From snow and cyclocross to dusty dirt and mountain biking, Puck Pieterse (Alpecin-Deceuninck) seems to have no problem performing at the mountainous Italian venue of Val di Sole. The Dutch rider rode to a third World Cup XCO victory there Sunday afternoon, once again showing her versatility and tactical brilliance six months after winning a round of the cyclocross World Cup at the same venue in December.
The start loop utilized the second half of the full lap, giving the race a fast, flat start before kicking sharply. Pieterse stayed near the front from the off, along with Jolanda Neff (Trek Factory Racing), Laura Stigger (Specialized Factory Racing), and Ramona Forchini (JB Brunex Superior).
Pieterse took the lead heading into the first full lap, using a similar tactic that led her to a dominant victory two weeks ago in Leogang. Italian champion Martina Berta (Santa Cruz Rockshox) joined the chase along with Ineos Grenadiers rider Pauline Ferrand-Prévot.
If 21-year-old Pieterse is the new face of the sport, Neff – Tokyo Olympic Champion – and Ferrand-Prévot – multi-time World Champion – are voices of experience, both of them winners at Val di Sole in the past. However, they both faced bad luck today, with Neff suffering a puncture during the first lap and Ferrand-Prévot crashing later in the race, dust and dirt covering up the rainbow stripes on the Frenchwoman’s jersey.
A chase group of Ferrand-Prévot, Berta, Stigger, and Alessandra Keller (Thömus maxon) established themselves behind, but Pieterse pulled out more than 40 seconds and kept similar split times throughout the race. Rebecca Henderson (Primaflor Mondraker) was next on course, riding herself into the top five in the first half of the race, and gaining momentum as the laps wore on.
During the third lap, Berta and Ferrand-Prévot appeared to be the strongest out of the chase group, but the Ineos rider’s downhill crash gave Berta an advantage, propelled by wearing her national colors in front of an Italian crowd. The Santa Cruz rider held her position well and ultimately rolled into second place, 52 seconds behind Pieterse.
Henderson made a late-race surge to take the last remaining podium step ahead of a fast-charging Stigger.
Stigger’s compatriot Mona Mitterwallner (Cannondale Factory Racing) rode to a strong fifth place, and Neff overcame mechanical troubles to roll in for sixth.
Despite a rear wheel slip and bobble on the final lap, Pieterse was flawless in capitalizing on the steep climbs and rocky descents to cement her lead throughout the race. After her win in Austria, Pieterse told reporters that she intentionally attacked from the gun in order to sting the legs of her rivals.
“I decided to go for it from the start and after one lap I was already à bloc,” Pieterse said after the finish. “Then it was just riding my own pace and trying not to fall back. It worked again so it’s apparently a good tactic.”
The XCO riders now have a month-long break before the World Championships in Scotland, where the racers will take on a new, unfamiliar course at the Glentress Forest south of Glasgow.
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