There was a great deal of excitement surrounding Tom Pidcock’s first steps as a fully-fledged road professional, given how long his talent has been evident, but it’s safe to say his instant impact has come as a surprise, including to his coach.
"It’s not really a surprise, but then again it is, if that makes sense,” Kurt Bogaerts, who started working with Pidcock in 2018 and is now on the Ineos Grenadiers staff, tells Cyclingnews.
“We knew he’s a huge talent with a great work ethic and when you have those things combined with a desire to have fun, you know it can work. But whenever you go up a level, you have to see where you are. To put it into results already is quite unique.”
Those results have included a podium finish in a bunch sprint at Kuurne-Brussel-Kuurne, the day after an impressive attacking display in the Flemish Ardennes in his first cobbled Classic at Omloop Het Nieuwsblad. Pidcock went on to place 5th at Strade Bianche and 15th at Milan-San Remo, where he made the selection on the Poggio and even attacked on the descent.
From cobbled bergs to bunch sprints through to longer gravel climbs and even a 300km Monument, it’s something of an understatement when Bogaerts describes Pidcock as a “versatile” rider, and that’s before you consider talk of his potential in the Ardennes Classics and even Grand Tours.
“I wouldn’t know exactly how to describe him, actually,” Bogaerts said. “You cannot really put him in one box. You can put him in different styles of racing and he can be really strong.”
That strength in breadth has brought about an early re-evaluation of Pidcock’s spring schedule. At the start of the year, Ineos were cautious, speaking only of a smattering of Classics and leaning towards the Ardennes, but a combination of his current form and his performances in Belgium at the Opening Weekend have pushed him onto the cobbles over the next 10 days.
The Tour of Flanders wasn’t on Pidcock’s initial radar, but he’ll now line up in Antwerp next Sunday, after more exposure on the pavé at E3 on Friday and Dwars door Vlaanderen on Wednesday. Gent-Wevelgem this Sunday is unlikely but hasn’t been ruled out.
“After Opening Weekend we analysed how he can go in the Flemish races. With his low body weight, he’s not a natural match for them, but we saw he was able to handle the cobbles already,” Bogaerts said.
“At Strade Bianche and Milan-San Remo, we wanted to take things step by step, but there were only positive signs. He was still fit, and not fatigued, and he was active in the races. When it works out like that, you have the opportunity to look at the next races.
“Initially we thought he would need specific training block for the Ardennes but we’ve since seen the level he has. He’s in such good shape he almost doesn’t need to train, he can use the races.”
'Tom needs to be free'
One of the most striking comments from Pidcock ahead of his neo-pro campaign was the suggestion that Ineos hadn’t quite lived up to their potential in the Classics in recent years. Just a few races into the season, he already looks like their leading light on almost every front.
That said, Bogaerts and the Ineos Grenadiers management are keen to play down any sense of pressure or expectation surrounding Pidcock.
“We keep him in a free role. It’s natural that guys will want to support him but we need to be careful not to put him in a leadership role,” Bogaerts said.
“It was always the intention to use this season to recon different races and analyse how they go, and we go now with the same expectations as Opening Weekend. It is a continuous adventure for him.
“From the top to the bottom of the team, it’s seen as really important to keep a long-term focus. It’s easy to lose sight of the effects in the short term, and then in a couple of years you see that the pressure has built up and the rider is not comfortable.”
In this respect, Bogaerts, although reluctant to compare Pidcock to other riders, identifies a likeness with Mathieu van der Poel.
“Physically, Tom is more towards the [Julian] Alaphilippe kind of rider, with his weight and his climbing ability, but then his mentality is like Van der Poel – he likes to race.
“You saw it at San Remo. OK, when he goes on the descent he’s not in the best position to counter the attack from Stuyven, but he showed he was looking for opportunities to win, and not just ride for a safe result.
“We don’t need to put him in a box – that’s not going to work. He needs to have that freedom and to race with his heart. Tom needs to be free and to keep that identity. That will be key to a long and happy career.”
'The unknown is how long he can hold his form'
As for the short term, Pidcock will go from the cobbles to the Ardennes via a training camp in Andorra. He’ll do Brabantse Pijl, Amstel Gold Race, and La Flèche Wallonne, while a decision on Liège-Bastogne-Liège will be made nearer the time.
“That’s the unknown – how long he can continue his form,” Bogaerts said.
“We have to keep in mind that he came from a cyclo-cross season, and also has mountain bike coming up in the summer. We don’t want to overload him. If we skip Liège it will give more room to prepare properly for the mountain bike season.”
A possible Grand Tour debut at the Vuelta a España is still on the cards, although that will depend how he comes out of the Olympics in Tokyo in the summer. Wherever he turns, it won’t be a surprise if he tastes success, but, as Bogaerts said, it will still be a bit of a surprise.
In a season of such variety, much will be made of Pidcock's physical versatility but it's perhaps his mentality is just as important. For Bogaerts, Pidcock has an innate racing instinct that forms a sort of constant underpinning for whichever bike he picks up and whichever event he chooses to enter.
"Tom is super cool. A lot of young riders make things complicated for themselves but not him," Bogaerts said.
"Results are a combination of physical strength and decision making. We can give him information from the car but in the end he has to make decisions on the road, and he has that instinct. He has all the ingredients. He does all the basics of bike racing right, let’s say."
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