British cyclo-cross champion Tom Pidcock (Trinity Racing) took 17th place on his 2020/21 cyclo-cross debut at the first round of the UCI World Cup in Tabor, in the Czech Republic, on Sunday, with both a bad start and a later crash contributing to his low placing.
Coming off a combined road and mountain bike season that saw the 21-year-old win three stages and the overall at the under-23 Giro d'Italia on the road in September and both the under-23 MTB cross-country world title and the E-MTB world title in Leogang, Austria, in October, Pidcock never expected too much of himself for his first race of this cyclo-cross season.
However, right from the start in Tabor, Pidcock was on the back foot, proving slow to clip in to his pedals on the front row of the grid, and he was then gradually distanced from the front group over the first half of the race.
While he had hovered just outside the top 10, what looked like a fairly innocuous crash on a rutted mud section on the fourth of eight laps put paid to any hopes of a top-10 finish, and he trailed home in 17th place, more than two minutes down on winner Michael Vanthourenhout.
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Vanthourenhout found himself locked in a two-rider battle with Pauwels Sauzen-Bingoal teammate Eli Iserbyt in the final couple of laps, having spent some time out in the lead on his own. But European champion Iserbyt proved unable to match Vanthourenhout's accelerations on the muddy course on the final lap, with five seconds proving to be the difference between them on the line.
Like Pidcock, Jumbo-Visma's Wout van Aert was returning to cyclo-cross this weekend after the road season, and had played down his chances. The 26-year-old Belgian raced at the second round of the X²O Badkamer Trofee in Kortrijk on Saturday, taking third place behind Iserbyt and Telenet Baloise Lions' Lars van der Haar. Van Aert then raced to third place behind Vanthourenhout and Iserbyt in Tabor on Sunday.
This cyclo-cross season, Pidcock is set to ride all five rounds of the reduced World Cup series, as well as a number of rounds of the X²O Badkamer Trofee (last year's DVV Trofee) and Superprestige series before wrapping up his cyclo-cross season with the World Championships in Ostend, Belgium, on January 31, where he'll hope to go one better than the silver medal he took at last year's 'cross World Championships in Dübendorf, Switzerland.
While Pidcock was racing for his Trinity Racing squad ahead of a move to Ineos Grenadiers on the road next season, Great Britain's national team had a better day in Tabor, with Zoe Backstedt winning the junior women's race and Thomas Mein winning the under-23 men's race ahead of compatriot Ben Turner.