Could Tom Pidcock win all three world titles in 2022? Let’s break it down
So far, everything seems to be lining up for the 22-year-old Briton.
So far, everything seems to be lining up for the 22-year-old Briton.
If there’s one thing we know about Tom Pidcock, it’s that he’s got no shortage of ambition. In late 2021, a few months after a dominant ride to take Olympic mountain bike glory, the British multi-discipline star outlined just how ambitious he is.
“I want to go to ‘cross worlds to win,” Pidcock told VeloNews in December. “I want to win some Classics next year, and the Giro is the Grand Tour I want to ride. Then I want to focus on mountain bike in the second part of the year and try and win mountain bike Worlds.”
That was ambitious enough, but the now-22-year-old wasn’t done.
“I want to be world champion in all three [CX, MTB and road] and yeah – all in the same year,” he added. It didn’t need to be this year necessarily, but after this past weekend, that rainbow dream is very much alive for 2022.
On Sunday, at the Cyclocross World Championships in Fayetteville, USA, Pidcock was outnumbered by a raft of Belgian rivals, but when he attacked on lap 4, none could stop him. Pidcock rode away to his first elite CX world title, to add to U23 and junior titles in the same discipline. Step one complete.
So what about the next two? Can Pidcock win MTB and Road Worlds in 2022? Could he become the first man to ever hold all three world titles at once?
A dream is one thing, but what’s the reality? To determine if this feat is possible for Pidcock this year we need take a hard look at the courses and competition he’ll be up against.
Step two in Pidcock’s rainbow mission is MTB Worlds in Les Gets, France, in late August. Could he win rainbows there as well? Based on the way Pidcock beat the world’s best to win in Tokyo last year, you’d have to say his chances are pretty good.
That day Pidcock wore down his rivals, attacking several times on a hard and hilly course before getting clear alone. And that was after just a handful of top-level elite MTB races … and just weeks after breaking his collarbone when he crashed into a car during training.
Unfortunately we don’t have many past performances in Les Gets by which to assess Pidcock’s chances at Worlds – the course is set to be different to that used in previous World Cups, and besides, Pidcock’s only XCO race at Les Gets – in thick mud – came just a month after his collarbone injury and ended in a DNF.
We do know that the 2022 Worlds course in Les Gets is going to be quite technical. That shouldn’t be too much of a problem given Pidcock’s win on the tricky Tokyo Olympic course. Here’s how two-time Olympic XCO silver medalist Maja Włoszczowska described that course: “Extremely steep climbs followed [by] rocky downhills. I have to admit that I’ve never (and I’m racing over 20 years) seen such a demanding lap.”
Let’s dig a little deeper on Pidcock’s chances in Les Gets. To learn more, I spoke with James Smurthwaite, a UK-based editor for our MTB-focused sister site, Pinkbike. Here’s what James had to say about the likelihood of Pidcock winning in August.
“To be honest, it’s tough to say too much with certainty as he’s only raced four elite MTB races – three World Cups and the Olympics,” James said. “So it’s a bit too small of a sample size to work out where he’s strongest.”
James’s assessment is that Pidcock is a strong all-rounder who should be fine on just about any course he’s presented with.
“Albstadt (the [World Cup] where he overtook all those riders to finish fifth) is a very old-school, climbing-focussed track so he showed he had that side of things covered,” James said. “And then Nové Město and the Olympics by contrast are far more technically demanding (just look what happened to Mathieu van der Poel or Pauline Ferrand-Prévot in Tokyo).
“Basically, whatever the changes to the course are, it’s unlikely to hinder his chances.”
So what might hinder Pidcock’s chances? Well, if Mathieu van der Poel throws everything at a MTB Worlds tilt, that might make things a little harder. But Pidcock’s biggest hurdle might be something entirely different.
“Tom might be pretty fatigued by August following ‘cross and road duties so it probably depends on how Ineos use him in that regard,” James said.
