Kurt Bogaerts, the coach of Ineos Grenadiers talent and Olympic mountain bike champion Tom Pidcock, has said that the 22-year-old will ease his way into the cyclo-cross season as takes aim at the World Championships in Arkansas in late January.
Pidcock has recently spent several weeks off the bike as he sought to fix a knee problem that had been suffering since February. He returned to training in late October and is set to get back to competition on Saturday at the fifth Superprestige round of the season in Boom.
There, he's set to face off against Wout van Aert, who also makes his season debut, despite the Belgian feeling unwell this week. However, he hasn't been specifically preparing for cyclo-cross, Bogaerts told Het Nieuwsblad.
"First, he rested for three and a half weeks without any sports because he had to let his overused knee heal. That problem seems to be gone now. After that he was building up, but he hasn't trained specifically for cyclo-cross, so I wouldn't expect much for Saturday," Bogaerts joked.
"He's been out of competition for a long time, so he'll have to find that cyclo-cross feeling and especially that 'cross effort again. That has to happen by doing a lot of 'cross training and technical training. His body has to get used to these short efforts again. But Tom is very motivated and he's happy to be racing again."
After racing in Boom, Pidcock will link up with his Ineos teammates for a five-day training camp in Mallorca before returning to 'cross at the World Cup round in Val di Sole on December 12. Five more races are on the schedule before the end of the year while in the New Year he'll take on four more races either side of a 15-day camp in Altea, Spain, ahead of the Worlds.
Bogaerts said that Pidcock might receive some criticism for only focussing on the Worlds versus riding a full calendar, but noted that he, Van Aert, and Mathieu van der Poel – who returns to cyclo-cross on December 18 – have more on their plates than many 'cross riders, given their commitments during the road and mountain bike seasons.
"I know there will be criticism that he is only aiming for the Worlds. But let them do it once, eh?" he said. "Combining road, 'cross and mountain biking. He, Van Aert and Van der Poel have a lot more competition in one season than the guys who only aim for cyclo-cross. We should encourage them to combine the three disciplines, but not demand that they overexploit their bodies.
"Mountain biking suits him better than cyclo-cross. He's only won one big cyclo-cross race, in Gavere last season. He races to win, but he isn't at the top, especially if Van Aert and Van der Poel also start.
"Can he take that next step? I don't know, but he will get better every year. He combines three disciplines so can't focus fully on 'cross. We've arranged his career differently to Wout and Mathieu – he made the step to the WorldTour and the road more quickly. That's why it's important to balance things."
In addition to talking through his charge's cyclo-cross campaign, Bogaerts also outlined what Pidcock's 2022 will look like after Fayetteville. The Classics, Giro d'Italia, and the Mountain Bike Worlds are set to be his main goals.
"Basically, he will ride Omloop Het Nieuwsblad again and then move on to the Classics. A similar program to last season," Bogaerts said. "As for Grand Tours, the Giro d'Italia seems ideal.
"It's too early for the Tour, and the Vuelta is not possible because Tom will make a big goal of the Mountain Bike World Championships at the end of August. After being Olympic champion, he also wants to be world champion, and to be honest, mountain biking is his favourite discipline."
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