Puck Pieterse returns to cyclocross action this weekend at the fourth round of the UCI World Cup in Troyes, France. It was only his second race of the now-compact ‘cross season, as the 21-year-old took a month-long break from racing after charging through a non-stop calendar of cyclocross, road and mountain bike competitions.
It was a sizzling season in three disciplines for the Fenix-Deceuninck rider in 2023. After a ‘cross season in which he landed on the podium in all 19 of his cyclocross races, four of them were World Cup victories and a silver medal at the World Championships, he made his WorldTour road debut at Strade Bianche and finished in the top five.
He then switched to flat bars and competed with the elite riders of the mountain bike XCO World Cups, winning four rounds, including a Nové Mesto victory in May that saw him power away on the last lap from the World Champion Pauline Ferrand-Prévot. He won the short track title at Dutch nationals, European Championships, and then silver at Worlds where he also earned XCO bronze.
The return to cyclocross means a return to competition with compatriot Fem van Empel (Jumbo-Visma), who has won all seven races she has started this season, including two World Cup rounds and the European Championships. .
Fenix-Deceuninck manager/director sportif Christoph Roodhoft expects him to jump back into the fray and not skip a pedal stroke.
“I don’t think much has changed compared to last year,” Roodhof said Flash cycling in a recent interview. “Puck of course gained a lot of confidence through his 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 again.”
Before going on vacation, Pieterse competed in just one ‘cross event, the World Cup round in Waterloo where he finished second behind Van Empel. The pair were evenly matched on the muddy track in Wisconsin for the first lap, but Van Empel sailed through a faultless ride and Pieterse, who was usually technically sound, lost ground in the wet conditions.
“Puck is the better, if not the best, technically skilled rider. If he can control his enthusiasm, I think it will be a better asset in the long run. But for now his enthusiasm sometimes still kills him,” admitted Roodhof.
“Puck tends to be too fast at the beginning. Or sometimes he’ll try something that just doesn’t work or doesn’t at that moment. Still, he’s still young and you still have that youthful exuberance. That’s okay. .”
On the mountain bike, Pieterse was truly technically sound and swept the overall World Cup titles for elite women in the cross-country and short track disciplines. He raced eight rounds that summer, culminating in two North American events. Van Empel, however, only competed in three rounds.
“Puck was actually in really good shape on the mountain bike at the end of the season. The time off was a smart choice, he’s still very young. He rested but was also busy on his bike. It’s also important not to rest too long because it is very difficult to continue cross-country racing,” said Roodhof.
The reigning Dutch elite women’s cyclocross national champion has extended her contract with Fenix-Deceuninck during her summer of mountain bike conquests, the team securing her talents until 2027.
He called it a ‘logical decision’ as the team would allow him to pursue multiple disciplines, with Pieterse eyeing gold at the Paris Olympic Games in mountain biking in 2024.
“The nice thing about this team and structure is that I can combine different disciplines and have the freedom to decide for myself when to do which discipline. It was a logical decision,” Pieterse said. in June about his pro contract.