The cyclocross World Cup broke new ground with a debut trip to the snowy mountains of Val di Sole on Sunday.
The Italian resort regularly used for mountain bike and ski racing brought all the spectacular scenery and hard-packed snow organizers had been hoping for as the UCI pushes for ‘cross to become a part of the Winter Olympics.
Fem van Empel and Wout van Aert slipped and skidded to victory in two races that became a series of individual time trials as riders battled the unprecedented conditions.
Ever-changing lines in constantly reshaping snow and difficult low light meant that running, hanging feet and dancing front wheels were a constant. One second of inattention led to a frostbitten fall, and while some riders took slo-mo slides into race barriers, others went ankles over bars in more spectacular get-downs.
Van Aert, van Empel, and Maghalie Rochette all showed their stoke for the snow in post-race interviews.
“This has proved you can do cyclocross wherever you want,” van Aert said after his third dominant victory in three races. “You can do it in a park in one of the biggest cities in the world, or you can do it in the mountains like today. I think we proved a lot today and I’m glad I could be a part of it.”
Here’s hoping Olympic chiefs were listening in.
This is how it looked:
Racing at 1,300 meters elevation in Vermiglio in mid-December is “snow” joke.
ALL the clothes were needed for pre-race recons in the sub-freezing conditions.
The women’s race started in low, bright sun but the men’s event finished in the shadows while the mercury plummeted.
Although the area is commonly used for mountain bike racing, organizers focused on designing a flowing CX course rather than a gnarled, wooded MTB-style circuit.
Have you added Val di Sole to your bucket list yet?
Van Aert scored his season hat-trick with a trademark balance of power and skill.
An ever-changing surface and patches of packed ice meant that almost every racer hit the deck at some point.
Sunday’s circuit included long straights, fiendish off-cambers, and steep running ramps – but the real foe was the snow.
19-year-old van Empel fended off a huge chase from Marianne Vos and stayed cool after a final corner collision to score her first win since claiming the U23 world title.
Tire choices and pressures were crucial. Some riders opted for file treads that increased the surface area, others preferred the grip of mud tires. Racers used their longest and most aggressive studs on their shoes to avoid slips when running.
The crowds brought good vibes in cyclocross’ rare dive into Italy.
Canadian rider Maghalie Rochette used her experience of cold, inclement racing to claim her second World Cup podium of the season.
Van Aert made the long overnight trip from Essen, Belgium, to the Italian Trento region after racing the Ethias Cross on Saturday. The journey was worth it.
Eli Iserbyt looked like he had felt warmer as he pulled on the World Cup leader’s jersey while on the podium.