It’s a familiar script, at least for American fans. An English-speaking Junior cyclocross racer, living outside the traditionally dominant cyclocross countries, just misses the Cyclocross Worlds podium due to a few mishaps, and has a year to think about what could have been, and whether the next year will be his turn.
Thomas Pidcock could have been inspired by past history and the stories of American Junior Matt Kelly, who got stuck behind a crash and raced Tim Johnson’ pit bike to nearly catch the leaders in 1998, and then returned in 1999 to take what he thought could have already been his.
Pidcock was the top-finshing first-year Junior in Zolder, finishing fifth after several crashes. Coming in the 2017 Cyclocross World Championships with that knowledge, it would have been easy for the Brit to be confident that this year he was destined for glory, but if Pidcock studied the results over the last two years and followed the amazing career path of Gage Hecht, he’d know that nothing is guaranteed in a second attempt at Worlds, especially in Junior racing.
For 17-18 year-old-racers, one year can make a huge difference in terms of a rider’s physical development and focus, and you never know who might be coming up in the next wave of riders. Hecht himself finished fourth in 2015 as the top first-year Junior, but couldn’t improve upon that the following year, finishing 12th.
Pidcock did all he could this year to cement his status as the favorite, not because of last year’s result, but because of his progression this season. The Brit has been dominant this fall and winter, winning the majority of the Junior Men’s races he’s lined up at, including the UEC European Continental Championships, Zonhoven Superprestige, Namur World Cup, and last week’s World Cup in Hoogerheide.
Could he handle the pressure and live up to his first call-up position?
Patient Pidcock Despite Start Chaos and a French Attack
France’s Maxime Bonsergent took to the front with a controlled, measured first lap, but with strong running and great cornering, a patient Pidcock had Bonsergent within sight after one lap, and by the end of the finish straight, surged to the front and never looked back.
Bonsergent, under pressure by Pidcock, did well to keep the Brit within sight, but faltered on a small climb, giving another Brit in Ben Turner a chance to get by. Soon attention turned to the race for second, despite Pidcock’s attempts to keep fan’s attention with a few tail whips and a bit of showboating that started just two laps in.
With Turner in second, it seemed that an unlikely repeat of the Hoogerheide World Cup result was possible. Could the Brits go one-two?
Behind, the Americans displayed patience as well. After crashing on the first lap, Stephenson started to claw his way back, while teammates Caleb Swartz and others got caught behind a 20-person crash at the start.
Broken Derailleur and Shoe Make Room for a Broom
Yesterday we joked the race needed a derailleur hanger vending machine, as the off-cambers were bringing racers crashing down on their drivetrain, wrecking hangers and sending derailleurs into wheels.
— Cyclocross Magazine (@cyclocross) January 27, 2017
With just two and a half laps left, Bonsergent unfortunately proved such a proclamation to ring true.
The French racer, in his battle with Turner and another Brit in the surging Dan Tulett for a final medal spot, slid out in a sweeping right hand turn into a climb, landing on his rear derailleur, and breaking his shoe in the process. Running without a shoe or functional rear derailleur, Bonsergent’s troubles cleared the way for the British broom. Suddenly, a British sweep looked imminent and the only suspense left was who would take third.
Tullet’s come-from-behind ride was impressive. The Brit, lining up third row, found his legs and a clear path on lap three, turning a blistering lap of 8:03, 13 seconds faster than Pidcock, and shot his way into medal contention. Turner tried to hold his ground. He finished second to Pidcock just a week ago and started on the front line. The time for teamwork was over, and it was a British fight for the medals.
Pidcock Avoids Hitting the Deck by Catching Air
Pidcock often races on skinny slick tires on the road and on the track, but you wouldn’t know it based on the way he attacked the course.
“I just made sure I didn’t crash really, stayed upright and let the legs do the work,” Pidcock said after his race, but his racing didn’t look that conservative once he had a comfortable gap.
On the penultimate lap, the Brit put on a display and looked more like a freerider than track racer, hopping the barriers, sliding through corners and getting air whenever he could. He had the gap and clear path to show off his skills, and it worked. His fourth lap was the fastest of the day at eight minutes flat.
Turner raced to protect his silver, but just as the early French leader Bonsergent did, Turner slid out and landed drive-side while Tulett squeezed by. Thankfully, Turner’s bike remained intact but his medal hopes were not, unless Tullet had a last-minute problem.
Sure enough, as if on queue, Tulett slid on a sweeping left-hand descent, but remounted and kept a narrow lead. Turner still had silver hopes.
With another off-camber hairpin, Tulett went down again. Once again, Tulett hopped back on, keeping his second spot, but now Turner was breathing down his neck.
