Tom Pidcock is out to expand the 'big two' to a 'big three' this cyclo-cross season, stating his intention to get the better of Wout van Aert and Mathieu van der Poel at least once in the next few weeks.
That moment will not come this weekend, with Van Aert and Van der Poel – who have shared the last seven world titles – both absent from Saturday's World Cup race in Rucphen in the Netherlands and Sunday's World Cup in Namur, Belgium.
Their absence gives Pidcock a big shot at first ticking off another big milestone - that of winning a first World Cup at elite level, before taking on his two biggest rivals over the Christmas holidays.
Pidcock won the world title at junior level in 2017 and U23 level in 2019, before a huge breakthrough in the form of silver at his first elite Worlds in 2020. In his first full season with the elites in 2020-2021 he quickly established himself among the best, winning the Superprestige in Gavere in a field that contained Van der Poel.
Now, having battled Van Aert and Van der Poel on the road this season, and having beaten Van der Poel to Olympic mountain bike gold, Pidcock wants to be in the same bracket in cyclo-cross.
"I'm really looking forward to the matches against Wout and Mathieu. In recent years they have been even better than me, but it is no secret that I want to approach their level this year," Pidcock told Belgian newspaper Het Nieuwsblad.
"Being mentioned alongside Wout and Mathieu gives a lot of confidence. 'Cross is the most difficult of the three disciplines for me, but I believe I can become as strong as them. I don't want to be third every time. Beating them, that is the big goal of this cyclo-cross season."
Pidcock began his cyclo-cross season at the Superprestige race in Boom, placing a creditable seventh despite multiple crashes in the mud, and he went on to finish third at the snowy Val di Sole World Cup last weekend after starting near the back of the pack due to his poor ranking. However, both races were dominated by Van Aert, who has taken no time at all in getting up to speed after his road off-season.
"At the moment Wout is performing at a higher level, but that was also expected. My peak is only expected around the World Championships [in January -ed]," said Pidcock, although he did hint he was ahead of schedule: "My level is better than I expected at the moment."
In any case, it has been another step up compared to last season and he will sense a major opportunity on Sunday in Namur, where he has already tasted victory at junior and U23 level, and where he was third behind Van der Poel and Van Aert last year.
"It's one of my favorite races of the year, and not just because I always perform well there," Pidcock said.
"The climbing and the technical challenge makes it a bit more extreme than in the other races, which appeals to me. It even leans somewhat towards mountain biking, a tiny bit anyway. And then there is the setting. It can be compared to the woods in England, even the mud feels a bit British."
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