This interview was originally published in Rouleur Issue 108, January 2022, support our journalism by subscribing here.
Tom Pidcock will at Rouleur Live 2022 on Friday 4th November, buy tickets here.
The air hockey table fires up; game on. The Ineos Grenadiers press officer flicks her wrist and fires the puck with her striker – straight down the middle into the goal. Immediately, Tom Pidcock is one down. A flicker of surprise crosses his face. But it’s only a battle lost, not the war. Lo and behold, the born competitor within has been awoken; he knuckles down, focuses and emerges on top.
This is not a man used to tasting defeat. You name it, the 22-year-old can do it with aplomb: road, mountain bike, cyclo-cross, arcade games, even running and unicycle riding. To call him versatile feels almost insulting.
In a racing season full of highlights in different cycling disciplines, Olympic mountain-bike cross country gold stands out. “It was a big, big deal – more than just the fact that it was the Olympics,” says Pidcock. “Because I broke my collarbone, and then I worked so hard for two months. When you’re injured, it’s just so much more intense.” The surgeon gave Pidcock a conservative recovery estimate of six weeks; he was back on the bike in six days. After his victory, Pidcock duly sorted out a signed, framed jersey for the man who had enabled his race against time.
Pidcock certainly made the most of his 365 days in 2021. He raced cyclo-cross through winter, taking three World Cup podiums and a Superprestige victory. On his road debut, as a first-year pro with Ineos Grenadiers at Het Nieuwsblad in March, he followed the decisive mid-race attacks, astonishing his team managers. In April, he outsprinted Wout van Aert at Brabantse Pijl and lost the Amstel Gold Race to his Belgian rival by a miniscule margin. May saw a MTB World Cup triumph in Slovenia. That broken collarbone in early June did not mean shattered Olympics dreams, but little wonder he was tired when the Vuelta came round.
Pidcock is like a kid at the controls of an amusement arcade robotic grab claw, with the potential to nonchalantly pick up cycle sport’s biggest races and deposit them in his lap.
Not only is the Yorkshireman here to stay but, as we discovered when we put Rouleur readers’ questions to him, he has a lot to say – and a great sense of humour. Just don’t test it by taking his Strava KoM...
What is the hardest part of being a professional bike racer and why?
The sacrifices you make. Like, it’s not just when you are training, it’s all the time, it’s everything. Your whole life revolves around it, really. And only those few weeks in a year where you have time off can you actually do what you want, not thinking about what it means – whether you can train well the next day or whether you’re too tired or whatever.
What is your favourite thing about Yorkshire?
James Brown, Scarborough
Probably, the identity that that brings. Everyone’s very proud to be from Yorkshire, it’s nice to be kind of part of that.
What’s your favourite climb in Yorkshire?
Jimmy from Yeadon
The Otley Chevin – I just call it the Chevin. The chaingang goes up and it kicks off there, that’s where I ride up and down basically every time I go for a ride. It’s a main road and not a big climb. I have the Strava KoM, it’s three and a half minutes. I don’t know if I got flagged though, I did it behind a lorry. It’s so fast that everyone’s done it behind a car, it’s only three or four per cent so… if I get a notification saying someone’s beaten it, I’ll just flag ‘em! I think I’m first and my brother’s second, actually.
If you were allowed to choose just one race to win in your entire professional cyclist career (either road, cyclo-cross or mountain bike), what would that be?
Fabio Rezende in Girona
I always said elite road Worlds, but actually after winning Olympics, it’s so much bigger. It’s like a world games and everyone in the country follows it, whether they like sport or not. So maybe I’ve already done it, I don’t know. But the plan is to go for the road in Paris .
Ineos Grenadiers aside, which pro team has the coolest kit? And which kit wouldn’t you wear if they paid you?
[laughs] Intermarché-Wanty-Gobert kit is the worst. It’s just got too many sponsors on, hasn’t it? Best kit… we’ll say Quick Step for now.
What is the most difficult part when switching disciplines? And is your MTB set-up influenced by the road one or vice versa?
