Tom Pidcock is a pure bike racer. He knows it and we’ve all seen it. The 23-year-old likes to attack and try to win – he rarely even bothers going to a one-day race where he doesn’t at least have a chance at victory. This aggressive style works in many cases (think his Strade Bianche win at the start of the season, for example), but it doesn’t quite align with the requirements of riders who want to win three-week-long races such as the Tour de France. In a Grand Tour, patience and timing are key. It’s a waiting game. Wild attacks or rash decisions can be heavily punished as the race goes on.
So does Pidcock’s racing instinct really align with a shot at the yellow jersey in the Tour de France? Can he forgo the feeling of throwing his arms up in the air after stage wins to play the long game?
It appears that this year’s Tour de France is going to be the first real test for the British rider. He currently sits seventh on the general classification after moving up two places yesterday when he managed to finish less than one minute behind Tadej Pogačar and Jonas Vingegaard atop the iconic Puy de Dôme climb on stage nine. Speaking to press afterwards, Pidcock was still sure that stage victories were his main motivation, but seemed a little more open to riding with the aim of a high placing overall. It appears he does not plan to purposefully lose time in order to be given the leeway to go for a stage victory, nor make attacks that could impact his standing in the overall fight for yellow.
On the first rest day of this year’s Tour, a day after his impressive performance on the Puy de Dôme, the Brit once again reiterated his keenness to try and finish with a top-10 on the general classification when the race rolls into Paris.
“My goal is to be consistent. In my head it is becoming more of a challenge and a target to see where I can go on GC because I'm enjoying it, actually,” he explained. “If that means that I don't get a stage win, then maybe that's the case. But I think I can learn a lot about myself if I fully commit to GC now.”
Pidcock’s openness to try and get a solid GC placing in this year’s Tour de France is likely music to the ears of the Ineos Grenadiers’ team bosses, who are under pressure to find a new rider to take them back to the halcyon days of Team Sky. Way back in 2009 when Sky first came on board to sponsor the British outfit, the aim of creating the first British winner of the Tour de France within five years was met when Bradley Wiggins took the yellow jersey in 2012. From then on, the team largely dominated the Tour with Chris Froome winning on three occasions, Geraint Thomas winning in 2018 and Egan Bernal in 2019. When the squad achieved the backing of Ineos in 2020, company owner and billionaire Jim Ratcliffe expected this trend of Tour de France success to continue, but the arrival of riders like Pogačar and Vingegaard has been scuppering their plans. Tom Pidcock might be able to change that.
His potential as a Grand Tour winner is being solidified so far in this Tour and is made even more impressive when considering the preparation he’s had for this year’s race. After a full Classics season, Pidcock went on to race various Mountain Bike World Cup races – a far different approach to the majority of riders targeting general classification who would have been methodically training at altitude. It begs the question: had the 23-year-old had strict preparation for this year’s Tour, how good could he really be in the mountains?
But this is where the conflict could arise. Pidcock has never been the sort of rider to enjoy a straightforward season that focuses solely on training on the road. He’s always commented how much he enjoys the variation of cyclo-cross and mountain biking, and this could well have to stop if he is to mould into the yellow jersey winner that Ineos are in desperate need of right now. When asked in his rest day press conference about his other aims during this season, Pidcock responded: “After yesterday, actually, I was thinking that as soon as I finished this race I'm going to try and win the mountain bike Worlds which is not very normal for other people I'm racing against. I thought that was a bit strange.”
Pidcock has always been a unique rider, not afraid to follow a different path to his peers. For example, when many riders were spending last winter doing strict power-based efforts, Pidcock filmed a viral video of him going for the Strava record on a descent in Los Angeles. At Strade Bianche earlier this season, Pidcock said he had a good feeling he was going to win, but not because he’d spotted a positive trend in his data or power numbers, but because he saw two black cats on his recon ride and thought it was a good omen. No one really does things like Pidcock, and no one has won the Tour while also racing ‘cross and mountain bike at the same time.
Is it possible or will something have to be sacrificed? Is Pidcock prepared to do that? Only time will tell.