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Puck Pieterse's return has many fans excited for the women's race
Preview: UCI Cyclo-cross World Cup Troyes
Brand new venue hosts fourth round as Puck Pieterse makes much-anticipated return to racing
Racing News Editor
The UCI Cyclo-cross World Cup returns for its fourth round this weekend, and this Sunday it’s a new venue for the World Cup calendar with a stop in Troyes, north-east France. Troyes has previously hosted Coupe de France-level cyclo-cross races, but it’s a brand new addition to the World Cup circuit and will be a new and unseen challenge for most of the riders on the start line.
Speaking of the start list, the headline news this weekend is that Puck Pieterse (Fenix-Deceuninck) is restarting her cyclo-cross season after taking a break following the first round to decompress at the end of a long season of mountain bike and road racing.
In the men’s race, after some controversy last week over riders skipping World Cups – and the UCI even proposing a World Championships ban for those who choose to prioritise other series – David Lappartient will be happy to see a stacked line-up on the start sheet for Troyes, with most of the season's main protagonists heading to France straight after the Superprestige in Belgium on Saturday.
Only Michael Vanthourenhout (Pauwels Sauzen-Bingoal) misses out due to stomach issues.
Ahead of the elite races on Sunday, here is everything you need to know.
The Troyes World Cup course
As a new addition to the World Cup season, we don’t have years of races to look back at to get a handle on what to expect from the course on Sunday. That said, the World Cup course is mainly similar to the course that has been used in Coupe de France races, so we have a general idea of what challenges it’s going to pose.
The whole course is 2.9km in length, which is on the longer side for a CX course, and that could prove influential, especially when it comes to mechanicals and the distances between the pits.
After a start on a gravelly stretch, the riders are soon onto grass and mud and this is what makes up the terrain on most of the course, with little in the way of changing surfaces. The route then twists through a grassy field and over a few tricky features that will slow down the pace.
The features on this course are mainly man-made: a set of stairs, a bridge, and a set of barriers that the riders will either run or bunny hop over. It’s also not particularly climb-heavy, with only some minor ups and downs, so this will mainly be a test of speed and power. The key technical element is the twists and turns, so being able to hold speed through all those turns and fight for position at the front will be important.
The headline act in the women’s race will, of course, be Fenix-Deceuninck’s Puck Pieterse, who will be riding the first race of her European ‘cross season. Just 21 years of age, Pieterse quickly established herself in the upper echelon of female ‘cross riders throughout the 2021/22 campaign, but it was last season that she took her first elite World Cup victory and once that came, the floodgates opened.
By the end of the 2022/23 season, Pieterse had won four World Cups and four elite titles elsewhere, including the Dutch National Championships. Throughout last winter, the World Cups quickly became a two-up battle between Pieterse and Fem van Empel (Jumbo-Visma), with only Shirin van Anrooij (Baloise Trek Lions) able to break their dominance.
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Ceylin del Carmen Alvarado would perhaps benefit from Troyes being slightly hillier, but will have to make the most of a flat parcours on Sunday
With Van Anrooij and Van Empel currently on breaks from their ‘cross seasons, the returning Pieterse should be confident of standing on the podium in Troyes and making a statement of intent ahead of the action-packed Christmas period. That being said, she will likely be closely challenged by the pair of Ceylin del Carmen Alvarado (Alpecin-Deceuninck) and Lucinda Brand (Baloise Trek Lions).
Last weekend’s World Cup in Dendermonde proved the winning ticket for Alvarado, whose victory was her first in a World Cup since Overijse in January 2021. That was her final race in the rainbow bands of world champion, before a couple of dry years followed. Her form has been steadily improving since the middle of last season and her rise back to the top was complete in Belgium last weekend, with a tremendous ride in the mud.
For Brand, meanwhile, Troyes may offer the perfect opportunity to step up from second place on the podium. The Baloise Trek Lions rider made her season bow last weekend and showed no signs of rust as she rode to a comfortable podium finish. Another former world champion, Brand will be keen to take advantage whilst Van Empel and Van Anrooij are away.
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Zoe Bäckstedt is one of the most exciting female riders on the planet
Elsewhere, the usual faces to keep an eye on remain Inge van der Heijden (Crelan-Corendon), Annemarie Worst (Cyclocross Reds) and Marion Norbert Riberolle (Crelan-Corendon), whilst a new face to the elite podium emerged last weekend in the form of Canyon-SRAM’s Zoe Bäckstedt. Her third place took many by surprise, but the Brit has been one of the sport’s biggest talents in recent years and perhaps this season might be the year in which she becomes a regular contender for the top steps on the podium.
In the men’s field, the only major absentee is Pauwels Sauzen-Bingoal rider Michael Vanthourenhout. The Belgian has not yet recovered from stomach issues which also ruled him out of last weekend’s races, with the team’s hopes instead resting with Eli Iserbyt, who currently sits second in the overall World Cup standings. Iserbyt has found consistency but no victory thus far in the World Cup, with two second places followed by fourth in Dendermonde.
It is the tail of Lars van der Haar (Baloise Trek Lions) who he is chasing, with the Dutch rider holding a nine-point lead heading into the fourth round of the series. Van der Haar has been seriously impressive this season and leads the thus-far-unbeaten Baloise Trek Lions squad, who count fellow World Cup round winners Pim Ronhaar and Thibau Nys amongst their ranks.
All three riders will be looking to take their second victory of the World Cup campaign in Troyes, but it is Ronhaar who seems to have found a purple patch of form.
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Pim Ronhaar may well be Baloise Trek Lions' best prospect at the moment
The 22-year-old is riding his first full season at elite level and after an up-and-down start to the campaign, Ronhaar’s talents shone through at the European Championships in which he placed fourth but was right in the battle for a medal. With a win under his belt in Dendermode, it would be no surprise to see Ronhaar carry that wave of momentum into Sunday’s race.
Elsewhere, the usual suspects such as Joris Nieuwenhuis (Baloise Trek Lions), Ryan Kamp (Pauwels Sauzen-Bingoal) and Niels Vandeputte (Alpecin-Deceuninck) will be in and amongst the action - but it would be a surprise to see any of them finish on the final podium.
With each week that passes, the time draws nearer to the return of Mathieu van der Poel (Alpecin-Deceuninck), Wout van Aert (Jumbo-Visma) and Tom Pidcock (Ineos Grenadiers) to the fields of northern Europe. As such, each race is a precious opportunity for the full-time ‘cross riders to make their mark, and Troyes is no exception.
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