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The British rider said the expectation heaped upon van Aert made it highly unlikely that the Flemish hero would be crowned world road race champion in Leuven on Sunday afternoon.
Despite being the overwhelming favorite and with the whole Belgian squad behind him, van Aert rolled in for 11th place with Leuven local Jasper Stuyven the best-placed home rider in fourth.
“The Belgian crowds were incredible but they kind of shot themselves in the foot with the pressure they put on their team. I think they did an unreal job, but they made it near impossible for Wout to win. If he’d won, it would have been the best ride ever let’s face it,” Pidcock told the media after the race.
The dream didn’t come together but the teamwork certainly did 💫
— UCI (@UCI_cycling) September 26, 2021
While Pidcock believed the Belgian fans may have jinxed their home hero, he heaped praise on them for the atmosphere that they created around the whole course. Spectators were lined several rows deep at every available space along the route, with an estimated 500,000 people along the side of the road.
It was a stark contrast to the Imola world championships in 2020, where Pidcock made his debut in the elite race, which banned spectators from attending the event.
“It was unbelievable racing, and it was like racing in a stadium on roads,” Pidcock said. “We weren’t racing a road race, we were racing in a stadium. It was incredible, chants, signing it was unreal. It was like a football match.”
A lack of experience
Pidcock himself finished somewhere between Stuyven and van Aert, riding home in sixth at 49 seconds behind the eventual winner Julian Alaphilippe.
The 22-year-old, who won gold in the Olympic mountain bike event in August and rode his first grand tour at the Vuelta a España, made the first key split with more than 30km to go. However, he could not follow when Alaphilippe made his race-winning attack and again when a group of four set off after him.
Pidcock put in a dig in the final kilometers of the stage, but he could not bridge to the group that would fight for the final medal spots. Though he was not in top form after a busy latter part of the season, he said it was tactics and inexperience that foiled him in what was one of the most aggressively contested men’s road races in recent memory.
— British Cycling (@BritishCycling) September 26, 2021
“At the world champs, everyone is in top shape and it’s the best riders in the world. It takes some experience,” he said. “We were proper racing almost all the day. It was almost 270km of racing and for me to have that in my legs at the end is a good sign. I feel really well after the Vuelta and I’ve just played my cards wrong. It was a bit of inexperience.
“It was difficult peaking for the Olympics and this but that’s the biggest thing. I was 100 percent for the Olympics, I took a bit of downtime and I tried to build for this. I wasn’t quite 100 percent, but I would say but mainly it was just tactics I would say.”
In a change from most worlds road races, the touchpaper was lit with barely under 200k still to go with a lot of big attacks going off the front.
Pidcock’s British team did a lot of work at the front of the main group early on, chasing down several significant moves to keep him in contention.
“It was the French making the race like that and they were the ones that kicked it off and they won. I was surprised but I guess it worked,” said Pidcock. “We came here to win, and I played my cards a little bit wrong but I’m pretty happy with how I rode today.”