Tom Pidcock won his first ever elite World Champion’s jersey on Sunday (30 January) at the 2022 UCI Cyclo-Cross World Championships in Fayetteville, Arkansas, while Nathan Smith battled to an impressive junior men's bronze.
The 22-year-old has won the rainbow jersey at junior and under-23 level at previous UCI Cyclo-Cross World Championships, but the win in Arkansas was his first at elite level.
The Yorkshireman attacked on lap four of nine, using the steep off-camber section that saw many riders caught out as his arena to do so, sprinting past Michael Vanthourenhout (Belgium) to distance himself from the rest of the field.
Pidcock never looked back from that moment onwards, establishing within two laps a lead of over 30 seconds to a chasing bunch of five riders. No one would see his rear wheel again as he pressed on to win Britain’s first ever men’s elite cyclo-cross world championship title.
Post-race he said: “It’s a relief – [the race] was always going to be super hard. The drier it became, the more tactics play a part. The Belgians were trying to ride a tactical race.
“But yeah, I went out there as if I was going to war and I was having none of it. I found my opportunity and I made it stick.”
A fast and furious start to the elite men’s race saw race-favourite Tom Pidcock lose ground going into the first two corners, but a quick divebomb on the next sharp left hander saw him make up a number of places.
By the middle of the lap, he was in second place behind Toon Aerts (Belgium) looking comfortable and monitoring the situation.
Behind, Thomas Mein was chasing hard to regain contact with the leaders in 14th, only 12 seconds down, with Ben Turner three places back in 15th and 15 seconds down looking to do the same.
Pidcock chose his moment at the end of lap two just before the steps to distance the pack, raising the pace and making sure he started lap three of nine at the front of the race.
Clement Venturini (France) led the way through most of lap three, before Laurens Sweeck (Belgium) attacked close to the start of lap four and his teammate Michael Vanthourenhout (Belgium) attacked soon after on the climb.
Pidcock chased, and as they approached the off-camber section, Pidcock divebombed Vanthourenhout, forcing the Belgian to go wide, slipping and holding up his teammate Eli Iserbyt (Belgium).
With 24 minutes gone, the British rider decided to rip the race to pieces, and no one could follow the 22-year-old. By the time they crossed the line a lap later, the lead was in excess of 20 seconds.
Another lap later, and three laps to go, saw the gap swell to 30 seconds, the Brit continuing to instil hurt into the legs of the chasing bunch.
Behind, Lars van der Haar (The Netherlands) attacked on lap seven on the climb, with only Iserbyt able to follow. The duo would break free as they attempted to reel in Pidcock 35 seconds ahead.
Pidcock never showed any signs of slowing though, attacking the climb for the final time, even managing two at a time on the steps, and a cheeky tail whip for good measure over the kicker.
Entering the finishing straight on his own, Pidcock had time to soak up the atmosphere and even show off his infamous superman celebration. In doing so, he became the first ever British elite men’s world champion.
“I think, with Wout [Van Aert] and Mathieu [Van der Poel] not being here, I think it was harder to win, because everyone just expects, oh, the race is going to be easier now, but you can’t go into the race with that mentality, it’s going to be super hard no matter who is in the race.
“We came here with a plan and a process, and we stuck to the process, and it all worked out in the end. Coming to America, you come a week before, a week in a hotel, the stress builds up. It’s a difficult one to manage for sure.
Asked whether he will go on to try win the mountain bike and road cycling world championships in the same year, he said, “Well it’s not gone down the drain this year so far has it!”
- Tom Pidcock (Great Britain) 1:00:36
- Lars van der Haar (The Netherlands) +30
- Eli Iserbyt (Belgium) +32
14. Ben Turner (Great Britain) +1:48
20. Thomas Mein (Great Britain) +3:12
Nathan Smith was the sole Brit to take on the Fayetteville course in the junior men’s race. After an impressive season with results throughout his world cup campaign, he had earned his front row start.
Getting off to a superb start, Smith had the hole shot going into the first sweeping corner and would lead the riders through the first two laps with a controlled ride, setting the pace.
It would be Aaron Dockx (Belgium) who would make the first move of the race on lap three of six. Smith behind in second was forced to chase hard as they entered lap four, however he was soon on to the back wheel of the Belgian rider with three laps to go.
Jan Christen (Switzerland) was soon with them, the three riders forming a group on the kicker with two and a half laps remaining, and they would stick together all the way to the line.
Dockx led the sprint, but the Swiss rider, Christen, overcome the Belgian and streak away to win by a bike length. Smith meanwhile chased the back wheel of Dockx as they would both lunge for the silver medal. Two tyre widths would split them, Dockx just stealing silver, and Smith taking a well-earned bronze.
“I mean it was super heard the whole way round. The sun’s out, which made it pretty hot and the climb every lap, it just got harder and harder.
“I wasn’t really expecting it [the sprint finish] to happen on that last lap, both riders were attacking [Dockx and Christen] and then they sat up and was going with the flow, I wasn’t sure how it was going to pan out.
“It was pretty special to be on the podium, if I had of managed to get the win that would have been pretty special, but I can’t be disappointed with third.”
- Jan Christen (Switzerland) 43:11
- Aaron Dockx (Belgium) +1
- Nathan Smith (Great Britain) +1
The British elite women’s national champion Hattie Harnden started the under-23 women’s race from the second row in what was the second race of the day.
Harnden found herself in the middle of the 23-rider starting group as they made their way through the first lap.
However, a break in the group saw Harnden distanced heading into lap two. The 20-year-old led the chasing group across the line in seventh place, 12 seconds behind.
At the mid-way point the race favourites Puck Pieterse, Shirin Van Anrooij and Fem Van Empel (The Netherlands) were leading the race.
There was no change in the rankings, and the leading trio entered the last lap altogether as it looked like it would end up in an all-Dutch sprint for line come the end of the race.
In the technical section however, Van Empel pushed it too hard up the short rise and collided with the back wheel of Pieterse, losing her footing and her chain.
Pieterse pushed on and Van Anrooij chased, getting on to her compatriot’s wheel as they entered the final metres. Pieterse managed to hold on however in the sprint, winning the world title. Harnden finished 10th, three minutes and 34 seconds down.
- Puck Pieterse (The Netherlands) 49:21
- Shirin Van Anrooij (The Netherlands) +0
- Fem Van Empel (The Netherlands) +12
10. Hattie Harnden (Great Britain) +3:34