Great Britain will look to the future in the men’s road race at the UCI Road World Championships in Imola on Sunday.
When Geraint Thomas and Chris Froome were left out of the Ineos Grenadiers squad for the Tour de France last month, numerous obituaries were written for Britain’s era of dominance on the road.
Thomas and Simon Yates will seek to prove that was premature at the Giro d’Italia over the coming weeks, but either way the squad that races in British colours this weekend will show the cupboard is far from bare.
Tom Pidcock headlines the group at just 21, racing 48 hours after his move to the Ineos Grenadiers for next year was made official, with youth the common theme.
Ethan Hayter is also 21 and took his first professional road win for Ineos last week; James Knox and James Shaw are 24, and Hugh Carthy is 26.
“I think I could be above the average age and I’m only 24,” Knox said. “It’s strange to think I’m one of the senior riders in the team.”
Luke Rowe has a wealth of experience as a road captain but is hardly deserving of an ‘old man’ tag at 30, even if he is quick to spot the age gap.
“When we were sat at lunch earlier they started playing ‘Truth or Dare’ and I thought, ‘Jesus Christ!’ the Welshman said. “That’s the moment it hit home. And I’m only 30, I know I have a few years in me yet, but it is a very young team.”
That is in large part down to the circumstances of this pandemic-hit season. A world championships would normally be the season finale, but this year it comes in the middle of the campaign, ruling out several senior riders but opening the door for others.
Pidcock had planned to be riding in the under-23 race this year – eyeing a shot at glory after taking third on home roads in Yorkshire 12 months ago – but the youth categories were struck from the programme when the worlds were moved from Switzerland to Italy only last month.
“I’m going in with no pressure,” Pidcock said. “But what I want to get out of it is I want to be there at the end when the big guys start racing, not necessarily to be able to race with them, but to be able to experience it with them, to undergo the race at that point.
“That will be the most valuable thing I think.”
Pidcock, who won the under-23s Giro d’Italia or ‘Baby Giro’ earlier this month, will draw the attention, particularly after Friday’s announcement of his Ineos deal, but admitted he had no idea what to expect from a 258km course with 5,000 metres of climbing.
“It doesn’t really matter how many eyes are on me,” he said. “I think it’s a great opportunity for me and I’m glad I’ve been given it.
“Two hundred and sixty kilometres is by far the longest I’ve ever ridden. So I don’t really know what will happen. I might blow up after 200km. We’ll see.”
— Ethan Hayter (@ethan_hayter) September 21, 2020
Pidcock has won junior world titles in cyclo-cross and on a time-trial bike, and belongs to the new generation of cycling all-rounders who are changing perceptions of what is possible in the sport.
Others have followed a more traditional course, either dedicating themselves to the road or, in the case of Hayter, moving across from the track in the fashion of Thomas and Sir Bradley Wiggins.
“For sure there might be a little gap, but I don’t think the British era is over,” Pidcock said.
“We saw with ‘G’ (in the time trial) his form is coming along nicely. I think he has a good chance in the Giro, and Froome, it would be good to see him come back to the top.
“But we’ve certainly got a good new generation with me, Ethan, Fred (Wright) , Jake (Stewart), Matt Walls all now at WorldTour level and all on the academy together. There’s certainly a new generation coming through.”