Tom Pidcock (Ineos) and Marianne Vos (Jumbo-Visma) have tested the snow-covered course of Sunday’s UCI Cyclo-cross World Cup in Val di Sole, warning that the unique conditions, altitude and cold will make for a hard race.
While Wout van Aert was winning the Ethias Cross in Essen on Saturday afternoon, most of the other riders were already in northern Italy to get a taste of the conditions and make important tyre and pressure decisions. Van Aert will arrive late on Saturday evening after flying from Belgium and will be able to study the course during a final official training session on Sunday morning.
No further snow is expected before the elite women’s and men’s races, with organisers only lightly touching the course and compacting the snow. Overnight temperatures will go as low as -9°C, with temperatures of -3° for the afternoon races.
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The three-kilometre course has been built on the Nordic skiing centre in Vermiglio, which sits at an altitude of 1,261 metres at the foot of the Passo del Tonale that divides the Trentino and Lombardia regions.
It starts on a road in the valley but quickly dives off into the snow for a series of flat sections. The circuit has two key parts: a more technical part at the beginning and then a key steep hill on the other side of the river.
Pidcock rode a section of the course without gloves but otherwise kept wrapped up and filmed the route during his reconnaissance so he could study it in detail and decide his race strategy.
“It was interesting…” Pidcock said after his ride.
“It’s a little bit like sand but it’s the first time in these conditions. It’s tricky, really tricky. We’ll be racing when the sun goes down, so it’ll be cold, it’ll start freezing and it’ll be changing every lap.”
He expects the climb and the testing conditions created by the snow will produce a selective race.
“I don’t think it’ll be a bunch of races, that’s for sure. It’s going to be about taking your own line. Riding at your own pace is everything, too,” he said.
“It looked like a flat field in photographs but now I’m here, there’s elevation, so it’s going to be interesting to see what happens in the race.”
Vos was careful to study the course in detail on Saturday. In the absence of World Cup leader Lucinda Brand who is at a Baloise Trek Lions training camp, the Dutch rider is the favourite for the women’s race despite having taken a break after the first three World Cups in the US.
“After the long road season I needed a few weeks off but now is a great moment to return to racing,” she told Bicisport.
“It’s a technical course and is unpredictable, it’s hard. You never know what will happen to the bike, how it’ll react in the snow. It’ll be important to let the bike guide itself and hope you stay up. It’ll be important to choose the right tires and the right pressure. The altitude could also be a factor and something new for all of us.”
The Val di Sole World Cup is seen as an informal demonstration event to prove that cyclo-cross could one day become a winter Olympic discipline.
One of the guiding principles of the winter Olympics is that all sports are held on snow or ice. However, securing a place in the Olympics takes time. Cyclo-cross would first have to become an official demonstration sport and could only become an Olympic sport in 2030 at the earliest.
“They need to try it out, there’s no harm in trying,” Pidcock, the Olympic mountain bike champion said with enthusiasm.
“We’ll see how it goes. I think all the riders have their own opinions afterwards. Getting in the Olympics would elevate the sport, so it’s not a bad thing at all.”
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