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It’s fair to say that Tom Pidcock’s first weekend racing in the rainbow jersey of world cyclocross champion was rather dramatic.

After a steady seventh place in his first ‘cross race of the season on Saturday, at the Superprestige event in Merksplas, the 23-year-old put on a sensational display at the World Cup in Overijse the following day, with only a plethora of mechanicals, crashes, and sheer bad luck standing between him and a debut win in the rainbow bands.

A jammed chain almost ruined the Ineos Grenadiers rider’s race before it even started yesterday (what is going on with Pinarello’s ‘cross bikes this winter?), forcing him into a dramatic – and impressive – chase to regain his place at the front of the pack.

β€œMy gears were jammed. I don’t know why, it’s a bit strange,” the Olympic mountain bike champion said at the finish.

β€œI had to get my chain out, then I looked up. We’d done five seconds of racing and I’m already last, so I was thinking, ‘ah … this is gonna be a hard day’.”

But, just as the versatile Yorkshireman began to blast clear of his nearest rival, European champion Michael Vanthourenhout, on the penultimate lap, disaster struck – at the bottom of a treacherous, muddy descent onto cobblestones, the world champion crashed, allowing Vanthourenhout to slip away.

Despite the spill – which, to add insult to injury, damaged his shoe, hindering him on the mud-strewn course’s plentiful running sections – Pidcock gained slowly on his Belgian rival during the final two laps. But it just wasn’t enough, as an early win in the rainbow jersey cruelly eluded him by just three seconds.

β€œI came off the dirt onto cobbles, my wheel slipped, and I fell on the cobbles. I think I’m going to be pretty sore in the morning,” Pidcock said.

β€œMy shoe also broke, so I was struggling with running. It was coming off every time I stood in the mud. It was a difficult two laps but I thought, ‘I can’t give up, I’ve got to try and get a win in this jersey’.

β€œI can be pleased,” he added. β€œAfter Saturday I’m much more used to race pace and technical parts. I can be pleased, but it would have been nice to get my hands in the air.”

While he rated his early-winter performance in the rainbow jersey on the fields of northern Europe a solid 8/10, doubts remain over whether Pidcock will even defend his world title in February 2023.

Speaking to Het Nieuwsblad ahead of his return to action, the Ineos Grenadiers rider – who struggled with illness during the road classics season after prioritizing his tilt at the ‘cross worlds in Arkansas – said he β€œcan’t answer” if a title defense is on the cards.

β€œThe World Championship is very late this time, isn’t it?” he told the Belgian newspaper. β€œIf you peak for this Championship and then you have to prepare for the Classics…”


2022 TdF stage 12 pidcock ineos Zac Williams/SWpix.com

Zac Williams/SWpix.com

While Pidcock’s 2022 classics season failed to live up to his admittedly lofty expectations – he did go on to win on Alpe d’Huez at the Tour de France later that summer, of course – the 23-year-old is not prepared to sacrifice his chances of winning one of the sport’s monuments next spring.

β€œThe road season is so much more important to me. That’s how I feel this year too,” he said.

β€œIn 2023 I especially want to perform consistently in those spring Monuments. If I succeed, the results will follow. If you’re up front with everything, you get more options.

β€œLast year I did play an important role in the victories of the team. Those victories lifted me a little bit, even if things didn’t go the way I wanted for myself.

β€œCompared to Jumbo-Visma and Quick-Step, we have a young team, with less experience, but we can race. Let the great powers fight it out among themselves, we will attack them.”

Not that Pidcock doesn’t want to fully rep the rainbow bands this winter.

β€œI finished the road season early. I already had enough free time,” he said of his early return to Flanders’ fields. β€œThat rainbow jersey is also an incentive to get started. I want to honor that jersey as much as possible.”

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