Tom Pidcock (Great Britain) took a well-deserved sixth place in the men’s elite road race at the UCI Road World Championships in Belgium after missing the winning break but attacking from the chase group to seal his best result in the race yet.
The 21-year-old made the all-important split with over 30 kilometres to go after being well protected by his British teammates Ethan Hayter, Jake Stewart, Connor Swift, Luke Rowe, and Ben Swift in the closing stages of the race.
The British team were a constant presence at the front of the race in the opening kilometres and managed to help chase down several moves despite losing road captain Mark Cavendish to illness mid-way through the race.
Pidcock attacked on the final laps but wasn’t able to respond when eventual winner Julian Alaphilippe (France) attacked for the final time with just over 17 kilometres to go. The Olympic mountain bike champion formed part of the chase group but missed a second split when four more riders escaped with one lap of the closing circuit remaining.
However, the young Ineos Grenadiers rider attacked towards the finish and held off the likes of Sonny Colbrelli (Italy) and Wout van Aert (Belgium) to finish behind the medals in his first race since completing the Vuelta a España earlier in September.
"We came here to win, and I played my cards a little bit wrong but I'm happy with how I rode today," Pidcock said after finishing the 268.3-kilometre race.
"The Worlds Championships is about one place and that's getting the rainbow jersey. No-one is going to remember who was second or third today. It doesn't matter. Yeah, it's nice getting a medal, but next year, in two years, no-one knows who was second, but people know that Alaphilippe was double world champion."
Pidcock's ride to sixth place – however long it lasts in the memory – caps off a stunning debut WorldTour season for the Yorkshireman, who won Brabantse Pijl back in April before taking second place in Amstel Gold Race and then racing to Olympic gold before making his Grand Tour debut at the Vuelta.
Having gone into the Spanish Grand Tour at less-than-optimal condition following a summer focussed on mountain bikes for the Olympics, Pidcock said he was almost back on top form for the Worlds but just lacked some experience in knowing how to ride the race.
"Honestly, we were proper racing almost all day you know? 270 kilometres of racing and for me to have that in my legs at the end is a really good sign. I feel really well from the Vuelta, but it was a bit of inexperience, I guess. Everyone is in top shape and it's the best riders in the world, so it takes some experience to win, I think.
"[The final] was cat and mouse. I thought that it would be on this circuit. There’s no climb that’s hard enough to just ride off, apart from with Alaphilippe. I was just saving it for one attack, and I waited too long and I missed the train. Alaphilippe did an unreal ride and fair play to him.
"I think it'd be difficult peaking for the Olympics and this. That's the biggest thing, you know? I was 100 per cent for Olympics, took a bit of downtime to try to build up to this but I wasn't quite at 100 per cent I would say. I think it was mainly tactics today."
Pidcock's road season is now at an end, with no Paris-Roubaix debut on his calendar next weekend. Before drawing his 2021 road campaign to a close, though, he took time to praise the crowds that turned out in Leuven.
"It was like racing in a stadium, not on roads," he said. "It was incredible, like chants and singing. It was unreal, like a football match."
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