How mountain bike experience gives Tom Pidcock and Mathieu van der Poel an edge on the road

Tom Pidcock (Ineos Grenadiers) has a special advantage over most of his rivals on the road – his mountain bike expertise.

That’s the shared view of Eurosport’s lead mountain bike commentator Ric McLaughlin and cycling expert Dan Lloyd, who said that the British multi-discipline star is more likely to swerve danger on the bike because of his advanced skillset.

“You really see the difference in the pro peloton between riders that have only ever done road racing and those that have got either a background in track racing, cyclo-cross or mountain biking,” said Lloyd on The Breakaway ahead of Stage 19 at the Giro d’Italia.

“And I think Pidcock is a key example of that. He’s just at home on his bike because he grew up doing jumps, just mucking around in the local park or woods.

“It’s a bit like Peter Sagan. They rarely crash and are always in the right place at the right time. That’s not by chance, he’s just so at home on his bike and able to do stuff that other people aren’t able to do.”

Pidcock is one of the most versatile riders in the peloton and already boasts Olympic mountain bike gold, a cyclo-cross world title and victory on Alpe d’Huez after a descending and climbing masterclass at last year’s Tour de France.

He enjoyed a stellar Spring Classics campaign on the road in 2023 as he took a brilliant solo victory at Strade Bianche and claimed podiums at Liege-Bastogne-Liege and Amstel Gold.

The 23-year-old then shifted his attention briefly to mountain bike – recovering from a fall to win the UCI Mountain Bike World Series cross-country Olympic opener in Nove Mesto, Czech Republic – before refocusing on the road and the Tour de France.

“I think mountain biking gives you that time, those fractions of a second to deal with an axel losing grip, to just correct it and be at home. That’s something that comes very early on in a career,” said McLaughlin.

Pidcock also went from last to first to win the short-track event in Nove Mesto, while Mathieu van der Poel (Alpecin–Deceuninck) is expected to shift focus to the mountain bike after the inaugural UCI Cycling World Championships in Glasgow in August.

Asked whether Pidcock and Van der Poel’s rivals get annoyed that the pair are airdropped into mountain bike races, regularly snatching glory and then disappearing again, McLaughlin said: “I don’t think so. Especially in cross-country, they are very well-versed in cyclo-cross, a lot of them have raced road earlier in their career.

“To be able to descend the way Pidcock and Van der Poel can, that’s just great bike riding and that gets respect.

“Big names are also big targets. You’ve got a chance to beat Pidcock or Van der Poel and for a career that’s potentially ground-breaking.”

‘I want to go back and defend my title’ – Pidcock dreaming of Paris 2024 glory

Highlights: Pidcock recovers from nasty fall to take stunning Cross-country Olympic World Cup win

In May, Pidcock revealed to Eurosport his plans to go for the mountain bike world title in Glasgow before building his 2024 season around his Olympic MTB title defence. Van der Poel is also hoping to be in the field, although his appearance is complicated by the Netherlands’ poor qualification ranking and his lack of MTB racing this season.

“This year my goal in mountain biking is to win the Worlds,” Pidcock said ahead of his triumphant outing at Nove Mesto.

“Last year I fell ill the week before. I still ended up fourth which I’m pretty amazed with, I just finished and I was completely empty, mentally and physically. This year I want to go back, especially with it being in Glasgow.

“I’m also focused on the Olympics next year. I want to go back and defend my title for sure. After Tokyo, I just realised the Olympics transcends cycling. I always wanted to win the Road Worlds or the Tour de France – the Tour is also massive – but the Olympics…

“No one cares where the medal comes from. It doesn’t matter whether it’s in ping pong or balancing a ball on your head. A gold medal is a gold medal. And everyone knows about it. That’s what makes it special. It means more, in a way.”

The UCI Mountain Bike World Series continues in Italy on June 2-4 with Enduro and Marathon events, while the Olympic Cross-country, Short-track and Downhill disciplines return in Lenzerheide, Switzerland from June 8-11.

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