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Could a mountain biker win the Tour de France? We rate Tom Pidcock and Mathieu Van Der Poel's chances

Tom Pidock at the Tour de Suisse 2022
(Image credit: Tim de Waele / Getty Staff)

We’ve already written several features about the increasing rider cross over between road, cyclo-cross and mountain bike racing. But with multiple MTB World Cup winner Mathieu Van Der Poel riding his second Tour de France and Olympic MTB gold medalist Tom Pidcock making his Tour debut, might we see a dirt merchant on the top step at Paris this year?

Mathieu van der Poel crashes on the opening lap of the mountain bike race

Mixing MTB and road racing definitely has it's risks  (Image credit: Bettini Photo)

TP vs MVDP

Ineos rider Tom Pidcock has certainly had a great time on the mountain bike when he’s turned up on his blacked out BMC occasional suspension bike – rather than his Pinarello road bike. Dominating both World Cup races, he’s started to follow up his crushing Olympic Gold Medal performance in Tokyo. In contrast, it was the Olympic MTB race that caused Mathieu Van Der Poel a ton of back related grief for months after he body slammed the deck following the infamous ‘missing ramp’ incident. 

After smashing it on the MTB, Pidcock had a less impressive Spring Classics race season than many predicted. What looked like a return to form with some aggressive racing at Tour de Suisse just two weeks ago was cut short by Covid. He’s never completed a multi-week tour either. That means his role is likely to be in support of the Team Ineos leaders. But knowing Tom he’ll seize any opportunity to take a stage win if he can and more mixed terrain is likely to suit his punchy cyclo-cross and MTB honed fitness best. 

Tom Pidcock performs at UCI XCO World Cup in Les Gets, France on July 4th, 2021

(Image credit: Bartek Wolinski / Red Bull Content Pool)

In contrast, Van Der Poel has just finished his first big multi-week challenge at the Giro D’Italia where the Dutch Icon wheelied his time trial bike down the final stage ramp Peter Sagan (another ex MTBer) style for maximum steeze points. That means he could be eyeing up a push for the green stage finish points jersey against arch nemesis and fellow cyclo-cross monster, Wout Van Aert. He’s almost certainly there to target the opening Prologue time trial in Copenhagen (yep, we know that’s not in France, they always do that with the start) and then hold onto the yellow jersey as long as possible – just like he did last year. Given how easily MVDP gets bored on long road stages (we reckon he misses the excitement of MTB riding), don’t be surprised if he goes on a small group or even solo attack just to spice things up. He’s definitely got form for that, especially if the weather is miserable and he wants to warm up.

Secret Canyon Lux at the Cape Epic

MTB stage races are shorter but can be even more brutal than the big tours (Image credit: Nick Muzik/Cape Epic)

Off-roadie favorites

Unfortunately Tour de France winner and Junior MTB World Championship double podium scorer Egan Bernal and Jumbo Visma’s Milan Vader are still both recovering from crashes early this season so won’t be in Denmark for the start. However, there are still some strong ex-mountain bike contenders for a top ten placing when the Tour finishes on the Champs Elysees. 

Previous U23 MTB World Champion and Absa Cape Epic winner Jakob Fuglsang is always a strong wild card. He’s on good form right now too with some really combative rides and a third place finish in the Tour de Suisse just a few weeks ago.

Jack Haig from the Bahrain Victorious team was Australian U23 mountain bike champion and comes off an extremely good year so far. That includes sixth overall at Paris-Nice and Ruta del Sol, and fifth at the Dauphine a month ago. He was third overall at the Vuelta D’Espana last season too so can clearly go the distance. 

Godziek backflips road bike race

Almost certainly the best road traffic sign ever... (Image credit: Dirt TV)

Hey Primoz, give us a backflip!

While winning the round France race is obviously a big deal in the road world what us mountain bikers really want to know though is who’s going to score the traditional peloton huck this year? This freerider favorite was started in true shock exploding, bike bucking, 'mutha hucker' style on the Col D’Galibier by Dave Watson (opens in new tab) back in 2003 and saw him awarded the ‘Alternative Athlete of the Year Award’ by the Guardian. The idea has been revived in recent years though with Red Bull Freerider Szymon Godziek upping the ante by back flipping the Tour of Poland (opens in new tab) field on a road bike in 2017. Who knows, given his background of ski jumping maybe even top yellow jersey favorite Primoz Roglic might go rogue on a ramp this year?

All eyes on Copenhagen

The Tour's Grand Départ takes place in Copenhagen on Friday July 7th with a 13.2km time trial. While Mathieu Van Der Poel has the power required for a win and Tom Pidcock has a Junior TT World Championship under his belt, they will be up against TT specialists like stage one favorite, Ineos Grenadiers’ Filippo Ganna, and it will be very tough from the onset.

We will be glued to our screens through the Prologue and the days that follow though, where it will be fascinating to see how all the MTB riders perform. 

Guy Kesteven
Guy Kesteven

Guy Kesteven is Bike Perfect and Cyclingnews’ contributing tech editor. Hatched in Yorkshire he's been hardened by riding round it in all weathers since he was a kid. He spent a few years working in bike shops and warehouses before starting writing and testing for bike mags in 1996. Since then he’s written several million words about several thousand test bikes and a ridiculous amount of riding gear. To make sure he rarely sleeps and to fund his custom tandem habit, he’s also penned a handful of bike-related books and talks to a GoPro for YouTube, too.


Rides: Pace RC295, Cotic FlareMax, Specialized Chisel, Vielo V+1 gravel bike, Nicolai FS Enduro, Landescape custom gravel tandem

Height: 180cm

Weight: 69kg