“We weren’t riding on roads today, we were riding in a stadium.”
After 268km ridden at a blistering pace, that finished several minutes ahead of the fastest time scheduled, a soot-smeared Tom Pidcock still had the capacity to come up with a pin-sharp summary of the 2021 men’s UCI Road World Championships road race.
A few kilometres back up the road, he had not only the legs, but the psychological strength, to surge out of the group containing Mathieu van der Poel and Wout van Aert, in order to secure as high a finish as he possibly could. Even though the win was out of sight at that point, and the podium too, he wasn’t prepared to settle for a simple top ten, or even to risk falling out of it altogether.
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Tom Pidcock is about as far from “new” talent as someone his age can get.
He has been headline talent since he was still comfortably in his teens, when he won the 2017 junior Cyclocross World Championships in Bieles, Luxembourg. A few months after that he claimed victory in the Paris-Roubaix juniors race after launching a bold solo attack on the Carrefour de l’Arbre. In September that same year he became junior time trial world champion.
To list even the highlights of the highlights of his racing career in the years since would take more space than available, but it is safe to say that every question that has been asked of him he has answered, every set of steps has been taken two at a time.
The versatility Pidcock displayed as a kid has been maintained well into the senior ranks, culminating in an Olympic gold medal in mountain biking barely two weeks before taking to the start of his first Grand Tour.
As far round the block as he has been, it is hard to believe that he is just 22 years old, at the end of only his first season as a professional road racer, but it is important to remind ourselves that both of those things remain the case.
It has been a season in which he has given every indication that the highest level leadership duties lie ahead.
The results he has produced have been far above those which anyone would expect at this stage. No, he did not blow anyone away at La Vuelta, but every other part of the season, in particular his classics campaign, was an extraordinary success.
Third at Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne, 5th at Strade-Bianche, 15th after a monumental 299km of Milan-Sanremo. Pidcock achieved a first victory at Brabantse Pijl, beating Wout van Aert - WOUT VAN AERT - in the sprint. He almost managed to repeat the trick four days later at Amstel Gold, but the Belgian’s experience gave him the edge that day.
Aside from his results, there is the magnetic manner in which Pidcock rides. His instincts are those of the pure racer, while his tactical sense is that of a racer several years deeper into their career than he is. He rides without fear, never questioning whether or not he can act, or should, just trusting in his abilities, which have not let him down so far.
In Sunday's World Championships road race, Pidcock was more than a match, physically as well as mentally, for the home favourite on home roads. He marked the right wheels, preserved his energy for when it mattered, and made it into the most important move at the end of the race.
Yet rather than seeing sixth for the success it was, he viewed it as an opportunity missed. He was waiting for the right moment to go, and waited too long, he said afterwards.
"I waited too long and I missed the race," said the 22-year-old rider.

‘I waited too long and I missed the race!’ – Pidcock disappointed after sixth-place finish

There will be other opportunities. Countless incarnations of them. Like Julian Alaphilippe himself, it is hard to imagine a world championship course that will not suit him, that he could not compete on.
Plenty of riders are over-hyped in the earliest stages of their careers, and perhaps there is a danger that we are guilty of doing just that, but it seems hard to imagine that he will not go on to glory, and at least one set of rainbow bands.
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