When Tom Pidcock rode to Olympic gold in the men’s mountain bike cross country event at Tokyo 2020, he propelled himself into the wider British consciousness.
The now 22-year-old’s domination of the race was awe-inspiring to fans who have watched his meteoric rise through the ranks. The ability and speed he showcased was renewed confirmation of a generational talent. Olympic MTB success is something that even eluded cyclocross demigod Sven Nys and the mercurial Peter Sagan. It becomes even more staggering when you put into context that his win came just two months after he broke his collarbone – the result of being hit by a driver in training.
Why are multi-disciplined cyclists so dominant and how can we be inspired by Pidcock’s gold?
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A multi-talented rider
Tom Pidcock’s palmarès is about as eclectic as it’s possible to be, with big wins on the road, in time trials, criteriums, cyclocross, MTB and even e-MTB. His name has been known to British cycling fans for several years now, ever since his domination of the junior cyclocross ranks and the ease with which he raced in criteriums against the UK’s best seniors when he was still a teenager.
The last 12 months have been particularly fruitful for him. In that space of time, he has won the E-bike XC World Championships, taken his first major senior victory in cyclocross and won the Brabantse Pijl classic in his debut season with the Ineos Grenadiers. Add his Olympic gold to that list and you have a record that showcases how unbelievably good this multi-talented rider is.
How trying different disciplines makes you a better rider
It seems bizarre to use the word legacy when discussing a 22-year-old, but we can all take inspiration from the diversity of his expertise. We may not all be Olympic champions in the making, but training in multiple disciplines can help you to become a better all-round rider.
Cyclocross makes you a fitter cyclist as the intensity of the racing teaches you to deal with lactate build up. It also helps you to understand weight distribution on the bike. When cycling through deep mud or sand, you have to be able to shift your body around in the saddle in order to keep upright, and this is a valuable transferrable skill that improves your handling. These constant body movements also help to improve your core, and the odd dismount and run gives you more of a full body workout.
Mountain biking also improves you as an overall rider. The discipline requires endurance and a great deal of nerve. Like cyclocross, handling is the most obvious thing that is improved as you dodge roots and swoop round berms at speed on technical trails. It also helps a rider understand gear management better and improves on bike confidence. There is a reason the best descenders at the Tour de France are often ex-mountain bikers. Those twisty roads don’t seem as daunting after you’ve mastered those gnarly trails and drop offs.
Perhaps the most valuable benefit of cross-training though is that it’s a great deal of fun to try something new. Mixing up your riding gives you a vital mental break and will prevent burnout.
What next for Pidcock?
A mere day after his cross country victory, Pidcock was back out on the roads of Tokyo training for his next block with the Ineos Grenadiers, which most notably includes the Vuelta a España, his debut Grand Tour. After his lap of Spain, there is the small matter of a hilly World Championships in Belgium that could well suit him, and then there’s the cyclocross season to think about. He’s also hoping to race some World Cup events on a sparkling new gold-framed MTB, which is enough to make anyone sit up and pay attention!
In the long term then, the sport of cycling is, as they say, his oyster. As his coach Kurt Bogaerts said: “At the moment there is nothing that is not achievable.”
The future is bright for Great Britain’s first MTB gold medallist then. His victory and performances across the board have the potential to inspire bike riders of all shapes and sizes, and transcend the sport altogether. It shows that mixing up your cycling can have hugely positive impacts on other areas of your riding, as well as upgrading your fitness and the fun you can have on your bike. In short: be more Pidcock.
Words: Oskar Scarsbrook