GB cycling triple-threat Tom Pidcock: Why I'm born for Mountain Bike racing

IZU, JAPAN - JULY 26: Thomas Pidcock of Team Great Britain during the Men's Cross-country race on day three of the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games at Izu Mountain Bike Course on July 26, 2021 in Izu, Shizuoka, Japan. (Photo by Tim de Waele/Getty Images)
IZU, JAPAN - JULY 26: Thomas Pidcock of Team Great Britain during the Men's Cross-country race on day three of the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games at Izu Mountain Bike Course on July 26, 2021 in Izu, Shizuoka, Japan. (Photo by Tim de Waele/Getty Images)

After competing in cyclo-cross and on the road this season, the multi-discipline rider from Yorkshire has made Britain's MTB history by winning Olympic gold on the technical course of Izu.

Tom Pidcock has been juggling three different cycling disciplines in his first season as a professional.

And despite having only raced in his first elite MTB World Cup event in May, the versatile 21-year-old cyclist has won Great Britain's first MTB Olympic title in the men's Cross-country event of Tokyo 2020 on Monday (26 July) in Izu.

Pidcock, who started near the rear, gained 26 positions on the first lap, quickly moved to the front and and never let go of his lead as he finished 20 seconds ahead of Switzerland's world number one Mathias Flueckiger to clinch gold.

"I feel in really good shape. I could have done the road race, but I have a better chance of a medal in the mountain bike, so simple as that. That's why I'm doing this now," the 2020 MTB U-23 world champion said before the race, after candidly admitting he didn't watch any of the two previous Olympic races.

Since successfully competing in cyclo-cross and on the road in the first few months of the year, Pidcock focused most of his energies in cross-country racing: his impressive World Cup debut in Albstadt, Germany (fifth place, after starting from the back row on the grid), was followed by a remarkable win in Nove Mesto, Czech Republic, where he finished over a minute in front of Dutch rival - and fellow multi-discipline star - Mathieu van der Poel.

The Yorkshireman has never hidden his ambition of becoming one of the best riders in the world, but how does he explain his immediate impact in the elite mountain bike circuit?

"I think my weight is important. During the season I'm less than 60 kilos," he revealed.

"It's my weight and also my natural technical skills. I think I can jump back and go downhill fast, even if I didn't ride it for two years."

Picture by Alex Whitehead/SWpix.com - Tokyo 2020 Olympics - 23/07/2021 - Cycling Mountain Bike, Training - Izu MTB Course, Izu, Japan - Tom Pidcock of Great Britain during training.
Picture by Alex Whitehead/SWpix.com - Tokyo 2020 Olympics - 23/07/2021 - Cycling Mountain Bike, Training - Izu MTB Course, Izu, Japan - Tom Pidcock of Great Britain during training.

"Not ideal preparation"

Pidcock's qualification for Tokyo proved more dramatic than expected.

Not ranked highly enough to qualify directly, in the end he was selected for a quota place assigned last minute by the UCI (International Cycling Union) to Great Britain.

"There's nothing that I did that made that I qualified, so it wasn't an achievement to qualify for me," he said.

A couple of weeks after his stunning win in Nove Mesto, the INEOS Grenadiers rider's Olympic participation was suddenly put in doubt when he suffered a collarbone fracture in training.

The injury required a surgery that left him a visible scar, and affected his preparation:

"I know that I haven't done the races that I had planned before my crash," Pidcock admitted.

"It's kind of been a very interrupted preparation. I would say not ideal, but I've made the most of it and that's all I can do really.

"So I can go into the race knowing that I've done the best I can to prepare. I mean maybe it's not as good as it could have been, but yeah if I know that, there's nothing to hide from really, no regrets."

Pidcock resumed training less than a week after his injury, but his lack of racing showed up early this month at the World Cup event in Les Gets, France, where he had to deal with a crash, and ended up retiring.

Picture by Alex Whitehead/SWpix.com - Tokyo 2020 Olympics - 23/07/2021 - Cycling Mountain Bike, Training - Izu MTB Course, Izu, Japan - Tom Pidcock of Great Britain during training.
Picture by Alex Whitehead/SWpix.com - Tokyo 2020 Olympics - 23/07/2021 - Cycling Mountain Bike, Training - Izu MTB Course, Izu, Japan - Tom Pidcock of Great Britain during training.

Versatile riders or specialists?

In Tokyo, Pidcock will ride over a challenging 4km course featuring steep climbs, big drops and even a boulder garden.

How do his chances stack up against specialists of the knobbly tires, such as Rio 2016 gold medallist Nino Schurter from Switzerland, or reigning world champion Jordan Sarrou of France?

"Disadvantages of being a more disciplined rider probably are the pure technical skills, the final little things. And then you have the advantages of probably having higher physical ability from the road," the Brit admitted.

But having excelled in two of the five Olympic cycling disciplines, who does he rate as the most complete cyclist?

"I would say mountain biker, because they have the skills, and then they have physical ability, of course, which they could transfer to the other disciplines, whereas road riders maybe don't have to be skillful. Track riders don't have to be skillful. BMX are skillful but explosive, not with the endurance. So I'd say mountain bikers."

Picture by Alex Whitehead/SWpix.com - Tokyo 2020 Olympics - 23/07/2021 - Cycling Mountain Bike, Training - Izu MTB Course, Izu, Japan - Tom Pidcock of Great Britain during training.
Picture by Alex Whitehead/SWpix.com - Tokyo 2020 Olympics - 23/07/2021 - Cycling Mountain Bike, Training - Izu MTB Course, Izu, Japan - Tom Pidcock of Great Britain during training.

'The Olympics are a much bigger deal'

Tokyo 2020 marks Pidcock's Olympic debut and his first trip to Japan which he says is "the furthest I've been from home".

Nine years ago, the Leeds-born cyclist was a mere spectator at Box Hill during the London 2012 road race, and now he's part of the biggest sports show on earth:

"In the UK or in anyone's country, everyone is interested in what medals the country wins. And it's much more recognised for everyone who's a fan of sport, not just the people who are fans of your sport. So I think it is, yes, a much bigger deal, especially in mountain bike.

"For sure it's the biggest race in mountain biking, I think, whereas the road, you know, has other world events like the Tour de France, which are pretty massive."

Pidcock had a taste of a multi-sport event during the 2015 European Youth Summer Olympic Festival in Tbilisi, Georgia, and now he's enjoying being in the 'real Olympics'.

"It's quite surreal, it feels pretty amazing," he said.

"Being here with all the other athletes is cool, in one of the biggest events for everyone. When we stayed two days in the GB prep-camp hotel, we could see athletes from all different sports like gymnasts, canoers or kayakers, and it was like, you look at people and try to get which sport they do!"