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FOTO STORY

  • PODIUM RUSH

    TOM PIDCOCKS WORLD CUP PODIUMS OF JUST 2 WEEKENDS BACK TO BACK

    Words Colin Meagher | Photos Hoshi Yoshida & Andy Vathis

Thomas Pidcock is that once in a cycling generation phenom. He’s young—only 21—and at 171cm and 58 kg, he’s not particularly imposing. But make no mistake: that unassuming figure is poised to become legend. He’s adept at road and cyclo cross, having already proven himself on the world stage with bronze in the 2019 U23 road cycling world champs and silver in the 2020 cyclo-cross world champs but in his own words, "I was born to ride a mountain bike."

 

"I was born to ride a mountain bike."

 

UCI World Cup Albstadt 2021

With no elite top 40 UCI World Cup ranking, Pidcock was unable to participate in the Short Track Cross Country event the Friday before the main event and thus relegated an 11th row start in this, the first World Cup XC race of the 2021 season. With Albstadt’s mix of brutal climbs, single track, and steep descents, the handicap of that back row start meant that merely getting into the top ten, let alone to the podium, promised to be a battle—the young British rider would need to overtake 80 riders to get to the front.

To say Pidcock had his work cut out for him, would be an understatement, but the Brit was upbeat, stating, "It’s a different game when you get to elite. It’s nice to come in with the confidence of a win in my first big race (a Swiss Cup XC race in Leukerbad the week prior to Albstadt), but having a back row start…it can only get better from here."

And from the start, Pidcock rose to the challenge, moving up to 25th position by the end of the start loop. Aggressive passing continued to be his strategy—he certainly wasn’t making any friends in the early laps, as the track is tight in places, but Pidcock didn’t come to this race to make friends; he came to win.

Chipping away at the leaders saw Pidcock inside the top 20 halfway through lap one. Then 13th. Then inside the top ten at the beginning of lap two. He would get within the top five by the end of that lap, dangling some two seconds off the front. So close! Lap three saw the catch, with the British phenom briefly take the lead, but he quickly surrendered that to Nino Schurter, marking the Swiss boss on the first climb. But from there, Pidcock started to slip back, having simply burned too many matches with his madcap battle to gain the front. Soon he ceded a position, then another. By the start of lap five he’d slipped just outside of the top five, some 16 seconds off the front, and just dangling behind Anton Cooper of New Zealand. Pidcock never relented, though, and came back around Cooper on the final lap, ultimately coming home fifth, 29 seconds off the winning pace set by Victor Koretzky, and with only Schurter, Mathias Flueckiger, and Ondrej Cink ahead of him. Not at all a shabby finish for one’s first Elite World Cup XC race, never mind the handicap of starting in the back.

 

"It’s a different game when you get to elite. It’s nice to come in with the confidence of a win in my first big race (a Swiss Cup XC race in Leukerbad the week prior to Albstadt), but having a back row start…it can only get better from here."

 

UCI World Cup Nove Mesto

Coming only a week after the Albstadt race, the Czech Republic UCI World Cup Cross Country racing classic couldn’t be more of a contrast: yes, steep climbs, but rather than the fairly non-technical track in Germany, Nove Mesto demands technical handling skills on par with Mt St Anne in Canada, both for climbing and descending. Additionally, the rain came, dropping the temps from Albstadt’s smoldering 29c to 15c, and making an already challenging track slippery as well as technically challenging.

But if past history is any indication, Pidcock has those handling skills, having won both U23 races of the Covid-19 impacted 2020 World Cup event at this venue, and CX racing at any level means coming to terms with slick conditions. And he had exactly the right tool for the job, swapping his unbranded AXON34 WERX EQ equipped hard tail from Germany for a similarly equipped unbranded BMC 4 Stroke full suspension bike, which offered 100mm of EDGE rear damped travel for the roots and rocks of the Czech woods. And this time, too, the Brit was able to take part in the short track race two days prior to the main event, where his second place finish behind fellow phenom Matthieu van der Poel ensured a front row start alongside his Dutch CX rival in the big dance.

From the gun, great things were expected, and from that start the Grenadiers rider delivered. But not without a battle first: the big Dutch rider lined up next to the young Brit is not only unbeaten in short track, but blew everyone’s doors off in 2019 at this venue, and his win two evenings prior over the Grenadiers rider in the short track showed that he, too, had come to dominate. But Pidcock was up for the challenge.

From the start it was Van der Poel setting the pace, with a confident Pidcock sitting in fourth—a tactical move to assess pace and strategize without losing contact. VDP is known to push the pace at the start in order to devastate the competition, as his ability to recover is generally superior to his rivals. But Pidcock was right on the Dutch rider’s wheel by split one of the first lap, followed by the “local” rider, Czech Ondrey Cink.

It quickly became evident that barring any sort of a mechanical mishap, it was going to be either Pidcock or Van Der Poel for the win, never mind Cink’s home ground advantage. The two phenoms set a torrid pace in the start lap, shredding the field before beginning a game of cat and mouse on the first full lap. And what a game! Where others were forced off their bikes to run some of the slick and muddy technical climbs, these two rode. And on the descents, both kept it upright despite the rats nest of slippery roots spiced with countless rocks. But by lap three, Pidcock had seen a weakness, and made his move, floating over the roots of a steep climb with a viscous attack that opened up a 30-second gap over his CX and now XC rival, Van Der Poel.

From there it was somewhat uneventful, as the young Brit continued to apply pressure, never relenting, and most definitely never looking back! If he had, he would have seen Swiss rider Mathias Flueckiger briefly challenging VDP in the fourth lap before settling in the third position. But for Pidcock it was a commanding win as he came home after six laps to claim the win a full minute over Van Der Poel, with Mathias Flueckiger, Ondrej Cink, and Jordan Sarrou rounding out the podium.