Tom Pidcock believes the Tour of Flanders could be an open and aggressive affair, in the likely absence of the top favourite and the presence of the Tour de France champion.
Three days out from the Ronde, the major talking point is the doubt surrounding Wout van Aert, the dominant force of the spring so far and winner of E3 Saxo Bank Classic last week.
“It will change the race for sure,” Pidcock told reporters in a pre-Flanders press conference on Thursday. “It will change the number of people in the final and also the strength of Jumbo.”
A staggeringly strong Jumbo-Visma collective had been expected to stamp their authority on Sunday, as they did at E3, but now the race has a much more open feel to it.
“Nowadays there’s no place for caution,” the Ineos Grenadiers rider said. “If the race goes early, you need to be there or you’re not going to be there.”
That’s exactly what Pidcock’s predicting for Sunday, pointing to the presence of two-time Tour de France winner Tadej Pogačar (UAE Team Emirates). Pidcock shared some interesting comments after Dwars door Vlaanderen, suggesting Pogačar doesn’t "fully understand" the cobbled Classics, having never ridden them as a professional before Wednesday.
He acknowledged that, as a 22-year-old in his second season, he’s hardly the most experienced contender but stood by his point and suggested it would be to Pogačar’s advantage to attack from range.
“I can see it going early,” Pidcock said. “Like I was saying about Pogačar, perhaps he’s got less experience and if he goes early, when easier to position and maybe it’s a smaller group, it’s only his legs that are going to show. You have to expect anything.”
Pidcock’s first taste of the cobbles and climbs of the Flemish Ardennes came on a training ride the day after he won the Junior Paris-Roubaix in 2017 and he revealed he “hated” the experience. However, a decorated cyclo-cross and mountain bike rider, he has always seemed well suited to the rough, punchy terrain, and made a huge impact in his first cobbled Classic at Omloop Het Nieuwsblad last year.
He has quickly risen towards the top of the Classics hierarchy, winning Brabantse Pijl last year, and showcasing his pre-Flanders form with a podium at Dwars. “I guess it’s kind of grown on me now,” he added.
However, Pidcock refused to include himself in the favourites brackets for Sunday.
“No, I don’t think so,” he said. “There are guys who have proven themselves in this race before. I have a chance but yeah… it needs to play out right in the race.
Pidcock’s chances are still up in the air given the stomach issues which have plagued him in recent weeks and which are still not entirely resolved. Having missed Strade Bianche and abandoned Milan-San Remo, his spring looked in real trouble when he struggled through Gent-Wevelgem on Sunday but he bounced back in style at Dwars.
However, the Tour of Flanders is almost 100 kilometres longer, which not only brings with it the need for added form and endurance but also the need to fuel for two-and-a-half extra hours.
“The distance is certainly a factor with my recent health issues and as a guy who hasn’t had so many races of that distance in the legs, but I don’t think it’s a limiting factor,” Pidcock said.
“I feel very positive after Wednesday. I felt back to myself. I was back at the front and getting a taste and feel for it again. That’s important going into this weekend. Whether I’m entirely recovered, I’m not sure, but on Wednesday I felt pretty good. That’s all I know really.”
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Deputy Editor - Europe. Patrick is an NCTJ-trained journalist who has seven years’ experience covering professional cycling. He has a modern languages degree from Durham University and has been able to put it to some use in what is a multi-lingual sport, with a particular focus on French and Spanish-speaking riders. After joining Cyclingnews as a staff writer on the back of work experience, Patrick became Features Editor in 2018 and oversaw significant growth in the site’s long-form and in-depth output. Since 2021 he has been Deputy Editor - Europe, taking more responsibility for the site’s content as a whole, while still writing and - despite a pandemic-induced hiatus - travelling to races around the world. Away from cycling, Patrick spends most of his time playing or watching other forms of sport - football, tennis, trail running, darts, to name a few, but he draws the line at rugby.