Strade Bianche, the highlight of spring in Tuscany, is no ordinary cycling race. It's one that electrifies fans and drivers. The "white roads" are a 184-kilometer shaking track through dust and dirt, a brutal chase over country roads and gravel roads, the Italian version of the famous spring classics in the Ardennes, the southernmost of the classics of the north, the organizers claim on their website.
Whoever wins here, who crosses the finish line in front of a large crowd in cycling-mad Siena, has scored a significant victory – especially if it is achieved in the way Thomas Pidcock did at the weekend. The 23-year-old Briton from Team Ineos Grenadiers attacked with 45 kilometres to go, pulling away from two rivals, Italy's Allesandro de Marchi and Norway's Sven Erik Byström.
"I just accelerated"
However, the two were only colleagues who had found a cheap ride and hung behind Pidcock like two wagons on a steam locomotive. The man from Yorkshire reeled off his whole class at the front. He, the best downhill skier in the world, raced up and down the foul climbs, first outpacing Byström and then leaving de Marchi in the dust of a poisonous climb.
"I didn't really want to attack," Pidcock said later. "I just accelerated, and then I was alone." When the pursuers once came within six seconds, the advantage soon seemed to be gone, but Pidcock picked up the pace and was quickly half a minute ahead of the competition.
Last year, Slovenian superstar Tadej Pogacar won the Strade Bianche in a similar way with a solo over 50 kilometers. And like the 2020 and 2021 Tour de France winners, Pidcock is one of those riders who take their hearts into their hands, who try something, even if on their own, in a cycling world that usually relies on teamwork and captains who let themselves be served by their helpers.
Soloists with fire under their butts, guys like the legendary Eddy Merckx, she plays it again, and Thomas Pidcock is one of them. Others are Pogacar, the Belgian Wout van Aert, who skipped the Strade Bianche this year, and Mathieu van der Poel, who played no role, which was probably due to the fact that the Dutchman concentrated on the World Cross Country Championship in winter. He won the title against van Aert, but this was not an ideal preparation for the first difficult road races.
Pidcock is modest
Pidcock, the great versatile among the best cyclists in the world, Olympic mountain bike champion, 2022 World Cross Country Champion and winner of last year's Tour stage up to Alpe d'Huez, had decided not to start at the World Cross Country Championships in order to concentrate on Strade Bianche and the following classics. With success. His victory was not in danger.
"There were a few moments when I thought maybe it was stupid to attack so early," he said. A concern that was unfounded. Comparisons with Pogacar were quickly drawn. But Pidcock was modest. Pogacar, he said, is a phenomenal athlete who sets the standard.
Is Pidcock one who can win the Tour de France one day? Probably yes. Pogacar and last year's winner Jonas Vingegaard are the top dogs. Behind him are – still – Primoz Roglic and then the Belgian Remco Evenepoel and Thomas Pidcock, two young savages to whom the future belongs.