Puck Pieterse upsets Austrian rivals at climb-heavy Leogang World Cup

Another dominant victory from Puck Pieterse sees the 21-year-old tighten her grip on the 2023 MTB World Cup lead.

Puck Pieterse (Alpecin-Deceuninck) wins Women’s Elite XCO at 2023 Leogang MTB World Cup. Photo © Piper Albrecht

Ryan Simonovich
by Ryan Simonovich 18.06.2023 Photography by
Piper Albrecht
More from Ryan +

Austria was having a banner weekend at its home World Cup round in Leogang. Both the elite women’s and men’s downhill races were won by Austrians on Saturday, with young star Vali Höll (Rockshox Trek) and European champion Andreas Kolb (Continental Atherton) laying down masterful runs on home soil. Could their cross-country colleagues back up the performance? 

The answer, as it turned out, is no. 

Puck Pieterse (Alpecin-Deceuninck) continued her impressive 2023 MTB World Cup campaign that began with a dominant win in Nové Město a few weeks ago. Austrians Mona Mitterwallner (Cannondale Factory Racing) and Laura Stigger (Specialized Factory Racing) couldn’t match the 21-year-old Dutch rider’s pace, but fought hard to round out the podium. 

The race began with Anne Terpstra (Ghost Factory Racing) jumping into the lead up the first start loop climb as Alessandra Keller (Thömus maxon) and Pieterse also eager to hit the front. Keller was first under the start/finish banner with Canyon’s Loana Lecomte and Trek’s Evie Richards also in striking distance. 

Pieterse immediately began her work finding as much speed as possible on the steep, sun-exposed climbs, opening up a small gap along with Jenny Rissveds (31 Ibis Cycles Continental) and Terpstra on the first lap. 

The race report can almost write itself from this point on. Pieterse quickly gained 14 seconds and the gap to second place only went in one direction as the laps ticked by. 

What does one write when the race seems scripted just 20 minutes in?

Pieterse’s legs were certainly burning, her legs oxygen deprived, and her mind entirely focused on extending the gap back to the field of elite XCO racers who wanted nothing more than to deny her victory. 

Meanwhile, viewers like me can watch the riders’ every move from my vantage point an entire ocean and half a continent away. A sport that was once defined by long, anonymous loops through the forest is now broadcast to anyone who chooses to pay a subscription fee and tune in – a panopticon-esque existence for the riders. Data points that were once private, like heart rate, now appear on the broadcast, while the company that collects and provides that data to the viewing public has banners along the track. 

Time in the public light continues long after the podium ceremony as social media likes, comments, and messages roll in. Even articles like this one add to the noise and pressure that athletes must figure out how to deal with. 

I’m almost certain that none of that was on 22-year-old Stigger’s mind as she moved up into third position during the second lap, or as 21-year-old Mitterwallner continued her way into fifth. Perhaps their minds, and the minds of their support crews and trackside fans, were thinking about how Austria is not considered a top mountain bike nation like nearby Switzerland or France. The mountainous country has been oh so close for years, but elite-level XCO glory has eluded riders like Mitterwallner, who is a former U23 world champion. 

There must be a certain feeling, however, in the legs and mind when racing on home soil. A feeling that propelled Mitterwallner up the final climbs, grinding out of the saddle to take back a couple of seconds from Pieterse.

The Cannondale rider would run out of track though, ultimately finishing 38s back with Stigger 56s behind the leader. 

Pieterse will hold onto the MTB World Cup leader’s jersey heading into the next round two weeks from now in Val di Sole, Italy.

Results powered by

What did you think of this story?