It was only a matter of time before Tom Pidcock (Ineos Grenadiers) left his mark on this year’s Tour de France, but even his most ardent fans would have gasped in disbelief with the magnitude of his stage win atop Alpe d’Huez.
Stage 12 of the Tour saw Pidcock at his best, let off the leash and in an aggressive frame of mind as he bossed the action from his very first move.
Act one came over the top of the Galibier, when he chased down the early break, linked up with Chris Froome and then powered clear of the bunch with eight more riders and a healthy lead on the approach to Alpe d’Huez.
During the early action it was Pidcock’s descending that stood out. He was magnificent, often ditching the rest of the break with effortless ease before sitting up in the valleys and allowing them to chance to catch up. He was in a league of his own as he took center stage.
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At the foot of Alpe d’Huez, and the climbs jammed-packed crowds, only five remained with Pidcock and Froome joined by Neilson Powless (EF Education-EasyPost), Louis Meintjes (Intermarché), and Giulio Ciccone (Trek-Segafredo).
Ciccone and Powless were cut adrift early and with 10km to go Pidcock made his move. Meintjes and Froome scrambled for a response and the pair, although separated, held the Ineos rider at under 15 seconds for the first few bends following the attack.
But any thoughts over whether Pidcock had gone too soon were ditched as he held and then expanded his advantage and tore through the packed crowds.
Come the finish, Pidcock had almost a minute on Meintjes, and over two on Froome, to become the youngest ever winner on the Alpe, and the second British rider two win on the climb since Geraint Thomas took victory the last time the race climbed the iconic slopes in 2018.
“To ride up Alpe d’Huez, one of the most if not the most iconic finishes in cycling at the head of the race. That’s one of the best experiences of my life I think,” Pidcock said as he sat down for his winner’s press conference.
“The idea was to get me in the break and try and win the stage so the box was ticked I guess. A small break went and Jumbo started controlling things on Galibier because there was a strong headwind, not ideal for breaks to go. They kept the gap close. Froome went and was kind of in between, over the top I thought I might as well give it a go and give it a little dig. Then Froome and I were riding across to the break on an Alpe d’Huez stage. That was quite cool.”
Pidcock was asked about his dare-devil descending that helped him catch the break on the drop from the Galibier and then stretch out the break’s lead over the top of the Col de la Croix de Fer.
At times Pidcock had the break in the palm of his hand when it came to racing downhill, with several riders forced to back off through the corners and then chase through the valleys.
“It’s quite a difficult question, well I guess practice and I grew up riding my bike. I rode to school every day. I always took a detour through the woods. And I’d come home with mud on my uniform, completely dirty. I’ve become very used to riding a bike and handling it in situations when it was on the limit of control I guess. I have a very good understanding of my bike too. The tyre, grip, everything like that, I guess it kind of comes a bit naturally. I’m trying to explain but it’s difficult.”
This win marks another important stepping stone in Pidcock’s blossoming career.
The 22-year-old now has a Tour stage win to sit alongside his cyclocross world title and mountain bike gold medal from the Tokyo Olympics. He is one of the most complete bike riders in the world, in the same league as Wout van Aert, Mathieu van der Poel and Tadej Pogačar if the Slovenian ever dipped his toes back into another discipline.
Only time will tell if Pidcock can develop into a grand tour contender but he has won on Alpe d’Huez and climbed to eighth overall after 12 stages in his three-week grand tour. Most importantly, he has the ambition needed to reach the very top.
“I’ve won a stage of the Tour this year so I’m pretty satisfied. I’m ambitious, I’m here to learn. I compare myself to Pogačar to Wout, these guys, they are both older than me, and more experienced. But I am ambitious and I have big ambitions in this race and bigger ambitions in this race for sure after this experience,” he said.