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How I became pro: Tom Pidcock
With major wins in road, cyclocross and cross-country mountain biking, this British rider is one of cycling’s most exciting talents. This is Tom Pidcock's story.
For Tom Pidcock, the rise to the top of world cycling has felt like a natural evolution. There is, he says, little separation from the young boy that raced in the UK to the young man that is winning world titles, just logical steps along a realistic path of progression.
Amazingly, at just 21 years old the British rider has already won Junior and Under-23 World Championships in three different disciplines; time trial, cyclocross (CX) and cross-country mountain bike (XC), and is working his way into the pro ranks without compromising his passion and talent for any of them.
Despite seeming like he's in a hurry to master everything on two wheels, Pidcock says he takes a ‘slow and steady’ approach. Here’s how that philosophy has worked out so far for this mega multi-talent.
Café culture and family fun
As with all evolutionary journeys, Pidcock’s passion for all things two-wheeled stems from his mum and dad. Keen cyclists themselves, it is little wonder that young Pidcock was scooting around on two wheels as far back, and even before, he can remember.
I think my parents might have even tied my feet to the pedals at one point!
“Scooting” being the operative word here as, perhaps surprisingly, Tom wasn’t keen on pedalling. “I think my parents might have even tied my feet to the pedals at one point!” he adds.
Once he was old enough to rack up a few miles on the open road, he would join the local weekend café rides. Initially, he set out with his mum in the car and they would then ride the final miles to the café to join his dad and the other riders. Eventually, he worked his way up to do the full 80 mile loop, but the coffee, cake and community were always at the heart of the family fun.
“They didn’t push me," Pidcock is keen to stress, pointing out that this early, and slightly unorthodox, adoption of clipless pedals and weekend workouts weren't a result of pushy parenting. "[They] just encouraged me when it was needed; they got the balance right.”
Tom remembers racing a lot at the Under-14 level but not “getting good” until was in the Under-16 ranks. Until then, it was a case of whipping his mudguards off and using his winter training bike to race cyclocross. However, with some strong results under his belt, he got support from Paul Milnes Cycles, a Yorkshire-based cycle shop in the UK with a strong heritage of supporting talented young racers from the county.
Pidcock was still switching between the disciplines; training largely on the road, racing with increasing prominence in cyclocross and always playing on the mountain bike. There were no thoughts of specialising, but Pidcock did and indeed still does see himself as a road racer who does cyclocross and mountain biking, rather than a cyclocross rider who dabbles in the other disciplines.
This perhaps stems from his earliest race and his earliest big success, both of which were on the road. The former was at Castle Combe Race Circuit in the South-West of England where a dropped chain resulting in a bit of stress, while the latter was at the Scarborough National Youth Road Race Series. It was the win there that resulted in the mental switch that saw Pidcock begin to understand his potential.
From here the results and the recognition started rolling in. The major milestones started aged 16 as a first-year Junior. A second place at the UCI Cyclocross World Cup in Hoogerheide cemented his status as ‘one-to-watch', while an eighth place at the European Cyclocross Championships was followed up with a fifth at the World Championships later that year.
The following year he would go on to start winning with the kind of style that was impossible to go unnoticed; the first of his World Cup, European and World Championship victories were in the bag.
On the road, Pidcock was also hitting headlines. Just two months after securing the rainbow stripes in cyclocross, he won the Junior edition of the prestigious Paris-Roubaix.
A multi-talented rider was emerging. Only a very few racers have managed to excel in cyclocross, road and mountain bike in their elite careers such as Pauline Ferrand-Prevot and Mathieu van der Poel. Could he back up these stellar Junior years and add his name to this stellar roster?
No great rush
Signing a professional contract with cyclocross super-team Telenet-Fidea seemed a solid move. So naturally when he left the team one year into a two-year contract, some eyebrows were raised. Similarly, riding a largely domestic and crit-heavy road calendar with Sir Bradley Wiggins' UCI Continental team, Team Wiggins, didn’t see Pidcock catapult to instant greatness as some had predicted.
There’s no rush to be a World Tour rider and I’m not in the game to be the youngest Tour de France winner. To me, that’s quite irrelevant; it’s about what you’ve achieved at the end of your career.
Behind the hype though, he was just going about his business in his typically calm and confident way.
“After the season with Wiggins, I just went to the dirt jumps and went out with my friends. I put on 8kg! And in the grand scheme of things, it doesn’t matter. There’s no rush to be a World Tour rider and I’m not in the game to be the youngest Tour de France winner, or the youngest this or that. To me, that’s quite irrelevant; it’s about what you’ve achieved at the end of your career.”
