Tom Pidcock (Great Britain) crosses the line sixth in the 2021 World Championship road race.

Tom Pidcock expected a crazy race, but was still surprised by Alaphilippe

The young Brit finished sixth in the World Championship road race after missing the winning move.

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In his first season as a pro cyclist, Tom Pidcock came into the World Championship road race as team leader, surrounded by a Great Britain team stacked with talent and experience, including Ethan Hayter and Mark Cavendish. At the end of the 268.3 km race, ‘Pidders’ was one of just two British finishers, crossing the line sixth behind Julian Alaphilippe (France).

“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 the race. “The World Championships is about one thing 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.”

The Flanders Worlds race had a Cobbled Classic feel to it, and that included its marathon distance. It came at the end of a big year for the 22-year-old, whose 2021 season included a busy spring, peaking with victory at De Brabantse Pijl in April, an Olympic MTB title in July, and his maiden Grand Tour in Spain last month.

“I think it’d be difficult peaking for the Olympics and this,” Pidcock explained. “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.

“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.”

Tom Pidcock surrounded by some of his Great Britain teammates early in the Worlds race.

There was barely any let-up in Sunday’s race, the only lull coming between the early breakaway’s escape and the first French attack less than 70 km later. From there, the racing was frantic until the finish and the Great Britain team was forced to do a lot of chasing work.

“It was the French making the race like that and they were the ones that kicked it off and they won,” Pidcock said. “I was surprised but I guess it worked.”

When Alaphilippe accelerated just inside the last 60 km, drawing out the 17-rider group that would contest the finale, Pidcock was able to get across to keep himself in contention.

“[The final] was cat and mouse. I thought that it would be on this circuit,” Pidcock said of the Leuven laps. “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.”

Pidcock missed the final race-winning move with 17.4 km to go and was unable to follow the chasing quartet, but the Olympic MTB champion had enough left to attack the large third group on the road on the run-in to the finish. This guaranteed him a top 10 placing in a race he thoroughly enjoyed.

“We weren’t racing a road race, we were racing in a stadium,” described Pidcock. “It was incredible, chants, singing it was unreal. It was like a football match.”

Some of the most spectacular crowds were on show on the Wijnpers climb.

The UCI estimated that there were a million fans on the route of Sunday’s road race, including 350,000 in Leuven itself, making for a sensational atmosphere. The support for the Belgian riders was evidently palpable, but perhaps it made the pressure too great.

“The Belgian crowds were incredible but they kind of shot themselves in the foot with the pressure they put on their team,” Pidcock surmised. “I think they did an unreal job, but they made it near impossible for Wout [van Aert] to win. If he’d won, it would have been the best ride ever, let’s face it.”

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