The only thing that’s influenced is the Q-factor of the cranks, making that as similar as possible. Then the most difficult part is just acclimatising to a new bike. The hardest bike to switch to is the time-trial bike, for sure. Most bikes, I get used to after ten minutes but that one… to be fast on it takes a lot of work. At the moment, I just ride it on the rollers before breakfast. It is difficult here [in mountainous Andorra], you have to go down to Spain to do a proper ride. Sometimes, I do rest days out on it, I’ve got a 34 chainring so I can go up the climbs nice and easy!
Can you ride a unicycle?
Yes, I can. I have one in the UK. I used to ride them with my friends at school, going out riding in the woods and stuff not recently, but it’s like riding a bike: you don’t forget once you know how to do it. I probably won’t be able to do 360s and stuff like that anymore though. The key is finding the balance on it, the hardest thing is setting off and not ruining your shins.
Any chance of seeing you run 5,000 metres on the track to see how fast you can go?
Yeah, I will do it at some point. Well, Nike want me to do it in Oregon at their facility, so after cyclo-cross Worlds, I’m gonna go there and do it. But we’ll see. I want to run one on the flat first to get another time. I don’t want to get over 15 minutes; it’s pointless, innit?
What happened with that Strava 13:25 5km run you did in February 2021? Clear that up for us. [NB: The British record is 13:20]
My watch had been Wahoo and I switched to Ineos Grenadiers and it’s Garmin. I got my Garmin watch out, charged it and it was the wrong date and all that stuff. Apparently, the GPS was a bit out but I thought of this perfect place; if I do three laps, it’s five k. And I start a little bit downhill – like Kipchoge did in his marathon. I measured it, did it and it said 5k on the watch. Apparently it’s not, the line is a little bit… not so accurate. I don’t know, maybe it’s a little bit wrong.
Can we have a Superman celebration in 2022, pretty please?
We’ll see, I’ll do my best. Need a bit of a winning margin, it’s a bit more difficult these days.
If you could race in any other era, when would that be and why?
Probably 2012. I’m quite young, I don't really know much before that, so it’s not like I remember watching the ’80s or something. Because Wiggins, Cav, Froome – still the best sports clip I’ve ever seen is Wiggins winning the TT at the London Olympics. It makes you feel proud to be British.
Have you got any tips on how to do the perfect wheelie without breaking bones or bike?
[laughs] Don’t fall off! You have to go pretty wrong to break a bone doing a wheelie; I bruised my coccyx once but didn’t break it. To learn, you need to press your back brake going into a wheelie and then do it again. You get comfortable being off the floor, then you try to go a bit longer. Use the brake to not go backwards – and your knees to balance left and right.
The longest I’ve wheelied for is a kilometre. I actually wanted to try to do one properly between kilometre markers on a climb, and do a time-lapse video. It hurts my back doing a wheelie for that long.
As a boy currently studying A Levels at school who enjoys both cycling and running, I am interested to ask: when you were sitting exams at school, how did you balance studying with training?
I regret not learning more stuff at school I was interested in. To me, I was always going to be a cyclist so, to be honest, a number on a piece of paper at the end of an exam didn’t mean anything to me. But I think it’s important to learn as much as you can in the things you’re interested in.
How many pairs of Oakleys do you have?
I think 60 or 70, including casual. My favourites are the red pair I always race in.
Do you still think about that Amstel Gold Race finish in your head? Who really won?
Yes. Who won? The answer’s me. [laughing] Someone set it [the photo finish] up wrong because there’s a photo where I’m in front. That’s what I’m going off, on the finish line. Anyway, I’ll just go back next year...
What is the biggest lesson you’ve learnt about yourself from your first full year at WorldTour level?
Good question. Hmm, not sure. I have learned a lot this year, but it’s a lot of little things you just pick up all the time at races. As the least experienced in the team, everyone’s got something to give you.
When was the last time you did something for the first time?
