This is an extract from The Road Book Cycling Almanack 2021. To read the full contribution from Tom Pidcock, purchase your first edition in our shop.
Cyclocross started off for me as a bit of fun, really. I was already on the British Cycling Junior Academy, concentrating on track and road, and I was just doing cross as a little bit of something extra. So there was no pressure. I was only doing it for fun.
The first cross race I did abroad was the European Championships. I went away with the GB team on the boat overnight. It was like going away on a school trip almost. It was a sandy course and I only had mud tyres, so I wasn’t very well equipped for it. But I started from the back of the grid and ended up finishing eighth.
Everybody told me, ‘Bloody hell! That’s amazing!’ But all I’d done was finish eighth.
‘What do you mean?’ I asked them.
‘Well, no British rider’s ever really done that before.’
So I thought, ‘OK. That’s cool.’ And that was it.
In 2016 I went to my first World Championships in Zolder as a first-year junior. I had a really strong race even though I had started from the back, but I’d thought to myself that I could definitely come back the following year and win it.
Back then I only knew who Sven Nys was. I had no idea who Mathieu van der Poel or Wout van Aert were. Wout actually won the elite race that year. There were around 60,000 people there – 100,000 in total over the two days. I remember climbing to the very top of a caged walkway and I was the only one up there to watch the finish. I took a video on my phone, but it couldn’t cope with the noise and couldn’t pick it up. It was just too loud at the finish for my phone. It was insane to see how the Belgians responded to a Belgian winning.
Going into the Junior World Championships in 2017, I was the favourite. I had only lost one race that season. It was the biggest goal I’d ever had, even right up until now. I don’t think I could ever be that targeted again. I even wore a face mask on the plane on the way over so that I wouldn’t get ill. I was that ahead of the times.
I don’t think I was nervous. I remember eating breakfast in the morning and thinking that it didn’t feel like it could actually be the Worlds that day. And then when we got to the course, it rained in between our practice and the race, and the ground was like sheet ice.
They had gritted the start/finish line but not the first corner, which was gravel. There were frozen puddles there and I knew there’d definitely be a crash there. So we started the race. I stuck to the inside line and just made sure I got around that corner, and behind me there was a massive pile-up.
After that, a French guy got away and took the lead. But after the second lap, I took the lead and got to work consolidating it and growing it and not making any mistakes. Then I heard on the tannoy that it was a British 1-2-3 and Ben Turner and Dan Tulett were fighting each other for second and third. I couldn’t believe it. I think they both crashed about five times each on the final lap. I was simply making sure I stayed upright. Then I finished, and then Dan and Ben, and we were all on the podium.
We had all ridden with black armbands. Charlie Craig had died two weeks before. Charlie had been one of the big talents of the youth scene and was for sure going to be a good rider. He’d died in his sleep. He just went to sleep and didn’t wake up. Cycling’s a small world; everyone knows everyone. To be honest, I couldn’t stop crying.