In the fast-paced world of professional cycling, where every pedal is a calculated move, unforeseen challenges can disrupt even the most meticulously planned race calendars. Tom Pidcock recently found himself at a crossroads when faced with an unexpected hurdle amid the 2023/2024 cyclocross season – a bout of illness just before the X2O Trophy in Koksijde, Belgium. Rather than pressing forward, Pidcock opted to take a step back from racing, a decision that would not only see him miss out on racing the Hexia Cross in Gullegen and the Zonhoven World Cup but also the chance to prove himself against his rivals Wout van Aert and Mathieu van der Poel.
Pidcock had won just one ‘cross race before the X2O Trophy – the World Cup in Namur – but hadn’t yet managed to beat the unseemingly unstoppable Van der Poel or Van Aert, and the race in Belgium was the Brit’s chance at going head-to-head with them once again. But his break due to sickness was almost a blessing in disguise. At the UCI Cyclocross World Cup in Benidorm on Sunday, Pidcock made his return to racing but admitted to feeling relieved about stopping racing earlier than he would have liked to because he was “fighting a battle that [he] was not winning”. His time off the bike afforded him time to reassess, allowing his body to recover from illness and his mind from the frustrations of not being able to compete.
His return in Benidorm saw him healthy again, and he described feeling “strong on the bike” after his layoff. The Ineos Grenadiers rider came ninth in the race, with Wout van Aert taking the victory, but Pidcock recognised that he wasn’t at his best in comparison to his competitors, having missed vital training and racing in the lead-up to the race in Spain. However, Pidcock’s choice to protect his body for long-term goals held more weight than immediate victories, setting the tone for hopefully the year ahead.
The 24-year-old former world champion has also opted to miss this year’s Cyclocross World Championships in Tábor and instead prepare himself for his first race of the road season – Volta ao Algarve. He’ll then be racing Omloop Het Nieuwsblad before making his way to Italy to defend his Strade Bianche title. The Yorkshireman last year stormed his way effortlessly to victory at Strade Bianche, claiming his first major Classics crown. He will be back in an attempt to win the one-day race again on the white roads of Italy, but he added: “Defending a title always adds a new level of difficulty to a race, but I love that race.”
Tom Pidcock chatting to fans and signing jerseys in Benidorm, Spain (photo credit: Javier Martínez de la Puente)
His race calendar follows a similar format to last year’s, with Tirreno-Adriatico as his next race. Last year, he was involved in a crash which left him with a concussion, preventing him from racing in Milan-Sanremo. This year, he’s hoping for better luck at the start of the season in order to be competitive in his third appearance at La Classicissima. “I’ll try not to get concussed this year,” he laughed.
The only difference between Pidcock’s race calendar for this year is that he has opted to miss the cobbled Classics, instead riding Itzulia Basque Country in preparation for the Tour de France. He will potentially ride all three of the Ardennes Classics having impressed in claiming second place at Liège-Bastogne-Liège last year, only beaten by the rempaging Remco Evenepoel.
The Tour remains a key goal for Pidcock, especially given the lead-in it will provide to the Paris Olympic games. There is only a week between the end of the Tour in Nice and the Olympic mountain bike race, in which he hopes to achieve Olympic gold once again. He also hopes to make the men’s road race team; the punchy parcours perhaps suited to his capabilities. “The only option is I go into the Tour 100 per cent, and I come out of it in the best shape. That’s the best way to go to the Olympics,” Pidcock said, cautioning that he is aware it will be a difficult challenge with demands he’s not taken on before.
The Tour will be more than just a warm-up, however, for Pidcock as he aims to prove himself as a GC rider. Last year was his first in earnest at riding for GC, but eventually finished 13th overall and did not win any stages. And it seems he is motivated to redeem himself for last year having already been on a recon of the gravel stage, where he is expected to thrive over many of the other GC contenders.
With his biggest year to date on the cards, defending titles and chasing Olympics dreams, Pidcock might have had to cut his ‘cross season short due to an unfortunate bout of illness, but this doesn’t always mean missing out – it can mean a more robust chance at success in the future. So, while the road ahead may twist and turn, one thing remains certain – Pidcock, armed with determination, is ready to put his all into the road, and he confidently stated: “If it all goes well, it will show.”