We were already talking up Tom Pidcock’s chances of doing something exciting at the Tour de France before it even started. Even so, the solo win he pulled off on the iconic Alpe d’Huez stage yesterday was still spectacular and sensational. Surprising though? Maybe not so much.
I don’t know Tom Pidcock personally, but he’s been a local hero and multi-discipline disruptor for about a decade. Even though he’s still only 22, he was riding senior races well before his time, often pulling off surprise wins against older riders who hadn’t been following his form. He was never a one trick pony either. While cyclo cross was his richest arena of junior victories (he was Junior, under 23 World and European Champion, and a regular top level winner nationally and internationally) he also racked up a reputation in road racing (he was Junior World Time Trial Champion in 2017) and MTB (under 23 World Champion). Often leaving a buzz of ‘did you see him drift that last wet corner into the sprint?’ Or ‘he’s just taking the p*ss on that tech section’ comments in his wake. While most racers tend to cotton wool themselves for fear of injury ruining their training investment, Tom was a regular at local Leeds jump spots like Adel woods. The Pidcock family holiday (dad was a decent racer too) was often in Morzine too. He even raced the slip and slide comedy course of the E-MTB World Championships at Leogang in 2020 ‘for a laugh’. And surprise, surprise he won that too.
In short, while footage of his stunning descending skills as he bridged the gap from the peloton to the lead group on the swerving, switchback descents of the Galibier and Telegraph is dropping jaws all over social media, if you ‘know’ Tom it shouldn’t be a surprise. He is - and has always been – an exceptionally gifted and confident bike rider. Having said that, the moment where he screams in behind a Cofidis rider mid turn, resets fractionally, then hunches like a hawk, pumps the bike lower to stick it down harder and rockets round the closing outside edge gap is already an iconic clip.
The mountain biker’s mountain
Even once he was in the front group, approaching the legendary 21 hairpins of the Alpe d’Huez the odds were surely stacked against him. First time ever on the Tour de France. In a group with several specialist climbers. He’d even pulled four-time Tour de France winner Chris Froome across with him to his best ever chance of a decent position since his horrific crash a few years before.
But again, if you’ve watched how Pidcock races, and you know the sort of physical challenge the Alpe presents. the odds were actually looking very good indeed.
Tom won the U23 ‘Baby Giro’ stage race in 2020 and he had an extremely strong final week of the Vuelta d’Espana stage race last year so being nearly two weeks deep into the Tour de France wouldn’t be a worry. While he’s a multi-discipline all-rounder rather than a specialist climber, at only 50kg gravity doesn’t have a lot to grab onto when Tom hits a hill. Alpe d’Huez isn’t a normal, dragging, attritional Alp either. The stacked hairpins basically set up a brutal half hour interval sessions of steep corners separated by flatter ramps that pro’s take fast enough they’ll often need to brake into them. That makes being able to repeatedly punch out of corners having ripped the apex to maintain maximum speed crucial. The exact same skills that Tom has shown time and time again on cyclo cross and MTB courses.
His initial attack to shake the first sufferers and then second, calm faced, calculated corner kick and then gradual pull away were classic Pidcock too. Time after time – including both World Cup XCO races he’s won this year, the Olympic MTB race he took gold at last year and the Cyclo Cross World Championship he tucked in between this winter – we watched Tom put in a few assessment jabs and then calmly, confidently, emphatically pull away to victory. Even though he’d never ridden the Tour de France before, let alone led solo into the screaming insanity of the most crowded, drunkest, spectator pressure cooker anywhere in bike racing he even said his mountain bike skills helped him there. Swerving and dodging "flags, fists and god knows what" as the crowd unzipped cm from his front wheel in the scorching afternoon heat, he never missed a beat mentally or metronomically. In fact the more crowded it got, the more he opened the gap over his sole remaining challenger, until by the time he fit the final barriered section, his victory was as certain as it could be.
A stage of the Tour. On Alpe D’Huez. On Bastille day 🤯 @INEOSGrenadiers @LeTour pic.twitter.com/PlCUkqlhLcJuly 15, 2022
Tom Barras ,from Training-Pro and Spatz. coached Tom all through his stellar Junior career until he joined Ineos Grenadiers, so knows him far better than most physically and mentally and certainly wasn’t surprised. “I think that what he did yesterday is just a culmination of all Tom’s qualities. Even as a kid he proved to me there was nothing that he couldn't do on a bike. You could see the mounting biking/cross skills coming through as he dropped everyone on those descents. Then that cross/mountain bike tuned engine and confidence was perfect for riding away from the break up Alp d’Huez. It’s as if everything he’s ever learned and trained for just came together on that one day. The only unbelievable thing is he just keeps on doing this!”
So while Tom’s victory was phenomenal, exceptional, stunning and a whole other load of superlatives it wasn’t unprecedented, surprising or incredible. It was just a confirmation of what this still very young rider had already shown he was capable of. And in many ways this most iconic road stage was essentially won with an awesome masterclass of MTB riding.