Tom Pidcock says modern technology in cycling must not be dismissed, and that those riders who ignore it will be left behind.
Speaking before the inaugural UCI Cycling Esports World Championships, in which he will compete as part of the Great Britain team, Pidcock told Telegraph Sport he is no longer sceptical about online racing.
“Everyone was a bit sceptical at first,” he says. “But things are developing all the time. Things like E-bikes [electric bikes] and E-racing are the new things in the sport. The quicker you accept this and come to terms with change, then the quicker you’re on the train.”
Racing platforms like Zwift flourished in lockdown as both amateur and professional cyclists logged on in their thousands. Pidcock says he was able to use the break to ‘reset’ during the spring before going on to enjoy his best year yet on the road.
Following the disappointment of missing out on winning the Under-23 world title on his home roads of Yorkshire in 2019 — an experience he says “makes me punch my pillow at night” — Pidcock won three stages at the Giro Ciclistico d’Italia, or the Baby Giro as it is more commonly known, en route to claiming the overall title and the mountains jersey.
Shortly after becoming the first Briton to win the Baby Giro, it was announced that Pidcock had signed a three-year deal with Ineos before he later experienced “a dress rehearsal for the future” as he led the Great Britain team at the rescheduled world championships in Imola, Italy.
In his typically understated way, Pidcock who also finished runner-up to Mathieu van der Poel at the cyclo-cross world championships in February, described his year as being ‘okay’.
“I will remember the summer I had at home in Yorkshire with the nice weather for the rest of my life,” he says. “Instead of being away racing, I was able to spend time at home. I’m quite lucky in my situation in that all I needed to do was ride my bike, which I was still allowed to do.”
As Pidcock concedes, however, not everybody was able to cycle outdoors. Many riders, including Giro d’Italia champion Tao Geoghegan Hart who spent lockdown stuck inside, were forced to ride on their turbo trainers. Little wonder Zwift saw a massive increase in users during lockdown.
“I think it helped keep the [cycling] community together, either through competitive racing or not — Zwift helped a lot of people get through what was quite a tough time for some people. It is another discipline if you like, so it just increases the chance of people getting involved in cycling.”
Though an early adopter to online racing, Pidcock’s first race on Zwift did not go to plan. “I was a bit too excited when I did my first race — it was my first race in something like three months,” he says. “Even though it was online I was still excited and just attacked after two minutes. I wasn’t getting anywhere so I sat up and the bunch came past me.”
Lining up alongside the likes of Alberto Bettiol, Thomas De Gendt and Rigoberto Urán, Pidcock will most likely be Britain’s best chance of a medal in the men’s race on Wednesday. Elinor Barker and Sarah Storey will be hoping to challenge in the women’s race, which is contested over the exact same distance on the same course and with equal prize money as the men.
However, it is not a given that one of the stars of the men’s or women’s WorldTours will win and so Anna van der Breggen, the double women’s world champion, or the almost unstoppable Annemiek van Vleuten, will be adding another rainbow jersey to their collections.
One of the peculiar quirks of online racing, as a number of professionals have discovered to their cost, is that the tactics needed while racing in the virtual world are very different to when on the open road and so E-racing specialists Lionel Vujasin (Belgium) and Cecilie Hansen (Sweden) will be hoping to use their experience to upset the household names.
“It’s important that you stay at the front; on the hills you have to go full gas and stay at the front and then you can basically freewheel down the other side, if you’re in the front group,” Pidcock explains. “But if you lose contact with the front group and a gap forms then it’s difficult to close. I think that’s the key difference really, in a road race if you lose the wheel on a climb you can chase back on on the descent.
“I just don’t want to get dropped at the first climb. I’m sure I won’t.”