Whilst Pidcock doesn’t really feel like his teenage years were full of sacrifice, explaining that “I don’t drink, I don’t like going out and I love riding my bike and then watching TV, playing my Xbox and doing nothing so it was kinda perfect!” He realises that he actually needed that time early in his Under-23 career to step back from what can be an all-consuming world.
He adds that he is someone who has developed slowly, and it seems that not rushing through his career or pushing too hard during his younger years has paid dividends. As Pidcock gets older, he feels the sacrifices a little more; the time away from home, his family and girlfriend, and the finer margins for success that come as you reach the top of senior, elite sport. But when you see the big picture, it all becomes worth it.
“I’m not fully developed yet, of course. Someone who is 21 shouldn’t be,” he says. “I’ve always learnt to win races through other ways, not by being the strongest, because I was always the smallest and least developed. I guess I still am. I’m taking my time to get the full potential out of myself.”
Taking control (and titles)
It takes a huge amount of confidence to tread your own path at your own pace, but Pidcock has a mature head on those young shoulders and he is making it work.
One of the key figures helping Pidcock navigate this route to the top is his Trinity Racing Team Manager, Kurt Bogaerts. Alongside the big race results, Pidcock points to the beginning of their working relationship as one of the major milestones on his cycling journey.
“That was after the time at Wiggins when I was a bit relaxed and he got me back into the swing of things. He’s not just a coach. He looks at everything I do as an athlete; diet, training, lifestyle, how to deal with a girlfriend and all that.”
Going to Belgium over that winter and being with Bogaerts and his partner, sports therapist Xenia van der Muelen, was hugely formative for Pidcock. He learnt quickly how to be a complete athlete, not just how to train hard.
With Bogaerts at the helm of a team built around Pidcock, control was in his hands. He could focus on getting everything right, laying strong foundations for his future. By taking control, Pidcock started taking Under-23 and Elite titles as well.
The 2019 and 2020 seasons are a rollcall of remarkable results: Under-23 European Cyclocross Champion, Under-23 World Cyclocross Champion, British Cyclocross Champion, Under-23 World Cup winner. On the road, Pidcock became the first-ever British winner of the Under-23 Paris-Roubaix, and then went on to claim the Under-23 bronze at the World Championships in his home county of Yorkshire, England. And that was just 2019.
This year, he made the step up to the elites in CX, securing silver in his first-ever Cyclocross World Championships before the global pandemic put a halt to all events. When racing resumed, he showed that the lockdown hadn't affected his early-season form, powering his way to overall victory at the Giro Ciclistico d’Italia, the biggest stage race on the Under-23 road calendar, before riding an incredibly strong race at the Elite World Championships where he was Great Britain’s team leader.
From here he turned his hand to mountain bike, where he won back-to-back races at his first-ever Under-23 cross-country World Cups, and backed this up the following week with the Under-23 and e-MTB World Championship titles.
Reaching the World Tour
In September 2020, it was announced that Pidcock had signed with Ineos Grenadiers, one of the biggest and perhaps the best-known professional road teams in the world. Ever. Was this a dream come true moment for the 21-year-old lad from Yorkshire?
“Honestly, I don’t think there’s any other team I would have ridden for," says Pidcock. "I might not have ever said this, but actually I always just thought, ‘of course I will ride for them’.”
In the same way that he never quite understood the question, “what do you want to do when you grow up?”, because he was already doing it, riding for Ineos feels like a natural evolution. Special, yes, but not surprising.
So, will this World Tour signing compromise Pidcock’s cyclocross and mountain bike racing?
“Not at all! They are fully behind me to help me achieve what I want to.”
For now, that means full focus on his second elite cyclocross season and a chance to go one better at World Championships. Then, in 2021, we can expect to see Pidcock turning his talent back to mountain biking as he builds towards Tokyo.
“I want to go to Tokyo on the mountain bike and give it a proper shot, and I think I have a good chance of getting a medal.”
Pidcock’s career is outstanding already, but this is certainly not the end of the path or even the peak of his potential. World, watch out.
Tom Pidcock will be racing at the Cyclo-Cross World Championships in Ostend, Belgium, on January 31. Watch the racing via the UCI YouTube Channel, GCN Race App or Eurosport. Note geo-restrictions on coverage may apply and broadcasts may be shown by a broadcaster in your own country.