Cyclocross

Wout van Aert, Marianne Vos, Tom Pidcock head for the snow at Val di Sole CX World Cup

Cyclocross riders head into the unknown in Val di Sole with a snowy World Cup race with a view to securing a place on the Winter Olympics schedule.

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While many riders are looking for the last little bit of sun at this time of year, Wout van Aert, Marianne Vos, Tom Pidcock, and their fellow cyclocrossers are heading for the snow.

The CX pack is off to Italy for a World Cup with a difference as they tackle the snow of Val di Sole on Sunday. It is the first time that the competition has gone to the area and the riders aren’t going to forget it in a hurry.

All this change is for a reason as the UCI looks to show cyclocross off as a potential sport for the Winter Olympics. Getting the discipline into a big international event has long been a talking point, but discussions are becoming more serious, and this weekend’s race will be a showcase of what is possible — as well as a curiosity for fans and riders.

Also read: Cyclocross quirks: Snow cannons for Val di Sole, mixed team relay test for Fayetteville worlds

Belgian race organizer Flanders Classics — the masterminds behind several cyclocross races, and road events such as the Tour of Flanders — is behind the Val di Sole event.

“We still don’t know for sure what kind of impact snow will have on a technical level: the technical team has been working on the course since last Saturday, but the conditions change often,” Flanders Classics CEO Tomas Van Den Spiegel said. “What I can say is that from all the athletes I perceive a great desire and curiosity to deal with this novelty, and in terms of images, I expect an event of great impact. We will make a final assessment on Sunday night, but I am confident it will be a great success.”

“There is an ongoing discussion at the IOC regarding the opportunity of bringing cyclocross to the Olympics, and this is very important, but we must not think as we have already gotten there. The Val di Sole event is an important test for us too: we have a goal clearly set in mind, but there is still a path we have to go through, to which having a great event this weekend is totally instrumental.”

A prospective course has been drawn out with plenty of twists and turns, but it could change by the weekend depending on the snowfall. Workers continue to get out in their vehicles to compact the snow to create a rideable surface — nobody wants riders sinking in the snow.

There was talk of using snow cannons to ensure there would be enough of the white stuff, but there has been no need with plenty falling in recent weeks and more expected over the coming days.

The planned route for the Val di Sole race
The planned route for the Val di Sole race (Photo: Vitesse)

Vos, van Aert, Pidcock headline the show

The riders have had an extra week without World Cup competition after the Antwerp round was canceled after new COVID-19 restrictions were introduced and the organizers chose not to run it behind closed doors.

Vos is back in action in Val di Sole after taking a break following the U.S. events in Waterloo, Fayetteville, and Iowa. While she’s not a complete newbie on the snow, it will be something different for the experienced Dutchwoman, and the surface won’t be the only challenge.

“I’ve already ridden on snow, but this will be the first time we will be competing on a similar surface,” Vos said. “In addition, this will be the first time ever for this race, we don’t really know what to expect. The altitude of Vermiglio [which is at almost 1,300m -ed] will also be a factor. It’s new for everyone and it will be difficult.”

World champion Lucinda Brand is skipping the trip to Italy after her dominant performance at the last World Cup in Besançon and in Boom last week. It means that Vos will be among the five-star favorites for Sunday’s race.

The Jumbo-Visma rider will be facing off against fellow Dutch riders Denise Betsema and Puck Pieterse, as well as Sanne Cant, Eva Lechner, and Alice Maria Arzuffi.

“Racing on the snow might bring something surprising and unexpected, also because we have never seen a race of this type in the World Cup so far. Those who have a very good technique could take advantage of their skills,” Vos said.

In the men’s competition, van Aert will be looking to build upon his huge victory in Boom last weekend where he beat most of the field by nearly two minutes. Pidcock’s return to CX in Boom wasn’t quite as emphatic and he’ll be aiming to improve on his seventh place.

Meanwhile, the likes of Eli Isterbyt and Tom Meeusen will want to close the gap to their Belgian compatriot after last week’s trouncing.

With the surface being so new to everyone, it’s hard to say what will happen Sunday.

“I think it’s going to be cold but I’m not too sure of what to expect,” Pidcock said. “It’s certainly going to be the first snow race I’ve ever done. I won the junior world championships in Luxembourg when it was icy, but not in the snow.

“My condition is good. I need to start work on my top end, but I’m excited to get going in the season and get racing. The race fitness will come with racing. I hope to find myself near the front, which will allow me to enjoy the race.”