Leeds cyclist Tom Pidcock aims to add world title to Olympic gold
The 22-year-old is one of three Yorkshiremen in the Great Britain team for the elite men’s race at the UCI Road World Championships in the Flanders region of Belgium, which is one of the sport’s most devoted heartlands.
Only two Britons, Tom Simpson in 1965 and - 10 years ago - Mark Cavendish, who is also on tomorrow’s start list, have pulled on the rainbow jersey awarded to the winner of this particular event.
Against red-hot opposition, led by home rider Wout van Aert, the GB squad will start in Antwerp as underdogs.
But the punchy 268.30km course, which finishes in Leuven and is expected to take the winning rider around six and a half hours to complete, is made for aggressive riding and that suits Pidcock to a tee.
Already in 2021, the West Yorkshire star has become the first British man to win a UCI mountain bike World Cup event for 27 years.
He followed that by riding away from the field in the cross country mountain biking at the Olympics in Tokyo.
And on the road, not only did he ride his first three-week Grand Tour, finishing 67th at the Vuelta a Espana, he also achieved a string of impressive results in one-day races.
Most notably, he won April’s Brabanste Pijl, which began in Leuven, beating van Aert and Matteo Trentin in a three-man sprint.
That was the first win as a professional for Pidcock, who was a bronze medalist in the under-23 men’s road race at the Yorkshire-based 2019 World Championships.
Also this year, he came second to van Aert, after a photo finish, at the Amstel Gold race.
Other top six placings in one day races during 2021 included third at Kuurne–Brussels–Kuurne, fifth in Strade Bianche and sixth at La Fleche Wallonne.
Pidcock may lack the experience of 27-year-old van Aert and other favourites for tomorrow’s race, but there is no doubting his prodigious talent.
Great Britain have opted not to name a leader for the elite men’s competition, allowing potential winners like Pidcock the freedom to ride their own race.
He will be joined on the starting line by South Yorkshire cousins Ben and Connor Swift, who are both former national road race champions.
As well as Cavendish, who jointly holds the record for most Tour de France stage wins, the British squad also includes Ethan Hayter, Luke Rowe, Jake Stewart and Fred Wright.
It is a strong lineup and Ben Swift believes the Great Britain team are good enough to defy the odds and bring home the rainbow jersey.
“I think we can win it,” the Rotherham man insisted.
“We’ve got Tom who has won around here before.
“He is not afraid to get stuck in and be aggressive and we have got a lot of options as well.
“We’ve got a guy [Cavendish] who won four stages of the Tour de France.
“I think the way this race is going to go, it is going to be aggressive from an early point and we’ve got a team that lends itself to that style of racing.
“Having seen the course, it’s going to be quite interesting.
“I think it is going to have to open up quite early, so it is going to lend itself to an aggressive race.
“Our team is really well-balanced, really strong and quite young as well, with some strong leaders.
“I think the riders that are in form at the minute are going to ride aggressively, this course lends itself to aggressive riding quite early, you can’t wait until the end, I think.”
Connor Swift, from Thorne, admits van Aert is the man to beat, particularly with the passionate Belgian fans roaring him on from the side of the road.
“He is on flying form recently,” Ben Swift said.
“The standard big names who have been dominating throughout the season - van Aert, [Mathieu] van der Poel, [Julian] Alaphilippe and guys like that - will be the favourites.
“I’d really like to see an underdog or someone unexpected win the race, but we will have to see.”