Andy in Mallorca
I learned to ride a motorbike a few weeks ago. A little one that didn’t change gear, buzzing round a field on this little track – it was class. But I don’t think I’ll get a motorbike, I’d hurt myself.
What’s your longest ride with a hangover?
I don’t think I’ve ever been hungover – honestly, not properly. I’ve had a drink like four times in my life. It’s probably the day after going out clubbing, I did a four-hour ride.
When are you planning to ride Red Bull Rampage?
Well, I want to ride a downhill World Cup first. Rampage I need to go and see because obviously everything looks smaller on TV than it does in real life. So, I don’t know: it’s on my bucket list to ride Red Bull Rampage but I dunno if I ever will ‘cos the older you get, the less stupid stuff you do, generally.
Maiden or Metallica?
… I don’t know what that means. [laughs] What’s that?
They’re famous metal bands from the 70s and 80s. Oasis or Blur then?
Oasis. I wouldn’t say I’m into specific music, I like Oasis, the Killers, I also like some new pop songs, but don’t know any of the names.
Do you see yourself winning a Grand Tour in the near future, and if yes, do you feel Ineos Grenadiers provide the best environment right now?
Ian from Uganda
Well, I think Ineos has got the best pedigree of winning Grand Tours. So in that respect, yes. As for the first part of the question, depends how near future he’s talking about, but yeah. The next five years? I hope so, that’s not near.
What are your feelings about people saying they expected more from your performance at La Vuelta? I think you did well since you were there just to learn what a Grand Tour is.
Yeah, after the Olympics, I completely switched off, the motivation wasn’t there. Even when I tried to switch back on, I couldn’t really. I had three weeks kind of dossing about. I didn’t drink or anything, I was eating, doing stuff with my friends and didn’t have the fitness when I got to the Vuelta. I think I got better through the race, which bodes well for the future. I learned a hell of a lot, so I think it was all right. Would have been good to try to win a stage towards the end, but I don’t think my shape was good enough for that.
Any thoughts on adding indoor cycling to your string of achievements?
No, that’s a bit specific, that is. I think all the sports I do are generally kind of endurance sports, but that’s a bit like freestyle BMX. Or gymnastics. A bit different.
In cyclo-cross and MTB, who were your idols?
Well honestly, the first year I started going away to Belgium and did a few races that year, I didn’t actually know who anyone was in ‘cross. I didn’t really follow the sport at all. Then at the Worlds, I only just learned who Sven Nijs was. Then I started following it as a junior and that’s when Wout [van Aert] was racing and Mathieu [van der Poel] was world champion, so I’d say probably Mathieu and Wout.
And then mountain bike, I follow that a bit more, I watch the Olympics and things. Obviously Nino was at the top, so Nino [Schurter].
Who do you see as your natural competitors in the new wave of talent in the peloton?
The guys my age: Pogačar, Remco [Evenepoel], more Mathieu and Wout, I guess, as my biggest competitors because I race with them all year round.
Who’s more talented, you or your brother Joe [who races for Groupama-FDJ]?
[laughs] I’m not just gonna say me. Because I think he is quite talented but he’s not as focused as me. I mean, he doesn’t like vegetables, so doesn’t eat any, which obviously isn’t going to help him ride a bike fast, is it? So I don’t know, we’ll see.
How was your coffee this morning?
Pavel Sivakov, Ineos Grenadiers team-mate
What coffee, what’s he on about? [laughs] I don’t drink coffee. I only ever tried it because my dad got cappuccinos at the caff with chocolate sprinkles on, and I liked licking the sprinkles off the top when he wasn’t looking. Then one day, I got the coffee as well and didn’t like it. And why do I need to drink it? You get a better benefit from caffeine gels, don’t you?
How long do you see yourself competing in multiple disciplines?
Good question. Because I think if I ever did want to fully focus on Grand Tours, then I wouldn’t be able to do other disciplines in that year – it doesn’t mean I wouldn’t go back to them. But, at least until Paris 2024.
Tom Pidcock will be speaking on Friday 4th November at Rouleur Live 2022. Get tickets here.