Tom Pidcock out of the dark and into the light

Lack of lurgy lifts Quick-Step and Pidcock, as an out Wout raises hopes

Pidcock and Asgreen play second string favourites to Van der Poel and Pogačar, yet still harbor quiet confidence for Flanders

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Patrick Lefevere is hacking up a lung as the pristine on-screen presenter waxes lyrical about how amazing the Alpha Vinyl carpet he’s standing on is. And really, it’s only Lefevere’s coughing that reminds us we’re still in reality as a bizarro world scene plays out, Quick-Step’s Tour of Flanders squad seemingly trapped in a wood-panelled, cuboid prison as they answer questions about this Sunday’s race.

Joking aside, this is the big one for them and keeping sponsors happy means the Belgian outfit can continue to punch above their budgetary weight. That is, at least, until this season. Sure, they have captured 17 wins already, but have been so absent thus far in the Belgian Classics that it’s become the main talking point. Most of the time it’s about how rather than if they will win.

The sickness that has confined Lefevere to his home away from his team had previously made its way through the squad as it has the whole peloton. On top of that, Kasper Asgreen, their defending champion, has been through a bout of Covid, and destroyer of WorldTour kilometres Tim Declerq has recently come back from covid-related heart issues.

” I say maybe make the report after Liège,” argues Lefevere. “And maybe it’s lucky for us that Roubaix is a week later than normal. “In 2001 we didn’t get a result until Paris Roubaix, then we got 1-2-3.”

“I always say panic is adviser,” the Belgian continues, before analysing the lack of Van Aert maybe won’t bolster his team’s hopes for a result. “Mathieu and Wout are always racing à bloc, in the last few years they were competing against each other which was sometimes good for us.”

For Asgreen, he’s not quite received the billing you’d expect of a defending champion, but retains the status he held during the 2021 Classics of being a main contender with the caveat that he’ll be kept on a tighter leash this time around.

“You can’t afford to give them many metres,” Asgreen continues, talking about the likes of Van der Poel and Pogačar. “Because it’s almost impossible to come back. You have to be super attentive and ready to follow immediately. But I will also try to go into the race with my own plan and my own ideas, I think that’s key to winning the race.”

Mathieu van der Poel’s Dwars door Vlaanderen victory confirmed his form ahead of Flanders

“It will change the number of people in the final really and also the strength of Jumbo,” Tom Pidcock adds later in his pre-race press conference of Van Aert’s likely absence. While Wout van Aert has seen his condition deteriorate after a strong start to the season, Pidcock, like Van der Poel, has had to return from setbacks. The Dutchman seems to be peaking at the right time as he won Dwars door Vlaanderen after injury blighted his early season, while Pidcock’s third place on Wednesday gives him hope he’s over the illness that stunted his Milan – San Remo and Gent-Wevelgem.

“If I’m fully recovered…I’m not entirely sure,” Pidcock hesitated. “[At Dwars] I felt back to myself and racing at the front.”

“I think there are guys who’ve proven themselves in this race before,” he continued, ruling himself out of being one of the favourites. “I think I have a chance but I think it has to play right in the race.”

With Wout likely out, Tadej Pogačar joins Mathieu van der Poel as the pair receiving top billing. While Pidcock has quickly built experience in these cobbled Classics, he says, that could be one thing that lets the Slovenian down. The knack for positioning is crucial on the narrow, steep climbs where the race can blow apart in an instant. To combat this, Pidcock could see Pogačar hit out early to allow his legs to do the talking.

“I can see it going early,” Pidcock analysed. “Like I was saying about Pogačar, perhaps he’s got less experience and if he goes early when it’s easier to position and maybe it’s a smaller group, it’s only his legs that are going to show. You have to expect anything.”

Pidcock says he’s shown he can race the long distances now, that his sixth place in last year’s Flanders’ Worlds evidenced the fact he can manage the 270km of Flanders on Sunday.

“I got dropped on every single climb and I thought I hate these climbs,” Pidcock reminisced of a first training ride over the cobbled climbs of Flanders following his victory at Junior Paris-Roubaix in 2017. “They’ve grown on me a bit now. Of course, it’s harder for me, I’m light, I don’t have the power of some of these guys, but after 200km that can play into my advantage.”

“We’ll make the best of it,” Asgreen concluded, which, really, is all a rider can hope for after a 270km-long day on the bike chasing Van der Poel and Pogačar.

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