Tom Pidcock and Ben Turner flying flag for Yorkshire and Ineos Grenadiers at the Tour de France
Still only 23 but already with a palmares better than most riders 10 years his senior, the lightning quick Pidcock has established himself as one to watch as this year’s Tour opens with a punchy climbers’ stage fit for a rider as versatile as he is.
World cycling is gong through a generational change with winning the yellow jersey now a young man’s game, thanks to Tadej Pogacar’s double by the age of 22, Egan Bernal – Pidcock’s Ineos team-mate – winning it when he was 22, and Jonas Vingegaard a little older and wiser but still only 25 when he stunned Pogacar last year.
That race was illuminated by the bravado of Pidcock, descending the Galibier at breakneck speed to set up his victory on the Alpe d’Huez in the final week.
It means he comes into his second Tour not just here for experience, but as a spearhead of the Ineos Grenadiers team alongside the returning Bernal.
“To win an iconic stage and wear the white jersey in 2022 are lifelong memories, and this year I want to build on that as I continue to progress my career,” said Pidcock.
"As I experienced for the first time last year, the Tour is the toughest race of all, but it’s also the most beautiful and historic - which is what makes it so iconic.
"The opportunity to tackle it again alongside my team-mates and some of the best riders in the world is one that I relish.
"We’ve got an exciting group of riders and we’ll be looking to race with intent and be tactically smart, as we execute the plans we’ve developed as a team.”
For Pidcock to better what he did last year, it means being more consistent in the general classification so there will be no deliberately losing time to get in a breakaway. If he is to win another stage, he wants it to be from the group of favourites. Saturday’s lumpy opening stage in the Basque Country offers a rider of Pidcock’s profile an opportunity to take the yellow jersey, which would make him only the 10th Briton to do so and first Yorkshireman since the trailblazing Tommy Simpson in 1962.
“Going into the first stage of a Grand Tour is always a question mark,” admitted Pidcock. “But I think my preparation has gone better than last year because I’ve got through without getting Covid.
“It’s a bit strange kind of coming into the race not knowing where my level is in a race, but I know from my training that I’m going pretty good.”
Whether or not we will see him replicate the frightening speeds he created on the Galibier last year will depend on his position in the race, with Pidcock, like the rest of the peloton, shaken by the recent death of Gino Mader as a result of injuries suffered when he crashed into a ravine on a high-speed descent.
Asked if he expected the approach to racing to be impacted by what happened in Switzerland, Pidcock said: “I think so. I think especially for everyone who was at the race, that was pretty hard hitting.
“I didn’t see a single rider take any risks after that incident on the last two stages. Personally I think one of the things that hit me was it happened descending which is something that I love.
“It kind of showed me what the consequences can be when it goes wrong. I never take uncalculated risks when I’m descending, I don’t take unnecessary risks but things can happen when we’re riding down a descent at 100 kilometres an hour in lycra.”
Whatever he delivers in Spain and then France over the coming three weeks, he is viewed by most as a future Grand Tour contender. For people like Rod Eillingworth, deputy team principal of the Ineos Grenadiers, it is about managing that potential over the coming years.
“I think he’s still got some work to do to be a contender in the general classification,” said Ellingworth this week.
“I think for me this is playing the long game, it’s a stepping stone towards his dreams and ambitions, and he’s certainly got ambitions at the Tour.”
Pidcock may be on the cusp of this new breed of young riders who have Grand Tour-winning potential – Remco Evenepoel is the same age and won last year’s Vuelta – but he is on a different path, combining his road duties with his love for cyclo-cross, at which he is a former world champion, and mountain bike, on which he is Olympic champion and keen to defend that in Paris next year.
“Tom is someone who when he sets his mind to something, he’ll go for it full-bore,” explained Ellingworth. “At the moment we know Tom has ambitions that are not just at the Tour and we’re happy to go on that journey with him.
“He’s ticking the boxes as he goes along of things he wants to achieve and the Tour will be one. Whether he makes it, you never know, but he’s certainly going to give it a good crack.”
Pidcock is joined in the Ineos Grenadiers squad by another Yorkshireman in Ben Turner.
The 24-year-old from Doncaster is only in his second year with Ineos but has been entrusted with one of the coveted eight spots in the Tour de France team.
He is no stranger to supporting Pidcock to victory, having done so in Arkansas in the UCI World Cyclo-Cross Championships in a Great Britain jersey 18 months ago.
“It’s an absolute dream for me to start the Tour de France,” said Turner.
"I remember going to watch the start as a kid in Yorkshire so to be here now is incredible. I never thought I’d pin a number on for this race.”
“I’m so grateful to the team for giving me this opportunity. I’ve been working really hard and feel great, and I’m so thankful to the many people who helped me recover from the crash I had at the Dauphine.
“I really want to soak up my first Tour – experience every part of it and learn. Mostly I want to give everything I have to support my team-mates, and finish in Paris knowing I did my best.”
It promises to be an exciting Tour de France for these two Yorkshire team-mates.