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Michael Vanthourenhout and Puck Pieterse slipped, skated and slid to victory on the spectacular Val di Sole circuit on Saturday.
This weekend’s 10th round of the UCI Cyclocross World Cup saw racers take on a snow-coated course deep in the Italian Alps, and the Val di Sole circuit proved as challenging as it looked breathtaking.
At some 1,300 meters elevation, snow, ice, and freezing air temperatures left racers struggling to stay upright all day long.
While Pauwels Sauzen-Bingoal saw victory with Vanthourenhout, it also saw its two other top leaders crash hard and abandon their races.
Fem van Empel came down in both her pre-ride and her race and abandoned. Just a few hours later, Van Empel’s teammate Eli Iserbyt crashed out of the men’s race in a heavy fall. The team confirmed both riders escaped fractures and are undergoing further checks.
Vanthourenhout victorious with strong solo
The men’s race played out in the early afternoon shade after the low-laying sun moved behind the mountains.
The lack of sun made for a less changeable course than the shifting scenario of the women’s competition, leaving the men with a seemingly consistent thin layer of icy snow.
Michael Vanthourenhout (Pauwels Sauzen-Bingoal) kicked away from nearest rival Niels Vandeputte (Alpecin-Deceuninck) in the third of eight laps and was never seen again. The European champ was faultless once he got his gap and blasted to a second World Cup win of the season.
“I felt really good today, so I’m happy with that victory,” Vanthourenhout said. “It was a pleasure to ride for the Italian people.”
Vanthourenhout barely put a wheel wrong and was able to further extend his gap when a flat tire slowed down the chasing Vandeputte.
“I tried [not to make mistakes], but I think everyone made a lot of mistakes, it was very hard,” Vanthourenhout said. “I did my own thing, and I think Nils had a flat tire. My own pace was very high and I tried to hold it. It was a fun victory.
“It was very tricky, but at such races I do really well, so it was good to ride here.”
A tight race for third unfolded behind as Kevin Kuhn (Tormans), Eli Iserbyt (Pauwels Sauzen-Bingoal) and Laurens Sweeck (Crelan Fristads) battled for the podium.
Iserbyt crashed hard in a tight corner in lap five and looked to have hurt his knee. The Belgian abandoned the race in his latest misfortune after suffering through the past month with back problems.
With Iserbyt out, Kuhn and Sweeck hunted after Vandeputte but couldn’t quite close the gap. Vandeputte finished a career-best second, three seconds ahead of Kuhn, who also topped his palmarès with his place on the podium.
Mathieu van der Poel (Alpecin-Deceuninck) was slow off the start and was never a factor at the front of the race. The Dutchman looked to choose to race steady in the testing conditions rather than risk chasing back a 30+ second gap, and eventually finished eighth.
Neither Tom Pidcock nor Wout van Aert were racing.
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Puck Pieterse peerless in ice-rink race
Puck Pieterse crashed in the opening corner but was peerless from then on as she slipped and skated to a huge solo victory.
The Alpecin-Deceuninck ace thrived in the near-unrideable conditions, staying on the bike where others were forced to run. A melting and re-freezing of the Alpine snow left the Val di Sole circuit riddled with stretches of ice coated with just a fine layer of dusty powder.
No rider was immune to the snowcross parcours as the low sun shifted conditions through the race. Slips, unexpected dismounts, and slow-motion slides were seen all through the race.
Pieterse got her gap almost immediately after the opening corner pileup. The 20-year-old went on to ride to an impressive 44-second victory while a battle for the podium unfolded behind.
“I think everyone made mistakes today,” Pieterse said. “I’m happy I didn’t crash too hard. There were few spots that were really slippery, but for most of the race I could put out a lot of power.”
“As the laps went on I got more grip as I knew where to ride and where not, but some corners got more slippery,” she said of the ever-changing conditions.
Ceylin del Carmen Alvarado (Alpecin-Deceuninck) and Silvia Persico (Valcar) were at each others’ wheel through the first half of the race before the Italian crashed, dropped her chain, and lost sight of her Dutch rival.
Alvarado went on to finish a clear second as Persico continued to struggle in the snow.
Mannon Bakker (Crelan Fristads) was able to take advantage of Persico’s error-strewn final. Bakker reeled in the flailing Italian and passed her in one of the final corners to nab third place – and just to add insult, Persico crashed just as the Dutchwoman came past.
“Today was so slippery and my drive was my best ride so I don’t know what happened,” Persico said. “I’m happy with fourth because it’s my first World Cup [of the season]. I was hoping to take a podium today because we’re in Italy, but it’s OK … I hope to do another good World Cup next week.
Canada saw two riders hit the top-10 with Maghalie Rochette in fifth and Sidney McGill ninth.
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Fem van Empel stretchered away after two crashes
Season standout and Pieterse’s archrival Fem van Empel (Pauwels Sauzen-Bingoal) had a horror day in Val di Sole.
The World Cup leader crashed heavily in the morning pre-ride, hitting a post and spending several minutes sat on the snow.
“I went off track and lost control of my bike. I hit my head against a post and my knee was bleeding,” she told Sporza of the recon incident.
The Pauwels Sauzen-Bingoal star then crashed again in the second lap of the race and could be heard moaning in pain as she clutched her leg. She was eventually stretchered away.