Puck Pieterse returns to cyclocross action this weekend at the fourth round of the UCI World Cup in Troyes, France. It is just her second race of a now-compact ‘cross season, as the 21-year-old paused racing for a month after charging through a relentless calendar of cyclocross, road and mountain bike competitions.
It was a sizzling season across three disciplines for the Fenix-Deceuninck rider in 2023. Following a ‘cross season where she landed on the podium in all 19 of her cyclocross races, four of them World Cup victories plus a silver medal at the World Championships, she made her WorldTour road debut at Strade Bianche and finished in the top five.
Then she switched to flat bars and took on elite riders at mountain bike XCO World Cups, winning four rounds, including the Nové Mesto victory in May that saw her power away on the final lap from World Champion Pauline Ferrand-Prévot. She won short track titles at Dutch nationals, European Championships, and then silver at Worlds where she also earned XCO bronze.
A return to cyclocross means a return to the much-anticipated rivalry with compatriot Fem van Empel (Jumbo-Visma). Fenix-Deceuninck manager/directeur sportif Christoph Roodhoft expected her to jump back into the fray and not skip a pedal stroke.
“I don’t think much will have changed compared to last year,” Roodhoft told Wielerflits in a recent interview. “Puck has of course gained a lot of confidence through her MTB summer. Fem van Empel was also active in mountain biking, but that was less successful than Puck’s campaign. That will be different in the cross, the two will be close to each other again.”
Before taking time off, Pieterse competed in only one ‘cross event, the World Cup round in Waterloo where she finished second behind Van Empel. The pair were evenly matched on the muddy Wisconsin track for the first lap, but Van Empel sailed away on an error-free ride and Pieterse, who is usually sound technically, lost ground in the wet conditions.
“Puck is the better, or if not the best, technically skilled rider. If she can temper her enthusiasm a bit, I think that could be a particularly great asset in the long term. But at the moment her enthusiasm sometimes still kills her,” Roodhoft admitted.
“Puck still has a tendency to go very fast in the beginning. Or sometimes she tries something that can’t really be tried or certainly not at that moment. Anyway, she’s still young and you still have that youthful enthusiasm in you….