Tom Pidcock was a relatively unknown quantity in Tour de France terms when his debut participation was announced before last year’s race. But a few weeks floating around in the top 10 and a stage win on the Alpe d’Huez, one of the Tour’s most historic and symbolic mountains, put him squarely in the sights of anyone looking for the next great British Grand Tour racer.
Cut to 2023, and with 2019 winner Egan Bernal continuing his comeback, Pidcock and Carlos Rodríguez were the Ineos Grenadiers riders who received carte blanche to go for a GC result in their second and first Tours respectively.
It started well for Pidcock, who raced consistently through the first week, culminating in a potentially career- or at least era-defining ride on stage 9 where he was able to keep pace with the top favourites on the Puy de Dôme, right up until Tadej Pogačar’s attack in the last 1500 metres. With Jonas Vingegaard chasing down Pogačar, Pidcock finished on the same time as next-best GC rider, Simon Yates, cementing his credentials as a top-10 contender.
A combination of that same form and the punchy kick he’s always demonstrated on a variety terrains saw the 22-year-old Brit to fifth on Friday’s stage 13, this time claiming best-of-the-rest spot behind Pogačar and Vingegaard. He was eighth overall, 5:35 behind the yellow jersey and just 32 seconds from the top five.
But then stage 14 arrived, a 151.8-kilometre Alpine test with five climbs of ascending difficulty, but crucially a long descent off the Col de Joux Plane (HC) to the finish in Morzine where his parents, girlfriend, and brother Joe were all waiting for him. He and his family have spent a lot of time in this area with their mountain bikes in the past, so Pidcock is very familiar with the trails, if not so much the roads.
The odds were good that Pidcock, demon descender of the 2022 Tour de France, would give it a nudge, but it didn’t quite go to plan.
“It was a very hard day,” he said with some spirited emphasis after the stage. “It’s a shame really. I was full of confidence this morning, you know, imagining doing this epic attack off the top of the Joux Plane. Obviously I wasn’t really making a big deal out of it, but then we just started full gas and I just didn’t really have it in me.”
Pidcock hung on with the dwindling favourites group as Jumbo-Visma drove the pace and ruined the breakaway’s day, but he began to fade on the penultimate climb. He ‘limited his losses’ in the last few kilometres of the Col de la Ramaz and began the descent with about a 30-second deficit to the favourites.
This was his terrain, surely he would regain at least a few seconds, and get some much-needed recovery, but with a less-technical descent and Wout van Aert driving the pace up ahead, the gap went from manageable to terminal by the end of the valley road.
“I thought maybe I could save a little bit over the Col de la Ramaz, but I didn’t come back on the descent, and then I was just cooked.”
After his roasting, Pidcock dug in and rode his own race up and over the Joux Plane and into Morzine, oblivious to what was happening up ahead – his teammate Rodríguez, Tour debutant, had done as Pidcock did 12 months ago and taken a statement stage win, even incorporating a soaring descent into his winning story.
“I took my radio out,” Pidcock explained after the stage. “Then I come down to the bus and everyone’s saying congratulations, and I’m thinking ‘what the fuck’s everyone saying congratulations for?’ and then [I found out] Carlos won, so it makes it a bit better.”
Neither a stage winner nor a jersey wearer, Pidcock owed no one anything after finishing the stage, so he took his time decompressing after losing almost nine minutes and falling out of the top 10. He was first back to the team bus, where he took his time spinning his legs out on his TT bike, his head buried in his hands. He wasn’t quite ready to talk to anyone yet, not even his dad.
A few words from Dave Brailsford and then Rod Ellingworth seemed to help him on his way to more-relaxed. Only when his warm-down was done did he concede time to the media, wearing little more than an ice-vest and bib-shorts.
One question everyone wanted to ask was: we were sure you would catch back on on the descent, what happened? Though in perhaps more gentle terms.
“Well, I didn’t have any motorbikes in front of me, did I,” he answered quickly – not the only one to complain about motorbike influence on this stage – before adding a more diplomatic answer, “So, it was a bit hard. It’s not really a very technical descent to be honest, so it’s hard to make up time.”
Thoughts then turned to the effect stage 14 had on Pidcock’s GC standing. Up until today, with a couple of notable exceptions, the stages have had a fairly consistent structure, but Saturday’s stage was full gas as soon as the crash neutralisation was over, and Jumbo-Visma never let the pace drop.
“I think I need to evaluate a little bit, but I just didn’t have enough energy basically,” Pidcock put simply. “Yesterday it was a late stage, late dinner, I couldn’t really eat enough – it’s not really complicated.”
Regardless of his tumble out of the top 10, what Pidcock has shown so far has surprised many of his doubters, those who wondered whether he might be more Alaphilippe than Pogačar, and there’s no reason to believe he won’t finish strong. He’s got six more stages to prove his potential before a predicted one-year Tour hiatus as he prepares to defend his mountain bike Olympic gold medal in Paris, but after two weeks among the best, could we see him competing for the podium, even yellow, in 2025?
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