Tom Pidcock (Ineos Grenadiers) during World Cup Hulst, 2022/23 CX season.

Tom Pidcock faces a Catch-22: featherweight on the road or more mass for CX?

Pidcock, who is still close to his Tour weight of 58kg, believes he’s at a significant disadvantage compared to his much heftier CX rivals.

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After a weekend of mixed fortunes, Tom Pidcock has pointed to his diminutive stature and weight compared to major rivals Mathieu van der Poel and Wout van Aert as a serious disadvantage.

“I don’t have the weight and power of Mathieu and Wout. It’s hard to beat them in races like this,” Pidcock told In De Leiderstriu after Sunday’s Hulst World Cup, won by Van der Poel in his season debut. “I will also shift the focus to the road. [Light weight] has advantages on the road, but disadvantages in ’cross. Nevertheless, I will keep trying and the rainbow jersey will help a bit.”

Having started a couple of rows ahead of Van der Poel in Hulst and with his first win under his belt – Pidcock took victory in Saturday’s X20 Badkamers Trofee Kortrijk – the 23-year-old’s DNF does not do virtue to his performance on the day.

Standing out in the rainbow jersey of world champion, which he won on the fast-flowing Fayetteville course early this year, Pidcock took an early lead on the dynamic Hulst course – where he took his second win of last season in January, notably the only race Van Aert started and failed to win, or even podium, after a costly mechanical, eventually finishing fourth.

However, a couple of stalls from Pidcock on the muddy ramps allowed Van der Poel to catch his young rival, and before long the Dutchman had gained ten seconds. Then the final blow: a broken wheel put an end to the world champion’s hopes of so much as making the podium.

Pidcock is set to face Van der Poel again at their next appointment with the World Cup in Antwerp, this time joined by Van Aert in the first race of the Belgian’s ’cross season. But the Briton and his coach are already playing down his chances against the others who make up the ‘big three’, Van der Poel being at least 15 kg heavier and almost six inches taller, with Van Aert the biggest of them all.

“If it weren’t for them, Tom would have won a lot more,” Pidcock’s coach Kurt Bogaerts said in an episode of The Play podcast. “He is often on the podium with them now, but it is difficult for Tom to beat them. They have more absolute power, which comes in handy in the mud and in the sand. Tom is a lightweight, he is not far from his Tour weight at 58kg.”

Though his small frame and climber’s physique may hold him back on the more punchy, power-heavy CX courses, it’s clearly paying dividends on the road. And with the big races starting so soon after the CX World Championships and the different demands on him as a potential general classification contender, Pidcock’s priorities have shifted. He has even hinted that he may not attempt to defend his rainbow jersey in Hoogerheide.

Striking a balance

It’s been a turbulent few months for one of the peloton’s more charismatic personalities. After his season peaked atop the Alpe d’Huez – although arguably his greatest moment was the extraordinary descent off the Galibier on the way to his stage win – his next major target was the MTB World Championships where he’d attempt to add to his CX rainbow jersey, but a crash put an end to that dream. From there he went a little quiet, an inconsistent Tour of Britain his only appearance on the road; then an expected tilt at the road Worlds in Woollongong was cancelled at late notice.

Pidcock ultimately cited mental and physical fatigue as a reason for his late-summer burnout, which itself came after a spring punctuated by illness and stomach issues. But after a lengthy period off the bike and refreshing holidays in New York and Andorra, he was looking forward to resuming his winter CX routine in his fresh rainbow jersey, albeit splattered with a little doubt, perhaps pointing to a restructure of future seasons.

Pidcock is yet to commit fully to general classification on the road, something which takes a fair bit of build-up from early in the year, but he has said he’d like to challenge for the Tour’s yellow jersey in the near-ish future. In the era of multi-hyphenate Grand Tour-winners Tadej Pogačar and Remco Evenepoel, there’s no reason for the Brit to drop his Spring Classics goals in favour of now-dated devotion to mountain preparation, but it remains to be seen if his form can be sustained through CX and road seasons to the consistency required for general classification success.

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