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Cyclocross

For the love of ‘cross: Why Tom Pidcock needs to complete the ‘big three’ at cyclocross worlds

Pidcock may not beat Wout van Aert and Mathieu van der Poel at the February worlds, but all of cyclocross loses if he doesn't start.

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For the love of cyclocross, won’t you reconsider and race ‘cross worlds, Tom Pidcock?

The reigning rainbow jersey recently reconfirmed that the 2022-23 Hoogerheide world championships are off his agenda as he focuses fully on the start of the road’s classics calendar.

“The road season is so much more important to me,” Pidcock said. “In 2023 I especially want to perform consistently in those spring monuments. If I succeed, the results will follow. If you’re upfront with everything, you get more options.”

And with that, the sport’s “Big Three” loses a spoke for the biggest race of the season, and the winter wave of CX hype that engulfed cycling fans of all persuasions comes crashing down.

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The boggy battles between Pidcock, Wout van Aert and Mathieu van der Poel through the Christmas “Kersteperiode” lit up the grey days of “‘Betwixmas.” Races like the Superprestige round in Diegem and Exact Cross in Louenhout will go down as ‘crosses for the ages after serving more plot twists than even the best series on Netflix.

“It was the most beautiful cyclo-cross I’ve ever seen,” Belgian national team coach Sven Vanthourenhout said after the Diegem race. “There was tension everywhere from start to finish. The level was incredibly high in all areas. I’ve never seen this before.”

Die-hard roadies were drawn into the drama as multi-discipline stars switched tires and brought a spectacle from the pre-Christmas race in Mol through a series of midwinter slugfests stretching to the following week’s race in Louenhout. Gravel aficionados and MTB megafans were likewise caught up in the off-season hype.

Even Pidcock wasn’t holding back.

“Falling in love with cyclocross all over again,” Pidcock wrote as he posted a series of images from the Christmas ‘cross calendar.

Understandable, unfortunate

The ‘big three’ do battle at the Louehout ‘cross.

The ripples of engagement the “Big Three” always brought to cyclocross became a tidal wave of interest this December. The crackling Christmas calendar blasted a spotlight into one of cycling’s most niche nooks and pumped it even bigger in its north European heartland.

World Cup Gavere saw 12-15,000 fans, according to organizers. The Louenhout ‘cross reported 13,700 at the beer tents and barriers. Races in Zolder, Diegem, and the 2022-closing Azencross saw dozen-deep crowds in the field and a tirade of chirps on Twitter.

Race chief Tomas Van Den Spiegel estimated as much as a 20 percent uptick in ticket sales off the back of the trio’s muti-discipline celebrity and drama-bringing dynamic – even if Pidcock did sometimes look a spare part.

Pidcock’s commitment to his quest for victory at races like the Tour of Flanders or Liège Bastogne Liège is understandable and not without precedent. A monument victory would elevate his palmarès acres above a second ‘cross world title and set him on track for what he sees as a longer-term future on the road.

The 23-year-old’s decision to race, or not to race, the ‘cross worlds won’t deter zealous fans and casual observers when the race in Hoogerheide arrives next month.

But the Brit’s absence will rob the race of some of the intrigue, drama, and possible plot lines after a “Kersteperiode” that was blessed with some of the best ‘crosses in recent memory.

Pidcock, Van Aert, and Van der Poel dominated the season so hard that cyclocross specialists like Michael Vanthourenhout, Lars van der Haar and Eli Iserbyt won marquee races just three times after the WorldTour trio started ‘crossing in earnest. That “big three” badge may make the specialists scowl, but it’s been earned.

Will the Hoogerheide event lose out without Pidcock?

Yes and no.

The resumption of the decades-old rivalry between Van der Poel and Van Aert will bring all the corn-popping hype needed, and the specialists’ quest to break the deadlock adds its own wild co-plot.

But after a Kersteperiode of “big three” crunches that seemingly exploded the sport beyond its muddy roots, male cyclocross loses one-third of its central narrative exactly when it should be in the spotlight – in the race for the world title.

So go on Tom, change your mind, please?