Tom Pidcock interview: Olympic mountain bike champion on his Tour de France and Vuelta Espana ambitions
Nineteen days ago, the prodigious young cycling talent from Leeds contested the cross-country mountain bike race at the Tokyo Olympics.
The Yorkshireman did not just win a gruelling examination of bike handling on unpredictable terrain, he obliterated the field to take the gold medal.
Today he rides to the start line of the Vuelta a Espana, the third and final Grand Tour of the summer, a three-week test of a cyclist’s climbing, sprinting, time-trialling ability, stamina and teamwork.
It is the first Grand Tour of the 22-year-old’s career, so he is not putting too much expectation on his shoulders. His role is to help one of Ineos Grenadiers’ general classification contenders – Adam Yates, Egan Bernal or Richard Carapaz – win the race.
But it is yet further confirmation of the rising stock of this most adaptable of cyclists that he is riding such a demanding race for a contending team in his first season on the road.
Indeed, Pidcock is part of a young wave of talent that are transforming grand tours.
After the shame of the Lance Armstrong years, the era of the climbing specialists like Alberto Contador, and the Sky/Ineos team-orientated domination, cycling has begun the ’20s with a crop of versatile young riders shaping the landscape.
Slovenia’s Tadej Pogacar already has two Tour de France wins to his name by the age of 22.
Woet Van Aert is a three-time world cyclo-cross champion who won stages of the Tour de France in the mountains, in a time-trial and in a sprint this summer.
Mathieu van der Poel was favourite to win mountain bike gold in Tokyo only to crash early, not that he would have been able to keep pace with a focused Pidcock anyway.
And Remco Evenepoel is another name to follow in the years to come.
“I think we may see a trend of the number of multiple-discipline riders increasing,” Pidcock told The Yorkshire Post this week ahead of the Vuelta.
“I don’t think it will become more common for people to be at the top of multiple disciplines.
“But I do see a lot more riders trying out and competing across different disciplines.”
Pidcock, for his part, is still learning. This first year on the road, mixed in with the cyclo-cross and mountain biking he still loves, was always about gaining as much knowledge as possible.
Even in becoming an Olympic champion, there were elements of his own mindset that were new to him.
“My opinion has always been I’d prefer a rainbow jersey (world champion) over being Olympic champion,” said Pidcock.
“But now that opinion has changed.
“The Olympics transcends cycling. My medal means something to everyone who cares about the Olympics and who follows it.
“It’s just so much bigger and has so much more of the nation behind it. It feels much bigger than a cycling world title.
“The actual plan coming into this season was just to go to the Olympics. But now I’m an Olympic champion.
“The biggest thing is it shows I can perform under the highest pressure.
“One race every four years with so much focus from the world: I don’t think anything in sport brings as much pressure as that.”
A glimpse into Pidcock’s world came with the revelation that within 24 hours of winning gold on his mountain bike he was back on his road bike putting a long stint into his legs in the heat of Japan in preparation for the 21-stage, 3,417km Vuelta.
“It is difficult, certainly,” admitted Pidcock of the transition from riding a mountain bike in Japan to contesting a first career three-week Tour.
“I don’t have much hunger at the moment. Everyone has been advising me I need to celebrate the Olympics properly because I move on quite quickly normally.
“It’s important to stop and take in special moments. I haven’t been very good at that before.
“But I’ve kept enough fitness to be able to race for three weeks. Certainly I’m not in top shape and fully motivated, but I’m going to enjoy it.
“The Olympics is something some people work their whole careers to try to win a medal at, and I’ve done it already in my first try at 21. It’s a massive achievement and I’ve made sure I’ve let that sink in.
“I’m going into the Vuelta with no plan, expectations or goals. I just want to enjoy the experience and grow from it.”
So what of the future? If not over the next three weeks, will we see Pidcock – the son of Giles Pidcock who got him riding around Otley and north Leeds in his younger years – contending for the yellow jersey at the Tour de France?
“I do have the perfect build for general classification riding I believe,” is his simple, under-stated response to that question.
But characteristic of his try-all mentality, he is in no rush, and has even ruled out riding the Tour de France next year, putting 2023 down as target for that particular race.
“I’m in no rush to become a GC rider but I will turn to that sooner or later,” he acknowledges.
Until then, this burgeoning talent from Yorkshire wants to continue his development across all formats, with road, mountain or cyclo-cross bike beneath him.
He has already shown an ability to win pretty much any kind of bike race so far in his career, earning titles in cyclo-cross, mountain biking and on the road.
He defies categorisation in the latter too, having won time-trials, mountainous stage races at under-23 level, and then starred in the spring Classics in his first season with Ineos.
All of which points to a successful future Grand Tour rider.
“At the moment, I’m focused on the Classics,” said Pidcock, of the one-day races traditionally held in Belgium, the Netherlands and Italy in the Spring.
“At some point I want to transition to (stage racing) but that takes more time, more energy and it’s a much more high-pressure environment, so there’s not any rush to go that way any time soon.”
There is also the small matter of the defence of his Olympic mountain bike title in Paris in 2024.
“The next Olympics I want to ride the road race and mountain bike,” he says, before adding: “and also maybe the time-trial because that will make some cool history.”
Don’t put it past him to have a go at all three and turn a few heads in the process.
This interview was brought to you by INEOS Grenadier, the no-nonsense 4X4 vehicle supporting the INEOS Grenadier on and off the road, click here to find out more and to register your early interest.