Tom Pidcock went up the Bosberg faster than ever before in his career during his recon of Omloop Het Nieuwsblad on Thursday. This is a fact that might instil some excitement in fans of the British talent, but perhaps some fear in those who will race against him on Saturday in the first race of Opening Weekend.
The 23-year-old’s preparation for this road season has been a little different to years previous. Despite being the defending cyclocross world champion, Pidcock opted not to start at the World Championships in Hoogerheide a few weeks ago, instead ending his cyclocross campaign on January 22 at the UCI World Cup in Benidorm. Some were surprised at this decision – Pidcock had a chance of being up there with Mathieu van der Poel and Wout van Aert, fighting for the rainbow jersey – but the Ineos Grenadiers rider himself believes that this decision has paid dividends when it comes to his current form on the road.
“Yesterday in the recon [of Omloop het Nieuwsblad] I was going pretty well. My least favourite climb, the Bosberg, I went up it the fastest I’ve ever gone up it. Last week in Algarve, I was climbing well. It's nice to get a win already after sacrificing the ‘cross. I was watching in envy, the [Cyclocross] World Championships, but it's nice that it's paying off a little bit already, the fact that I've had longer to prepare for the road season,” Pidcock explained at a recent press conference.
Tom Pidcock and Ben Turner during the recon of Omloop het Nieuwsblad (Image: Jasper Jacobs/Getty)
It’s true that Pidcock is looking like a different rider currently compared to this time last year. In the Volta ao Algarve two weeks ago, he stormed to a strong victory on stage four and was in contention for the overall race win after beating his breakaway companions in a three-up sprint to the line. Comparatively, in 2022, Pidcock didn’t finish the Portuguese stage race due to fatigue, went on to place 18th at Omloop Het Nieuwsblad a few weeks later, then ended up 70th at Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne and didn’t finish Milan-San Remo due to stomach problems. It was a start to the season that the British rider will be keen not to repeat this year, and it seems like his changed run-up to the season could help this.
“Last year was inconsistent with illness and things, I wanted to get a more solid base [this year],” Pidcock explained. “We made the decision not to race the Worlds quite early on. I really enjoyed this year in the ‘cross so that’s good for next year because I am already looking forward to it, but it also meant that I've had a longer period to build the road. And I think it’s already showing.”
While Pidcock is looking to improve on his Classics campaign from 2022, his team on the other hand, Ineos Grenadiers, are looking to match what was one of their best run of results in years. The team dominated Paris-Roubaix and made headlines with their new, young team who weren’t afraid to attack the races.
“Last year, as a team, it was our best year in the Classics to date and we come in this year with confidence from that and to build on that,” Pidcock explained. The British rider also adds that, with the results he has personally to his name, he believes sub-par performances in some of the Classics last year could have been an asset to his team and their tactics.
“I’ve always been watched. I think that was a factor last year in the team's success, because we have a strong team and if people are looking at me, then it gives opportunities to other people in the team,” he said. “I think last year with me not being 100%, it created some success. That's something that I have to live with. I haven’t won massively on the road yet but I think I have a name where people watch me, which is maybe unfortunate, but it's just how it is.”
Whether the win that Pidcock is searching for will come at Omloop Het Nieuwsblad is doubtful, it’s not a course that is particularly suited to him due to a lack of difficult climbs that break the race up. This doesn’t mean that he is counting out a strong result, however.
“It's not the most perfectly suited race to me, but I think it's going to be a bit windy tomorrow and I think there's a lot of strength and depth from different teams,” he explained. “I'm sure that teams are going to be racing from earlier than normal, that’s the case every year now, I think it will be a hard enough race.”
Pidcock on his way to victory in stage four of the Volta ao Algarve (Image: Tim de Waele/Getty)
Many believe that the pre-race favourite for Omloop Het Nieuwsblad is Lotto Dstny’s talented sprinter Arnaud De Lie, who starts the race for the first time in his career. For De Lie’s rivals, it will be a case of trying to distance the young Belgian on the earlier climbs so that he doesn’t end up with a clear run at the final sprint to the line.
Ineos Grenadiers might be a squad who will employ this tactic, given that they are without a pure sprinter to challenge De Lie. However, it could be argued that the team will be weakened this year, with the departure of Paris-Roubaix winner Dylan van Baarle to Jumbo-Visma. Despite Van Baarle leaving unavoidably changing the dynamics of the Ineos squad, Pidcock doesn’t see the loss of the Dutchman as crucial to the team producing strong performances this year.
“It's Arnaud’s race to lose, he has gone well in the start of this year. I haven't raced him yet but if he goes to the finish with anyone, it is his race to lose, so I understand why he's probably the favourite,” Pidcock said. Despite the challenge that De Lie poses, the British rider argues that with a talented and keen group of riders that share a strong bond, Ineos could be better than ever in 2023.
“Dylan was a great addition to this team but at the same time we have a younger team that we can build together from the start,” he explained. “We've all joined the team in the last two years and we can build that together over the next few years and create a really strong Classics team. Dylan leaving is a shame, but we still have a strong team, maybe even stronger than last year.”
Cover image by Getty Images