Having already won Strade Bianche, Tom Pidcock now takes aim at Saturday’s Milan-San Remo, convinced he can go with the expected attacks on the Poggio, use his proven bike skills on the descent to the finish line and thus have a chance of adding a second Classic to his 2023 palmares.
The Ineos Grenadiers rider will take on Tadej Pogačar (UAE Team Emirates), Wout van Aert (Jumbo-Visma), Mathieu van der Poel (Alpecin-Deceuninck), 2022 winner Matej Mohorič (Bahrain Victorious) and a host of sprinters and other Classics riders hoping to win La Primavera.
It will be the 23-year-old Yorkshireman’s third ride at Milan-San Remo and only his seventh major Classic. Still, Pidcock’s solo victory at Strade Bianche once again highlighted his huge talents and elevated him to the role of Milan-San Remo favourite, something he seems to accept and embrace.
“I’m on great form. Milan-San Remo is certainly a race I want to win at some point but I also know it’s also a really difficult race to win,” he tells Cyclingnews and other media who attended Tirreno-Adriatico, with his typical blunt honesty.
Pidcock will share team Ineos leadership with Filippo Ganna, with vital support from 2017 Milan-San Remo winner Michał Kwiatkowski, who has moved into a support and mentoring role for the young British rider.
“He can step up on the big occasions,” Ineos team manager Rod Ellingworth told Cyclingnews, praising Pidock after his Strade Bianche victory.
“You can see the special riders, they step up like that. Think about the Tour de France last year when he won on L’Alpe d’Huez, the mountain bike race at the Olympics. They’re all big, big moments, so seeing him do that again was impressive.”
Ineos Grenadiers will be hoping Pidcock can win big again at Milan-San Remo. The Italian race is perhaps the Classic least suited to Pidcock’s characteristics but that does not deter him or lessen his love for the race.
“It’s maybe one of the most boring races at first but then it becomes one of the most exciting. You ride 200km to race 100km but that’s also what makes it so beautiful,” he enthuses.
“Milan-San Remo is an honest race. You go (attack) on the Poggio and you know at the top where you are. It also has got incredible history, so it is like the other Monument races.”
One day Pidcock will surely target the general classification at the Tour de France but for now he prefers to enjoy the emotions of one-day races.
“I think there’s something special about the one-day races, more than stage races and Grand Tours,” he says, a race analogy revealing much about his personal philosophy.
“It’s about how everything is on the line on one day. That makes the romance of the race quite unique. The Grand Tours and stage races are more brutal in that respect.”
No fear of Pogačar
As the days tick down to Milan-San Remo, the questions about how the race will play out return, a regular annual occurrence just like the warming spring sun and the flowers that grow in the greenhouses on the Poggio.
The ‘race of infinite possibilities’ was how Elia Viviani described Milan-San Remo to Cyclingnews, and those possibilities now seem to have tipped in favour of the attackers, arguably due to the presence and prowess of Pogačar, Pidcock, Mathieu van der Poel, Van Aert and the ever-growing generation of aggressive riders.
“We’ve seen in recent years that it’s always a bigger group, more and more riders can make it over the top of the Poggio,” Pidcock suggests, showing his understanding of Milan-San Remo after finishing fifth on his debut in 2021 but then struggling with illness last year.
“I think Pogačar is maybe the only guy, if it’s really hard, who can get a gap. But even he has to go hard to do it and so can pay for it.”
Pidcock refutes the idea that he and other rivals fear Pogačar’s attacks. He clearly respects his Slovenian rival but also sees a weakness or opportunity in his dominance.
“In Milan-San Remo everyone will be looking at him and that’ll make it difficult for him,” Pidcock argues.
He shows the same disdain for Jumbo-Visma’s possible strength in number.
“Milan-San Remo is about your best guy. Strength in numbers is irrelevant because the strongest guy is the guy who tries to get to the top of the Poggio in the front group,” Pidcock says.
Matej Mohorič’s use of a dropper post to make a daredevil descent last year highlighted how Milan-San Remo can be won on the descent of the Poggio.
The Bahrain Victorious rider is expected to try the same tactic this year but Pidcock is not convinced a dropper-post strategy can make a difference more than once, especially if Pidcock is on his wheel or ready to take similar risks on the testing descent of the Poggio.
“It is a dangerous downhill with the walls, so it’s not the safest place to push full gas but I think he won due to the circumstance of the race too,” Pidcock argues with due respect.
“Pogačar was on his wheel and he’s not going to risk his whole season to stay with him, when he wants to win the Tour de France, so it’s very circumstantial whether you can attack on the Milan-San Remo descent and win.”
Pidcock perhaps has a different strategy in mind, that comes from the traditional Milan-San Remo attackers play book: Go with the Poggio attacks, stay upfront and be vigilant on the descent of the Poggio and then fight for victory in a small group sprint.
That way he can perhaps take on Pogačar, Van Aert and anyone else.
“I think everyone’s going to be expecting an attack on the descent, so maybe it’s not the best tactic to try to win the race, though descending skills can certainly be a benefit,” he says.
‘I now know what I’m capable of achieving’
Pidcock’s victory at Strade Bianche somewhat overshadowed his ride at Tirreno-Adriatico but he is expected to be again focused on victory come Saturday.
Cyclingnews understands Pidcock is spending this week in Nice, recovering from the fatigue and road rash of Tirreno-Adriatico, a final reconnaissance ride of the Cipressa and the Poggio no doubt part of his programme.
Pidcock also crashed during Sunday’s final stage of Tirreno-Adriatico and Ineos pulled him from the race for precautionary reasons. The team has not issued a further update on Pidcock’s condition but he is expected in Abbiategrasso near Milan for Friday’s team presentation.
He admitted that his first crash at Tirreno-Adriatico awoke him from his post-Strade Bianche victory haze.
“I had no clue about Tirreno other than that it was from Monday to Sunday, my attention was all on Strade,” Pidcock says.
“Mentally I was still living Strade Bianche a little bit. Weirdly, I didn’t mind crashing that much, it made me feel a little bit more alive, more awake,” he told Flemish television channel VTM, highlighting the significance of his Strade Bianche win.
“When I was younger, I didn’t really take in victories but Strade Bianche was special because it was I think the hardest step-up I’ve made in my career so far. The mountain bike Olympic gold is still my most special win but this one maybe means the most.
“After last year, I now know what I’m capable of achieving,” he warns, convinced there are more Classic victories to come.