Tom Pidcock underlined his status as the most exciting young cyclist in Britain as he stormed to victory in the men’s Olympic mountain bike race in Izu.
Having already collected junior or under-23 world titles in cyclo-cross, mountain biking and on the road, the 21-year-old Yorkshireman took things to another level with an Olympic crown on Monday as he rode clear of the field, having time to grab a Union flag and hold it aloft as he crossed the line.
Even with the celebrations, his margin of victory was 20 seconds over world number one Mathias Flueckiger – the only man who had looked capable of staying in touching distance once Pidcock had made his move midway through the 28.25km race.
The watching crowd – not subject to the same restrictions as those in Tokyo – were denied the hotly anticipated battle with Mathieu van der Poel, who crashed heavily in front of Pidcock early in the race before withdrawing on the fifth lap, but they were still treated to a phenomenal performance.
Pidcock, whose qualification for the event was only confirmed late on because of his commitments in other disciplines, started on the fourth row but wasted no time in getting himself into a leading group.
Tucked in behind Flueckiger and the other Swiss rider Nino Schurter, Pidcock made his move with 17km to go as he charged to the front, then kept the power down as his rivals one-by-one slipped back.
Racing less than two months after breaking his collarbone in a training crash on the road, Pidcock looked in supreme form as others tired in the hot and humid conditions.
Flueckiger stayed just behind Pidcock as long as he could but a slip on the fifth lap opened up a gap from which he never recovered.
As Pidcock rounded the bend on to the finishing line he grabbed a Union flag from a spectator to begin his celebrations, then embraced coach Kurt Bogaerts after crossing the line.
Pidcock said: “It’s nothing like any other race. The Olympics just transcends any sport. You compete and represent your country and everyone in your country is behind you, no matter in what sports they like. It’s just national pride, it’s unbelievable.”
Asked why he had attacked early, he added: “I’m always better when I take control myself. I take my own lines, my own speed. Once we started I was fine, all the nerves kind of went and I concentrated on the race. I’m happy this s**t’s (the Olympic Games) only every four years because it’s f***ing stressful.”
“I know that my mum and girlfriend are crying at home. It’s sad that they can’t be here but I see them when I get home.”
When asked how it felt to win gold, Pidcock told Eurosport: “Not real really. It’s pretty crazy that I became an Olympian and I was trying to tell myself at the start of the race it’s special just to be here.”