Pedal Punditry #8 | Tour de France could end Tom Pidcock and INEOS Grenadiers' partnership forever

Tom Pidcock is signed with INEOS Grenadiers all the way into 2027 but there are suspicions that this partnership may not go all the way into that year. This year's Tour de France may be the decisive factor between the Olympic Champion and the British team.

Pidcock and INEOS' story began in 2021 as he finally became a pro rider on the road. Behind him were already national and world titles on the track, mountain biking but specially Cyclocross where he became a world-known figure. Pidcock was also a very talented rider on the road, having won races such as the under-23 Giro d'Italia and youth Paris-Roubaix. A rider of such versatility couldn't escape the attention of World Tour teams, but Pidcock seemed to be at a level above the rest.

In fact the expression 'jack of all trades, master of none' didn't actually apply to him, he was and still is to this day one of the very few jack of all trades in cycling. But that ends up not being the best situation as he voluntarily has to give up on a few.

After the end of the 2020-2021 cyclocross season Pidcock joined the British team on the road... Fifth at Strade Bianche, victory at the Brabantse Pijl, second at Amstel Gold Race... It seemed clear the young Briton was a true weapon for the spring classics. He made his debut at a Grand Tour that year, racing a modest Vuelta a España, before racing to sixth at the Leuven World Championships. From this year it could be understood that Pidcock could focus fully on the classics, whilst also giving Cyclocross and Mountain Biking proper attention, at least for the World Championships or big races.

In that summer he became Olympic MTB (XCO) Champion in Tokyo, a career-defining moment, that also confirmed that he should not abandon his aspirations in the discipline despite his new-found success on the road, and ever-growing quality in cyclocross. In the 2021-2022 winter, he also won the cyclocross World Championships in Fayetteville as both Mathieu van der Poel and Wout van Aert did not take part in the race.

So at this point we have got an expert cyclocross and mountain bike rider, who is actively combining these ambitions with growth on the road. Preparing for the one-day races such as the spring classics and World Championships could be combined with this, but for a rider who in his youth won an under-23 Grand Tour, naturally at only 22 years of age he still had desire to test himself elsewhere. In fact as I write this it comes as a big surprise that Pidcock is only still 24 years old, and that he achieved all of this just barely after turning 20 years.

Pedal Punditry #8 | Tour de France could end Tom Pidcock and INEOS Grenadiers' partnership forever
Tom Pidcock won the Alpe d'Huez stage at the 2022 Tour de France. @Sirotti

As a 22 year old Pidcock still made his debut at the Tour de France and raced with the GC in mind for two weeks. But the true highlight was his victory on stage 12, where he launched a memorable downhill attack on the Col du Galibier and took the victory atop none other than the Alpe d'Huez, the Tour and maybe cycling's most famous climb. This sparked a Tour de France dream, for him but also British fans who had high hopes following a generation of winners such as Bradley Wiggins and Chris Froome.

Right after, he became European XCO Champion. Pidcock's success was non-stop and spread all around the sport. He rode the 2022-2023 cyclocross winter but decided not to race the World Championships, prioritizing the road and MTB. He won Strade Bianche that spring, and then made his first big for the Tour de France thinking of the overall classification.

For 13 stages this was rather successful as the Briton was relatively consistent and managed to climb himself into as high as eighth on the GC. This was after he finished fifth on the the 13th stage that finished atop the Grand Colombier, where he looked as strong as ever on the high mountains and the first rider to cross the finish line after Tadej Pogacar and Jonas Vingegaard. As we now know, his late attack on this climb countered team orders however. The next day he struggled in the Alps as teammate Carlos Rodríguez attacked to victory. The Spaniard became full priority for the team whilst Pidcock fell out of GC contention and eventually finished 13th in Paris.

2024. Pidcock's cyclocross season is very short and from the start he admits he will not race the World Championships and will focus on the road. Well, add a small note on the side, the Briton is also racing MTB. On the 26th of May he won the Nove Mesto XCO event and only 6 days before the start of the Tour de France he will race the Crans-Montana World Cup. The reason why is because right after the Tour he will race the Mountain Bike Olympic Games with the goal of winning. This is fully realistic and understandable, but complete contrast with his equally ambitious goal of fighting for the GC at the Tour de France and be a leader in a very competitive INEOS Grenadiers.

Pidcock is, in my honest opinion, riding himself into a blunder of goals that do no match at all, even for a rider as versatile as him. But the main issue lies in the attitude behind these decisions. He is putting in little focus on MTB ahead of the Olympics, but in all fairness he has made this work in the past. On the road he put in more work on the stage-races this year, finishing ninth at Tirreno-Adriatico and sixth at the recent Tour de Suisse; also winning the Amstel Gold Race in the spring...

