In 2020, Tom Pidcock surprised the cyclocross community with his second place in the World Championships. It would be far-fetched to suggest he came out of nowhere – the Yorkshireman, still just 21, has been one of cycling’s brightest talents for years – but it was still a shock to see him deliver a podium place in the elite race on the first time of asking.
But this year is something new – he comes in as most people’s third-favourite behind the eternally battling Mathieu van der Poel and Wout Van Aert.
“I think that this year it’s a little bit different,” Pidcock said.
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I’m going in with a bit more expectation, I think it’s a completely different course. I’m going very well, for sure. That’s as much as I can do going into it.
And much like fellow GB rider, Evie Richards, Pidcock is not perfectly suited to the sandy course in store in Oostende.
“Sand is probably the worst course for me, but I can only ride the course where it is, so, yeah, just gotta try and make as little mistakes as possible. Try and ride it as well as I can.”
The course is not a regular feature on the ‘cross circuit, and was last used for elite competition in 2017 when Wout van Aert became the national champion of Belgium. In 2017 the course was also found to be fairly dangerous, particularly at the point where riders moved onto the sandy part of the track for the first time. It also contains some sharp climbs and a narrow back-half of the loop which will make overtaking tricky.
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If Pidcock is to win the first elite rainbow jersey of his career, he believes he’ll need to get away early doors.
“I think, I need to get a good start. And then I need to be able to get into my rhythm. I think I need to take the lead early on, but that’s easier said than done.”
Some quarters have suggested that a rain-sodden race could benefit Pidcock, but he is skeptical over the amount of impact the weather might have.
“This course is not really one that’ll be affected much by the weather. It’s by a golf course so the ground drains really well. I think it could get slippy if it rains, but then the sand could possibly be a bit easier to ride [if it rained]. But no I don’t think this is a course where the weather would change it too much in my favour.”
Is he a different rider to the one he was a year ago? Besides working heavily on his off-bike strength, which has improved leaps and bounds and got rid of some persistent back pain he was experiencing last season, Pidcock says the process of developing one’s race skills is incremental and the best way to improve is to go up against the best.
“You learn a little bit every time you race and ride with these guys at the front."
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