Speaking with Telegraph Sport before taking the step up from the under-23s where he has been patiently learning his trade, Pidcock says he believes he can win “a race or two” in his first year as a neo-pro, scheduled to get under way at the Tour du Haut Var on Friday. There is no cockiness, no arrogance: just 100 per cent belief in himself. Complete and utter belief that he was born to win bike races.
“I kind of always knew that I would become a pro cyclist once I started cycling and training properly — the only thing that was ever going to stop me would be an injury or something,” he says. “I didn’t ever think to myself ‘I want to be a cyclist’. In my head I have always been one.”
Encouraged by his parents, including his father Giles who raced for Britain at the World Student Games, Pidcock started cycling before he had even started school. “My dad was a cyclist, so it was natural that I got introduced to the sport, and I guess I sort of fell in love with it,” he explains. “I tried other sports, but I never continued with them.
“My first race was down south at the Castle Combe motor racing circuit. I was around 10 at the time. I guess it’s not that young if you’ve been riding since you were four — six years training for your first race.”
That patience has continued through his gradual ascent to the top level of men’s road cycling where he is about to become the most eagerly anticipated British neo-pro since Chris Boardman, who at 25 was considerably older than Pidcock when he joined Gan-Lemond in 1993.
While contemporaries like Remco Evenepoel skipped the under-23s and were fast-tracked to the seniors with Deceuninck-Quick Step — a team the Yorkshireman was heavily linked with — Pidcock believes in the long game. “That’s kind of the idea behind waiting,” he says in reference to the saga over which team would capture his signature.
“I’m finally in the position to compete in the races that I’ve always dreamed about,” he says. “I’m excited about it, it’s been a long time coming. I’ve been kept back in the under-23s with an eye on the long game, but I’m happy now I’m finally stepping up. I think I’m capable of properly racing. So I think that yes I can hopefully win a race or two this year. I feel like we’ve kind of made up for 2019, there were a lot of ‘what ifs’. So it was nice to make up for [the disappointments] in a small way.”
Those disappointments included a horrific crash at the Tour de l’Avenir that almost caused Pidcock to miss the 2019 world championships in his home county of Yorkshire. Although he recovered in time to compete, and take a bronze medal in the under-23 road race, Pidcock says he still punches his pillow at night when he thinks about missing out on the rainbow jersey on home turf. He can, however, reconcile himself. “There was nothing I could have done about it, of course. It was a miracle that I even raced and got on the podium. But yeah, it still p—– me off.”
A year on from the Yorkshire world championships, Pidcock led the British senior team in Imola — “It was a really good learning experience and what I basically learned was that racing over 260km is not actually that hard, just really bloody far” — alongside road captain Luke Rowe who earlier this month become a team-mate at Ineos Grenadiers.
Much has changed since Ineos Grenadiers first won the scramble to sign Pidcock, including their racing style. Following some uncharacteristically aggressive riding at last year’s Tour de France and Giro d’Italia, admittedly coming after their respective leaders had crashed out, team principal Dave Brailsford spoke about how in 2021 they would morph into a travelling troupe of entertainers.
Whatever the style they adopt Pidcock, a rider in the mould of Peter Sagan or Julian Alaphilippe — an entertainer — is prepared. “I’ve got no problem riding in a train,” he says in reference to how Ineos have typically ridden over the years. “But they kind of know and understand how I want to race. I think they’re very much wanting to change their riding style and Dave has been in the media saying that. It’s good to hear.”
Scheduled to make his grand tour debut at the Vuelta a España, it is the classics where Pidcock is expected to make his mark in the WorldTour which, given his cyclo-cross background, makes sense. It will also give him an opportunity to race against Sagan, who is a hero of his, and some familiar faces from the cyclo-cross circuit in Van der Poel and Wout van Aert.
Despite having won junior and under-23 editions of Paris-Roubaix, Pidcock says it is too soon to tackle the full-blown cobbled classics just yet — “You can’t do everything in your first year, you need to build-up a bit” — though he is looking forward to Strade Bianche and the Ardennes classics. And he is not going simply to make up the numbers.
“A lot of the new riders’ styles are quite aggressive and real racers, so I think there’s a good group. I mean there’s still the grand tour riders in the team, but there’s a good group of racers as well. With me and Ethan [Hayter] at Ineos, there’s a good few guys that can race. I think the classics team at Ineos needs … there could be more success with the riders that Ineos have. Yeah, that’s what I’m gonna say.”
Despite saying he would love to win a rainbow jersey, Pidcock is quick to point out there is no rush. “There’s a lot of publicity and pressure on being the youngest rider to win this or the youngest rider to do that, but I’m not in the game to be the youngest to do anything,” he says.
“All that matters is what is on the palmarès at the end of your career.”
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