Tom Pidcock heads into the final week of his Grand Tour debut at the Vuelta a España improving day by day and having admitted that he wasn't sure about starting the race after taking Olympic mountain bike gold.
Speaking in a press conference on Monday's second rest day, the Ineos Grenadiers youngster said that he hadn't done much training between his Tokyo gold medal on July 26 and the start of the Vuelta a España in Burgos on August 14.
Pidcock's best result so far in the race came on the summit finish of stage 14, where he placed fourth from the break, and the 22-year-old now looks to be on an upward trajectory with late September's Road World Championships in Flanders in mind.
"I think I'm getting stronger each day, getting a bit better shape and finding my feet a bit. I'm pretty pleased with how I'm progressing through the race," Pidcock told the assembled journalists, including Cyclingnews.
"I think that the only thing I have is my base in this race. The only problem is that I didn't do much after the Olympics.
"I'm pretty pleased with how I'm going. I definitely wouldn't have been able to do that [fourth on stage 14] in the first week. I'm kind of pleased with the fact that I'm now two weeks deep into a Grand Tour and feeling better than I did at the start. It's not a stage win or an impressive result for anyone on the outside but it's a nice little achievement for myself."
Pidcock added that he has re-found his hunger for racing after a comedown following the Olympic Games, saying that he wasn't fully in the right mind-frame to start the Vuelta.
"From the start of the year, I wanted to race here. But then after the Olympics I was second-guessing if I could be bothered, basically," he said.
"I guess I've taken it in my stride. The first week here I was kind of a bit – not deflated almost – but I'd just won the Olympics and then came here in not good shape and was just kind of riding around doing nothing, you know? It's not really the true representation of myself.
"But I kind of accepted that when I decided I was going to come here. That's just how it is. Now we can refocus towards the Worlds, that hunger and motivation has come back which I didn't have after the Olympics."
With six days of the Vuelta remaining – including summit finishes at Lagos de Covadonga, Alto d'El Gamoniteiru, and Mos. Castro de Herville – Pidcock is racing on with his second appearance at the elite men's road race at the Worlds in mind.
The 265.3-kilometre race is set to be where Pidcock draws a successful 2021 campaign to a close, having racked up Olympic gold and a win at De Brabantse Pijl along the way. He said that he won't make his Paris-Roubaix debut in October, instead opting to focus on recovering from knee tendonitis which has been bothering him throughout the year.
"We've decided to stop my season after the Worlds to sort my knee out properly," Pidcock said. "I've basically had a bit of tendonitis in it. It's been niggling me all year so I'm just going to get to the Worlds, do the best I can there, then call it a day and fix my knee problem.
"After the Vuelta I'll go straight back to Andorra, and I'll be there until the Worlds. Maybe I'll go to Belgium a week before and do some motor pacing and stuff on the flat."
Pidcock will switch disciplines once again for the winter, heading back to the cyclo-cross circuit in December and targeting the World Championships in Fayetteville, Arkansas. Next year could see him tackle another Grand Tour as well as focussing on the Classics – before switching once more to refocus on mountain biking.
"I'll be focussed on mountain biking but more in the second half of the year. At the start of the year, I'll be at the Classics and maybe the Giro."
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