Analysing whether Tom Pidcock can pull a surprise in Paris-Roubaix

The Briton has been drafted in as a late call-up for Ineos Grenadiers - can he challenge for victory?

Two simple words: “Roubaix baby.” Out of nowhere, with absolutely no one expecting it, Tom Pidcock stepped out from an Ineos Grenadier 4x4 to declare that he was racing Paris-Roubaix.

Just seven days ago, he failed to start the Itzulia Basque Country after he crashed during a recon of the opening time trial, hitting his hip so hard that he couldn’t even put weight on his leg. He was whisked back to his home in Andorra, posting on social media that though scans had revealed he hadn’t fractured anything, he was still struggling to walk. The plan was to see how the injury developed “over the coming days and I’m just going to focus on recovery now.”

That recovery has seemingly gone incredibly well, for instead of resting and gently easing back into training, the Yorkshireman has travelled to northern France to take part in the most bone-rattling, uncomfortable, and hardest race on the calendar: the Hell of the North. Seems a bit incongruous, right. But, anyway, here we are: the 24-year-old is set to take on the 29 cobbled sectors, so how will he perform?

The first thing to say is that though Pidcock will be making his debut in the senior race, he has previously won in the Roubaix velodrome. And not just once, but twice, triumphing in the 2017 junior edition and 2019 U23 race. However, according to Per Strand Hagenes, Visma-Lease a Bike’s prodigious Norwegian who finished third in the 2021 junior edition, such results don’t translate to WorldTour racing. “In general in juniors, if you’re good, you’re good at everything, and the best guys can win all types of races,” Strand Hagenes said. “For sure you get the experience of riding a bit on the cobbles, but the junior race overlaps very little with the pro race. It’s a completely different game.”

Speaking before at the start before Roubaix, the Olympic mountain bike champion and former cyclocross world champion argued that riding Roubaix in other categories could be a benefit on Sunday, however.

"I've got bruising on my hip from the crash still but as soon as I knew it wasn’t serious, I was like game on, I want to go and ride Roubaix," Pidcock said. "It’s one of my favourite races really looking forward to it, I can't remember last time i was this excited.

"I haven't done a recon and I haven't ridden these roads in four or five years, so for sure [riding in the junior and U23 editions] is going to help. I'm looking forward to getting stuck in when I get to the last part of the race, but I need to get past the chaos. Anyone can be a victim of mechanicals, crashes, anything, You have to beat the course before you try and win the race."

Pidcock is more than acquainted with the rough terrain of cobbled racing: since turning pro in 2021, he has scored impressive results in a number of pavé races, including finishing third in Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne and Dwars door Vlaanderen, while he also rode three successive Tours of Flanders until this year.

But there are a few factors that appear to count against the Englishman, not least the fact that this is the first season in which he is targeting consistent high-placings as a GC rider, with an eye on this summer’s Tour de France. That goal means he hasn’t raced a cobbled Classic campaign and he has been aiming to lose weight rather than gain it. Very few weight weenies even bother partaking in Roubaix knowing that they’ll just bounce around, and Mathieu van der Poel, the overwhelming favourite, has an estimated 17kg on Pidcock. It’s obvious which one should glide over the cobbles a lot easier.

And then there’s the simple fact that until a few days ago, Pidcock couldn’t even walk properly, let alone ride a bike. He’s evidently fit enough to be cleared to race, but it’s unknown how much quality training he has been able to pack in since his crash in northern Spain. Van der Poel, Mads Pedersen and the like, meanwhile, have spent the days before Roubaix refining their condition and testing the cobbles out. Pidcock’s not had that luxury.

Whatever his form, Ineos’ main man is still likely to be Ben Turner, a rider who grew up racing with Pidcock. But when a rider as talented as Pidcock is on the startline, a rider who is adept over uneven terrain and possess bike-handling skills that are far superior to almost any other rider in the bunch, you can never discount him. Strap in for an afternoon of intrigue.

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