Tom Pidcock (and mountain biking)
Pidcock climbs to glory on the road
In his short time in the XCO field, Tom Pidcock has established himself as arguably the strongest racer in today’s field. The way he assuredly strode away from the field to Olympic gold was glorious to watch. Yet we have always had to accept that we need to share his talents, that he enjoys racing all of the bikes, not least of all road bikes. His junior palmarès were incredible on the road, winning the Baby Giro, which is usually a marker for greatness. As a promising, but more importantly, young, rider, Team Ineos have been incredibly patient with him, allowing him to gain strength and experience without too much expectation. Yet at some point, a promising rider needs to deliver on that promise and although he put in some strong rides, there was nothing to quite back up his earlier form.
That was until July 14, Bastille Day in France (if you’re not familiar with Bastille Day, it holds similar importance to July 4th in America). On Alpe D’Huez, a mountain the French press describe as the summit of summits
, Tom Pidcock rode to glory amongst thousands upon thousands of fans pressed into the roadside at the Tour de France. Quite simply, it is the stage of the Tour de France where the winner’s name will be written in the history books. And he rode away from everybody else.
On a selfish note, it was a good day for mountain biking too. After all, if Tom Pidcock can come in and put the best in the field to the sword, but look distinctly average on the road, then the whole sport of mountain biking looks like a clown car. It was a joy and a relief to watch him putting the best road cyclists in the world to the sword too.
The gloves are off, again.
Surprisingly, big American corporations are suing each other. Again. It feels like we had just got the last round of legal bitterness between SRAM and Fox out of the way, then it opens up all over again. This time Fox are suing RockShox over their use of bleed valves in their forks
Unfortunately, as mountain bike technology matures, this is a scenario we are likely to see more and more of. As we have a better understanding of how to optimise the various elements that make up a mountain bike, the difference between the brands is ever-diminishing and the battle for these supposed advantages looks set to get ever more acrimonious.
Trying to Figure Out What the World Cup Will Look Like in 2023
Schroedinger's World Cup?
The biggest news in mountain biking this year is the Discovery takeover of the World Cup from 2023
onwards. It is a story that has many worried about what it means for the future of the sport - what will a media giant like that do, will we be able to watch the races for free, and will we still have Rob Warner in the commentary booth?
Yet as we head into August, nobody knows what is happening next year. While as fans this is not what we would hope for, put yourself in the shoes of the riders and teams for a moment - they know little more than we do. Usually the World Cup calendar is released early in the year, but as of today the teams don’t even know how many races there will be and where. That uncertainty has prompted them to begin forming a riders union
to advocate for their rights going forwards, but as time passes it is only natural for them to get more and more worried.
Look at it this way, if your employer told you that your job was going to change completely next year, but they couldn’t tell you how it would change, you’d be pretty worried, right? If the season looks drastically different to next year, will all the teams be able to even afford attending all the races? There are a million questions, and even for those of us who know Chris Ball and believe he might well be the best person for the job are finding it harder and harder to support that position as the silence continues…
Fractious times in XCO
If two riders collide in the woods and nobody sees it, did it really happen? On the final lap of the XCO World Cup in Lenzerheide, Nino Schurter and Mathias Flückiger went into the final woods section out of view of the cameras in first and second. They came out third and fourth
. Everybody involved seems to be keeping fairly tight-lipped about what exactly happened, but Schurter made his displeasure known at the finish line
It is easy to forget how different XCO is to DHI, where they race against the clock not each other. When the racing is tight, they are searching for a weakness in the rivals, a moment of inattention to grab the advantage and that creates a very different dynamic amongst the competitors.
For a rider who has gladly accepted epithets like “uncompromising” throughout his career, Schurter did not enjoy being denied the history-making 35th win he is so clearly desperate for. What would have been more perfect than sealing that record on home soil? Yet Mathias Flückiger hardly wants a win on home soil any less, history be damned. As someone who has spent a career racing bar-to-bar with Schurter, would anyone expect him not to lay it all on the line as the finish line approached? There are surely riders in the field who would tell you that it’s exactly what they’d expect from Schurter too…
You're supposed to stop and help injured riders
There is a weird dynamic we sometimes see in elite racing. When a rider crashes, other riders simply ignore them and carry on with their race. It’s understandable at that level, it is their profession and they are (often) required to ignore that fundamental human instinct to help because they have a job to do. However, if you are not an elite racer you are supposed to stop. We love our sport because of the risks we all accept taking, yet part of what makes those risks acceptable is that idea that if we do fall, we trust that our fellow riders will stop and help.
At the Megavalanche this year, Tracy Hannah was not only taken out, but then hundreds of riders carried on by as she lay there unconscious. Yes, a big part of the appeal of the Mega is that it is a wild, dangerous race, and part of that danger comes from riding so fast amongst so many other riders, but her Instagram posts are hard to watch. Looking at the final podium, there is nobody on there who races to a high enough level to excuse ignoring a downed rider, and this is not a high level race. So if the race winners should have stopped, why didn’t the mid-pack a*sholes? Do better.
A missed opportunity?
In most team sports, if an athlete is out of competition the team puts in a replacement so the team can carry on. In DH, the team overall prize is so under-valued that nobody bothers, which is a shame. Teams are built to cater to a certain number of riders - if you have a team with three racers, you will need enough pit space, mechanic time and parts to service three racers. If one of those gets hurt, then you still have three riders’ worth of capacity with only two riders to support, so why not use that extra spot for something good?
When Jackson Connelly got injured it was a blow, but that meant Pinkbike Racing could offer Leona Perrini a couple of races of support. It was a win all-around: Perrini was handed a rare opportunity and the team could field a full set of riders. So why aren’t more teams doing it? At present, Trek are running at 50% capacity on track, with Charlie Harrison and Reece Wilson away from the racing, which is clearly a bad spot for the team to be in. So what if they called up a couple of privateers to fill in? You’d get the speculation ahead of the race as to who people think is good enough to fill the slot, the debate over whether the team made the right decision, and come race day all eyes would be on those riders to see how they do. How is that not a far better situation for the team? And would that not take the pressure off the riders to return to competition as early as possible? Surely if a small team like Pinkbike can manage it…