There aren’t a lot of races that Thomas Pidcock has left to win. After taking gold in the Tokyo Olympic mountain bike race, the Briton has won three World Cup XCO races in addition to the 2022 European Championship XCO title, and a stage of the Tour de France the same year. That’s not even counting his cyclocross results.
One result that he’s been missing was the elite XCO World championship title. Until today.
Pidcock opted to skip the road events during the Glasgow ‘Super Worlds’ in order to focus exclusively on the mountain bike race. He was slated to start near the back of the start grid since riders are seeded at Worlds based on UCI points in the MTB discipline. In a surprise move, the UCI allowed Pidcock to start on the fifth row, in addition to Mathieu van der Poel and Peter Sagan, giving the road stars a bit of an advantage in a race where start position is everything.
A number of the full-time mountain bikers released a statement protesting the UCI’s decision, but by the time the gun went off at Glentress Forest, it was all faces of focus.
Former World Champion Jordan Sarrou of France was eager to hit the front during the abbreviated start loop, along with Belgian Pierre de Froidmont. The Latvian Martins Blums was there too in addition to 2022 World Champion Nino Schurter of Switzerland.
The start grid placement didn’t help Van der Poel much as he withdrew from the race in the early laps after washing out in a right hand corner while sitting in the top 20. The mishap was less dramatic than the Dutchman’s crash in the opening minutes of the Tokyo MTB race, but Van der Poel appeared to be in a lot of pain – perhaps because he landed on road rash suffered in the road event – and did not continue.
Schurter and Sarrou were eager to keep the pace high, joined at the front by South African Alan Hatherly. De Froidmont dangled in fourth for a bit, but the leading trio quickly established themselves as some of the strongest men in the race.
From a 30th-or-so start position, Pidcock made it his mission to reach the leaders and bridged into the top five by the third lap, towing along Luca Braidot with him though the Italian wasn’t able to hold the pace.
Schurter, Sarrou, and Hatherly visibly wanted to stay away from Pidcock, riding nearly over their limits on each climb and using their expert bike handling skills to navigate the jumps and rock gardens on the downhills.
Sarrou was the first to blow and Pidcock moved into third with Schurter and Hatherly continuing to push the pace. Behind them, Thursday’s XCC winner, Sam Gaze, powered his way into fourth position adorned in the New Zealand national team kit.
Pidcock launched his attack with three laps to go, choosing the longest, steepest uphill section to launch his attach. He put a couple seconds into Schurter and extended that throughout the lap. As he passed through the technical zone, he gestured toward the rear of his bike leading to speculation of a puncture of rear shifting issue. He confirmed after the race that his gears were skipping, calling it a “stressful last few laps.”
As Schurter was put under pressure, Pidcock’s acceleration also put Hatherly in a bad place, allowing a motivated Gaze to slot into third place. Gaze would capitalize on his momentum, overtaking Schurter and rolling in for a second-place finish 19 seconds behind Pidcock.
Did the start grid advantage help Pidcock win the race? It certainly could have contributed. Third row is better than last row. As Joe Lindsey wrote, it would have been a shame had the reigning Olympic Champion been forced to start near-dead last. But rules are rules and shouldn’t be changed at the last minute, especially with 2024 Olympic quotas on the line.
Shortly after Pidcock draped the Yorkshire flag over his shoulders as he crossed the finish line and then stood on the podium in the rainbow jersey, he told the TV interviewer about the quote on the inside of his Great Britain team skinsuit.
“It says in the collar here ‘inspire the nation’, so I hope I did that today.”
A man who has won all over the world, beat the world’s best mountain bikers at home in the UK.
Elite men’s XCO results:
- Thomas Pidcock (Great Britain) 1:22:09
- Samuel Gaze (New Zealand) @ :19
- Nino Schurter (Switzerland) @ :34
- Victor Koretzky (France) @ :43
- Vlad Dascalu (Romania) @ :54
- Alan Hatherly (South Africa) @ 1:07
- Luca Braidot (Italy) @ 1:41
- Lars Forster (Switzerland) @ 1:45
- Luca Schwarzbauer (Germany) @ 1:52
- Anton Cooper (New Zealand) @ 1:53
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