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Cyclocross

Why Tom Pidcock’s cyclocross world title will stand the test of time

With or without van der Poel and van Aert, it was an inevitability Pidcock would be crowned cyclocross king some day.

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Call it a fast-forwarding, not an erroneous entry.

It was inevitable Tom Pidcock would win a cyclocross world title at some point, with or without Wout van Aert and Mathieu van der Poel.

Pidcock’s crushing cyclocross world title ride this weekend blew away pre-race predictions about what a medal would mean without the dominant duo that shares the past seven rainbow jerseys.

Pidcock won the junior and U23 worlds ‘cross titles. He repeatedly bettered career-long rival Eli Iserbyt in the senior ranks. The Brit seemed poised to earn the destiny-fulfilling elite title that would complete his set of increasingly broad rainbow jerseys.

And when the only two riders likely to stop him didn’t line up in Fayetteville, Pidcock neatly despatched a whole bunch of Belgians and superman-ed his way to the rainbow jersey.

This weekend was the 22-year-old’s opportunity to press fast-forward on fate and usher in a new generation of ‘cross champions, and he didn’t waste it.

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“That was always going to be a super-hard race. The Belgians were trying to ride a tactical race. I found an opportunity and made it stick,” Pidcock said at the finish.

“I think it became harder to win the race,” Pidcock said of the absence of van Aert and van der Poel. “We came in with a plan and a process. We stuck to the process and it was good in the end.”

So what would have happened had Mathieu or Wout been there?

Perhaps more importantly, does it really matter?

The daredevil descent that earned him the winning gap was Pidcock riding into rainbows by rights. The commitment to attack when and wherever he can has seen him beat van Aert and van der Poel in the past, and it works no matter who is on the startline.

“We knew that Tom would be in the best possible condition at the start and we knew it was going to be very difficult,” fourth-place Michael Vanthourenhout told WielerFlits after the race.

“We tried to make it as difficult as possible for him. At one point he made a maneuver that hindered us all a bit, but that’s cross. He was simply the best.”

‘You can only beat whoever’s on the startline,’ right?

Pidcock hit fast-forward in Fayetteville.

Pidcock’s ‘cross title now sits at the top of his trophy cabinet alongside his Olympic MTB gold medal as the pinnacle of his young career.

And six months on from that day he trounced a stack of mountain bike specialists in Tokyo, what do we remember?

One, that van der Poel crashed, kick-starting a whole other narrative that’s still playing out. And two, that Pidcock crushed those that remained, beating Mathias Flueckiger by 20 seconds. The asterisks and “what-ifs” have already been forgotten.

Just like history is written by the winners, record books don’t make a note of the absentees.

And the reasons for the absences from Sunday’s race tell their own story.

Just like a grand tour is a test of staying safe, keeping healthy, and picking opportunities, winning a one-day championship boils down to being fit for the day and seizing the moment.

Pidcock overcame a knee injury that nagged him through last summer, while van der Poel couldn’t unpick his back problems.

Sure, van Aert may have repeatedly beat Pidcock in his shortened ‘cross winter. But it was a head-down, “YOLO” harvest of whatever races he could find before bailing for the spring classics. Meanwhile, Pidcock said he wanted to peak for ‘cross worlds, and he made it happen – all while keeping one eye on a scheduled start at the “opening weekend” of the classics later in February.

Also read: Pidcock and his mission to crush the classics

Pidcock’s world title was made as much in the months before his assault on Arkansas as it was in the moment he hurtled down the high-speed descent to drop the field.

Now Pidcock’s got his first world title, and he’s got 12 months to think about how to beat van der Poel and van Aert in 2023.

If he fizzles and fades in the next year, maybe it’s time to reassess what his Arkansas medal means. But given how he’s raced this winter, there’s a sense that won’t be necessary.