The problem truly are his words ahead of the Tour. In a domestique or sprinter role he would fit well when taking into consideration his off-road ambitions as well, but he intends on fighting for the GC. In an interview with PA Agency less than two weeks ago, Pidcock launched very hard statements into his Tour de France ambitions. "I am going to decide what I want my Tour to be this year. Nobody else. Otherwise you don’t get anything from me." Reminiscent of 'old-school cycling', these words definitely bring a lot of spice into Pidcock and INEOS' story ahead of the Tour.

Pedal Punditry #8 | Tour de France could end Tom Pidcock and INEOS Grenadiers' partnership forever
Tom Pidcock raced to sixth at the 2024 Tour de Suisse. @Sirotti

But spice isn't exactly what INEOS want here. In fact I dare to say INEOS are among the least 'spicy' teams for Grand Tours, having created a winning formula last decade that they still make the effort to use nowadays despite being far from UAE Team Emirates and Team Visma | Lease a Bike. Take the 2023 Giro where despite having Thymen Arensman and Laurens de Plus in the GC fight, not once INEOS used their numbers to put Primoz Roglic under pressure. Roglic then stole the pink jersey from Geraint Thomas on the final competitive day. It's in the team's DNA to race as a block in the Grand Tours, for one leader and one goal. Of course there are exceptions, and of course this is NOT a negative thing. But it is not something that suits Pidcock.

Specially because... "I’m not used to taking the lead," he said it himself in the same interview. It is very clear that Pidcock does not want the pressure of leading INEOS at the Tour, but he wants to do his own race and be protected. Put simply, this will not happen because the team has two riders who WANT and have the experience of leading the team at Grand Tours. Carlos Rodríguez, fifth last year, winner of the Tour de Romandie - and mountain stages at both Itzulia Basque Country and Criterium du Dauphiné recently.... And Egan Bernal, winner of the Tour in 2019. Bernal was third at O Gran Cami´no and Volta a Catalunya earlier in the year, and fourth at the recent Tour de Suisse. I argue he is fully back to his before-injury level, only the riders climb significantly faster today in comparison to five years ago when he wore the yellow jersey into Paris.

The team will even have Laurens de Plus who rode to fifth at the Criterium du Dauphiné (ahead of Remco Evenepoel and Aleksandr Vlasov directly) and is perfectly suited to the team's calm and collected racing tactics, but I don't even consider him a serious GC option because he is already third in line. And this is the Tour de France, one of the most tense and difficult races in cycling, both physically and mentally. It's a race where Pidcock has not yet proven himself, he is not a proper GC contender for a Grand Tour... Yet, at least. And I do not doubt that he can improve on his 2023's 13th spot but anything less than a Top5 probably will not make him satisfied. Why? Because he's an Olympic Champion in MTB, a World Champion in cyclocross, winner of classics such as Strade Bianche and Amstel Gold Race... He is such a talented rider in so many fields that in order for him to feel like it's worth putting his effort into the Grand Tours, it must have great reward.

This puts immense pressure on him. I know it, INEOS knows it and he also knows it. But if he forces the team into protecting him and he fails there will not be any excuses, specially when the team already has multiple reliable options. So Pidcock is starting the Tour virtually riding for himself, as the team will support it's other leaders, and he is not thinking of supporting anyone. A very risky strategy I must say. But the whole situation has become a very tense one with a lot of pressure for Pidcock specifically. What if he fails to have a strong GC result? It will be the third consecutive Tour in which that happens and it may become obvious that he is just not destined to become Britain's next Tour winner. A Top5-Top10 result will likely have him continue this pursuit, and combination of this goal with MTB and the spring classics. Pidcock's sixth spot in Suisse is a good sign of form and handling the high mountains and altitude, but he will require a performance still quite superior to that of last week to do just as good at the Tour.

It's very complicated, perhaps the most complicated out of all pro riders. Add to this the reported €4 million yearly salary, which could be the second highest in the entire peloton only behind Tadej Pogacar. This is a rider who simply has to bring INEOS results. They are linked until 2027 but honestly I think this Tour could be a make or break. If Pidcock performs well and proves he can fight for Grand Tours INEOS have every reason to keep putting confidence in him. If he cannot, he will likely never again have the chance to lead the team at the Tour, whilst taking a step back and aiming for the Giro or Vuelta is likely the way to go. But his speech ahead of the Tour is not one of thinking about the collective but only of himself, which can be very detrimental for the team's spirit and unity.

Another detail that is important here is that, despite the 2027 contract, there are talks of Pidcock moving out. BORA - hansgrohe is now sponsored by Red Bull who is a personal sponsor of Pidcock, and the German team is having big budget increases and is actively chasing more leaders. Team manager Rolf Aldag has even admitted interest on Pidcock, it is not an open secret. “Pidcock is a super interesting rider, but not only for us. There are also UCI rules that we have to adhere to." In the interview with Eurosport, Aldag also said that as many as five teams are interested in him for the 2025 season. Pidcock staying in INEOS is nowhere near certainty; and in a winter where big star Cian Uijtdebroeks broke his contract to join Team Visma | Lease a Bike, there is definitely already a benchmark in what may happen to other riders.

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