While the two Brits eyed each other and rode defensively to protect their medal hopes, Pidcock had plenty of time to celebrate his big win with his bike in the air.
Meanwhile, Switzerland’s Loris Rouiller had nothing to lose, pulling back the Brits and entering the final straight on Turner’s wheel. Could he block the British stranglehold on precious metal?
Turner and Rouiller sprinted with a British sweep on the line, but the Swiss racer’s push was too late.
Turner held off a wheelie-ing Rouiller to make British Cycling history.
An American Top Ten
Early crashes were the rule for most racers, and that certainly applied to the Americans.
Stephenson had an impressive ride to finish ninth. “I had a crash right at the start, and then one with two to go, and that set me back a little bit, but other than that, it was pretty good,” Stephenson told Cyclocross Magazine. “It was really slippery out there, super sketchy, but it was fun.”
Caleb Swartz, who finished 32nd, had some tough luck in the front. “It started off pretty rough. Right off the line someone leaned into me and I almost went down. In the first two corners…there were three or four crashes and I got stuck behind all of them. I didn’t go down, but right from the gun I was in 40th, 50th place.
Lane Maher, who finished 17th, told Cyclocross Magazine, “I’ve never done anything like this before. [It’s] a little disappointing, because I crashed at the start, but I felt good.” Maher would lose over a minute on the first lap to the leaders, but then put in subsequent lap times on part with his teammate Stephenson.
Calder Wood in 33rd, Ross Ellwood in 36th, and Sam Noel in 43rd.
Canadian Gunnar Holmgren finished 22nd, Brody Sanderson in 25th and Noah Sims in 46th.
Pidcock Keeps His Options Open
Although the 2017 Cyclocross World Championships has been a year-long goal, the British Cycling academy product likes to keep his options open out on the course, and in his career path as well. His next goal is the Junior Men’s Paris Roubaix in April, and he continues to race on the track and road despite his cyclocross success.
Sven Nys of the Telenet Fidea program has had his eye on Pidcock for a while, but Pidcock has turned back those advances and wanted to push back any discussions until after the World Championships.
Now it seems like Pidcock’s decision will pay off in more ways than one. With about 41 minutes of strenuous exercise in Bieles, Pidcock’s options are now in the money, and with some exercise of a different kind, the rising cycling star could profit by commanding a lucrative road and cyclocross spot on Nys’ teams.
Thomas Tech Talk
Pidcock rode a British Paul Milnes cyclocross bike with cantilevers, and at the last minute, decide to ride file tread tubulars. “Before the race, some of the U23 riders said it was just sheet ice, and I made a last-minute tire change to file treads, so I guess that paid off, they’re perfect for the conditions,” the new champion said.
Full results below. Stay tuned for more photos and our video interviews from the Junior Men’s race.
Stay up-to-date with all our 2017 Cyclocross World Championships coverage on our Worlds page here, and watch the racing live and on replay on our site here.
2017 Cyclocross World Championships - Junior Men - Bieles, Luxemourg
|1||PIDCOCK Thomas||GBR||GREAT BRITAIN||0:41:24|
|2||TULETT Daniel||GBR||GREAT BRITAIN||+00:38|
|3||TURNER Ben||GBR||GREAT BRITAIN||+00:44|
|9||STEPHENSON Denzel||USA||UNITED STATES OF AMERICA||+02:07|
|15||CULLELL ESTAPE Jofre||ESP||SPAIN||+03:21|
|17||MAHER Lane||USA||UNITED STATES OF AMERICA||+03:41|
|21||GAVENDA Jan||CZE||CZECH REPUBLIC||+04:13|
|27||VANICEK Simon||CZE||CZECH REPUBLIC||+05:06|
|31||MEIN Thomas||GBR||GREAT BRITAIN||+05:43|
|32||SWARTZ Caleb||USA||UNITED STATES OF AMERICA||+05:47|
|33||WOOD Calder||USA||UNITED STATES OF AMERICA||+06:05|
|34||KOPECKY Tomas||CZE||CZECH REPUBLIC||+06:07|
|36||ELLWOOD Ross||USA||UNITED STATES OF AMERICA||+06:09|
|41||HONZAK David||CZE||CZECH REPUBLIC||+06:35|
|43||NOEL Sam||USA||UNITED STATES OF AMERICA||+07:00|
|44||FEIJOO ALBERTE Ivan||ESP||SPAIN||+07:05|
|52||MURPHY Jack Bernard||IRL||IRELAND||-1LAP|
|59||SCHIERL Jakub||CZE||CZECH REPUBLIC||-2LAP|
|MURIAS GARCIA Xabier||ESP||SPAIN||DNF1|