It’s a good point – a jam-packed calendar combining all three disciplines is very tricky to balance without sacrificing something along the way. To be fit and fresh for Les Gets, Pidcock (and Ineos Grenadiers) will have to manage his workload very carefully.
There’s another consequence of Pidcock’s multi-discipline approach.
“His big stumbling block could be that he won’t get a great start position [in Les Gets],” James said. “Last year the UCI drew up a special ranking to determine start order because of COVID, but this year it’s likely to be based on his individual ranking. He’s currently 24th (because he doesn’t race much) and that’s not likely to improve before the Champs.
“This means he’ll be starting around the third row and will have to overtake a decent chunk of riders to get to the front. It won’t be as bad as the Albstadt race but doesn’t make his job any easier.
“Having said that he started row 3 in the Olympics, albeit in a much smaller and less chaotic field of racers, so it’s definitely not beyond his abilities.”
So taking all of that into account, how would we rate Pidcock’s chances at MTB Worlds?
“Overall I think his chances will be good but it depends on how much of a focus it is for him,” James said. “If he gets a few warm-up MTB races in beforehand he’ll likely be one of the favourites, but if he comes in cold or overcooked on road racing it might be more of a struggle.”
So a win at MTB Worlds seems entirely possible. His biggest challenge, though, is likely to come in September, at the Road World Championships in Wollongong, Australia.
Road racing, by its very nature, is much more of a lottery than CX or XCO MTB. On the road, races are considerably longer, they’re contested by many more riders, and the dynamics of road racing – drafting, team tactics, breakaways etc. – mean there are more variables that can affect the outcome of a given race. Sure, the strongest riders tend to win, but strength and skill alone don’t tend to be as decisive as they are in MTB or CX.
Predicting whether Pidcock could win in Wollongong is made tricky by the fact that full courses aren’t yet available. We do know the building blocks that will make up the courses though, and those building blocks suggest a course where Pidcock will be right at home.
The elite men’s road race looks set to feature quite a bit of climbing and will finish with a bunch of laps around a city circuit. That circuit has a few short, punchy climbs – the perfect launch pad for a late escape.
Pidcock showed last year that he’s well capable of turning a big late attack into a good result in a hilly one-day race. Take Brabantse Pijl for example. On a short climb with 16 km to go, Pidcock attacked hard, forged the winning move, then beat none other than Wout van Aert in a sprint to take the win.
Or at Amstel Gold when Pidcock followed all the right moves, then attacked hard with around 13 km to go, again bringing the race down to just a handful of riders. Van Aert beat him in the sprint that day, but only in a controversial photo finish.
In short, Pidcock’s got all the attributes to win in Wollongong. The climbing shouldn’t be a problem, being there in the right moves (or starting those moves) late shouldn’t be a problem, and if a sprint is involved, he’s a great chance there too.
He’ll have some competition of course. Julian Alaphilippe will be licking his lips at the prospect of turning those late city-circuit climbs into a third-straight world title, and the likes of Van Aert and Van der Poel will be hot favourites too.
And for Pidcock, the same caveat applies to Road Worlds as it does for MTB Worlds: he’ll need to make sure he’s careful about his workload throughout the season, and particularly in the lead-up to Wollongong. A CX season, the Spring Classics, the Giro d’Italia, some MTB races and MTB Worlds, then Road Worlds? That’s a very full calendar.
But if he gets all that right, and Ineos Grenadiers back him all the way, Tom Pidcock can absolutely win all three world titles in 2022. And if he does, he’ll be the first man to hold all three at once, and only the second in history behind Pauline Ferrand-Prévot who achieved the feat in her exceptional 2014-15.
For now though, Pidcock can take the time to enjoy his CX world title before looking ahead to his first goals on the road: the Spring Classics and the Giro d’Italia. Success at both would hardly be a surprise.
Whether or not Pidcock manages his Worlds triple this year, 2022 looks set to be a big year for one of the sport’s brightest stars.