or two dangerous corners,” Tosatto said in a call before Tirreno-Adriatico. “Those skills in cyclocross and mountain bike are so important for Tom on the downhill.

“He could take six or seven seconds in one kilometer on the downhill,” he said. “Strade Bianche is a perfect race for him. With the narrow descents and the gravel, he is made for it.”

Pidcock’s somewhat controversial decision to skip the cyclocross worlds in Hoogerheide in February also paid dividends. Mathieu van der Poel admitted he didn’t have enough time to recover after winning the stripes going into Saturday’s big matchup.

A fresh and motivated Pidcock had that extra spark in his legs over the green hills of Tuscany.

“We made that decision that it was better for Tom not to race the worlds,” Tosatto said. “He trained at altitude, and you could see he was fresh and he had fully recovered before Strade Bianche.

“Tom had a big confidence before the race. Even though he is young, he is experienced about going into big races like Strade Bianche. He is used to it from racing the worlds and from the Olympics.”

Inside the team bus, Tosatto went over different scenarios for Pidcock and the team. They played out tactics about how to handle the situation if Pidcock was part of a big group, a small group, or with teammates.

One scenario that wasn’t expected: riding off alone with 50km to go.

“The tactic before the start was to avoid any trouble early, to be with his teammates, and to not be caught out in any splits in the bunch,” Tosatto said. “The Santa Marie climb was the first big red point.”

Pidcock covered a move initiated by EF Education-Easy Post’s Alberto Bettiol, and then slipped away on the technical descent.

‘Tom never looked back’

Pidcock slipped away and never looked back at Strade Bianche. (Photo: DIRK WAEM/BELGA MAG/AFP via Getty Images)

And with that, Pidcock made his play.

That’s when the initial gap opened to the main bunch. Tosatto could see disorganization and uncertainty in the main peloton, and told Pidcock to keep pushing on.

“Being at the front is always better in that situation,” Tosatto said. “Another key point: we had Tullett, Kwiatkowski and De Plus to cover the moves from behind. Tom took big confidence from his teammates.”

There were a few key moments that also tilted the race Pidcock’s way.

As Tosatto could see, none of the top rivals like Van der Poel or Julian Alaphilippe were on great days.

And the other was a lack of cooperation in the chase. At one point, Bahrain Victorious, Groupama-FDJ, and Jumbo-Visma each had two riders in a chasing group of 11, and they still couldn’t shut it down.

“At one moment in my head, I thought if each of those teams had committed one of their riders to work together they could close the gap,” Tosatto calculated. “In a race like Strade Bianche, everything was about the legs.

“After it was only six riders chasing, I thought ‘OK, Tom can do it.’ The race was still wide open until three kilometers to go.

“In the first point, Tom was super strong. I was telling him the gaps from behind. I was telling him that no one had super legs. He took confidence in that.

“He never looked back,” Tosatto said. “Only on the final wall did he look back. That shows how much super confidence he has in himself. He has super-class, and he won in the first big objective of the year.”

Pidcock rode a perfect race to finesse Strade Bianche. (Photo: Chris Auld/VeloNews)

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