From a shattered collarbone to Olympic glory in eight weeks

Eight weeks to the day since his collarbone was shattered into five pieces, Tom Pidcock completed his return.

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In early June, Tom Pidcock lay in a Girona hospital bed recovering from surgery, wondering whether his Olympic dream was dead in the water. 

The Brit’s collarbone had just been reassembled after being shattered into five pieces in a training incident. The 21-year-old was descending at speed in Andorra, preparing for a start at the Tour de Suisse for Ineos Grenadiers, when the unthinkable happened.

“We don’t know what exactly happened, but Tom was hit from the side by a car,” said Kurt Bogaerts, Pidcock’s coach and mentor. On the road Pidcock’s Pinarello lay shattered into pieces, just like his collarbone. 

You’d be forgiven for thinking that was game over for even starting an Olympic mountain bike race in July. But you’re not Tom Pidcock.

A multidisciplinary master

Pidcock is a staggering talent in a sport that’s currently filled with them, drifting between disciplines with ease.

Cyclocross? He’s been world junior and U23 champion, and got a silver medal behind another prodigy, Mathieu van der Poel, in his first year as a senior.

Road? Pidcock has medalled at the U23 Worlds, has won the Baby Giro and the Paris-Roubaix Espoirs. In 2021 he signed his first pro contract, and riding for Team Ineos, he podiumed at three one-day classics, was edged out at Amstel Gold by the tiniest of margins, and won Brabantse Pijl.

Mountain bike? He’s won both World Cup rounds and U23 World Championships in a couple of different disciplines. 

But with a collarbone in pieces and eight weeks to turn it around, Pidcock had his toughest battle ahead of him. 

Seven days after surgery, he was, astonishingly, back on the bike. Pidcock posted video footage on Instagram of him riding out of the saddle, doing push-ups, and riding on the trainer.

“With normal training he will get ready for the Olympics just as well,” his coach told media at the time.

“It won’t be boring, it’s now just another road to Tokyo.”

The end of that chapter

That road to Tokyo reached its end yesterday: at the dusty, treacherous conditions of the Izu mountain bike course.

Pidcock was quick off the line, sitting within the top four for much of the first lap. He narrowly avoided getting brought down by a crashing Mathieu van der Poel at the Sakura Drop course feature, and by lap two he had moved up to second. 

The two cross-disciplinary prodigies of the men’s MTB race had very different experiences.

Pidcock’s first dig came on lap three, moving him to the lead although not shaking the pair of highly fancied Swiss hangers-on, Mathias Flueckiger and Nino Schurter. He went again on lap four, stretching them out until they snapped, and rode clean lines to the finish to claim Olympic gold. 

It was a staggering display of craft from the young Brit, but it was all the more impressive considering the path he’d taken there. Ecstatic and a little stunned, Pidcock grasped to articulate it all. “I’ve trained really hard,” he said. “I knew I was in great shape, but there’s always doubt when I haven’t performed in a race.”

Pidcock leads Nino Schurter and Mathias Flueckiger on lap three. Schurter would miss the podium to finish fourth, while Flueckiger would end up with silver.

Pidcock’s recovery came down to the line, having initially received advice from the doctor about his collarbone that “in six weeks maybe it’ll be strong enough to ride mountain bikes. 

“I think after four or five, I did a mountain bike race. In the back of my head, I thought ‘I’m going to get to the Olympics … I’m not going to be in my best shape, we’re just going to see how it is.’

“But the last week I knew I was in really good shape … there was always doubt in the back of my head because I haven’t raced … but once the race is going, it becomes routine really.”

An exhausted, elated Pidcock, draped in the Union Jack.

For now, it’s all just sinking in for Pidcock – that remarkable win and that recovery. From lying on the road in Andorra to a Tokyo podium; eight weeks to the day since his collarbone was shattered into five pieces.

He’s got races to ride – on road, off road, on the cyclocross track – and is eyeing off a possible start at the 2021 Vuelta a España. But for now, at least, there are other priorities.

“I’m first going to celebrate this and then see what’s possible later on,” he told the BBC. “I’ve got a gold bike to show off in mountain biking now, so we’ll have to sort that out.”

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