A trip to Italy for the Val di Sole World Cup

Our favorite Cyclocross Apprentice had a memorable trip to Italy last year for the World Cup. As we once again approach the start of the Val di Sole World Cup, we revisit his chronicle of racing in the snow in 2021. This one ticks both the adventure and travel boxes.

Val di Sole World Cup

I will be honest. There really was no downside to leaving Belgium for a visit to the Italian Alps in December.

My motivations were based on race. The UCI has launched a new, shall we say, “environment” for the Cyclocross World Cup, by intentionally hosting the first-ever World Cup on snow. The idea was to showcase cyclocross in a winter environment to advocate for the discipline’s inclusion in the Olympics.

Vermiglio at dusk.

This Val di Sole World Cup first appeared on the calendar in December 2020 but became a pandemic cancellation.

I wasn’t sure if the idea of ​​“snow-cross” was legitimate and would really show up on this year’s calendar…or if it was a great idea that would be forgotten! This summer, when I saw him in the roster… well, that was a fitting compromise for missing Nationals (again)!

The backstory

There is a bit of history in my enthusiasm for snow cyclo-cross. First, there is my story: I started “seriously” alpine skiing competition at the age of 7. My childhood dreams were to go downhill in the Alps. As a teenager, I switched to cross-country skiing. In 2008 I retired from the sport after failing at the 2006 Winter Olympics in Turin, Italy. Ironically, I got my very first passport in 2005 before the Games, hoping to need it for Italy. I never used this passport until my first trip to Belgium.

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You can see the Alps through the window.

I’m also from Minneapolis. Yes, our winters are both cold and snowy. I spent a lot of time honing my snow cross skills out of necessity. No surprise: my best results came in the snow, from win my age group at Nationals in Madison and at the 2016 Nationals in Asheville to vice-champion in singlespeed in Hartford.

Amanda Carey and Corey Coogan Cisek battle for the 2013 Nationals Masters title 35-39 in Verona, WI.

Amanda Carey and Corey Coogan Cisek battle for the 2013 Nationals Masters title 35-39 in Verona, WI.

A life on the snow helps me to “read the snow”. It sounds silly, but are you a cross-country skier? Can you predict which side of the trail will be the firmest based on where the groomer passed first? I’m good at predicting how snow will turn at different temperatures. Who knew this would be useful?

VeloRevolution – WP Cycles in the Alps!

My teammate Allison is always up for trying something new: maybe a one-off World Cup in the snow? Why not?

Our mechanic, Denis D’Hondt agreed to drive the truck and the bikes, even if the snowy passes are not his forte. A friend and French Canadian Matis Boyer joined our team, promising to show Denis the ropes in cold weather.

Allison and I traveled to Italy via a train-plane-car journey that started in the darkness of Flanders and ended in the darkness of Italy about 12 hours later.

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Allison gets her legs back on the train.

Much noise has been made Travel program of Wout Van Aert. While his travel distance was great, we suspect he might not have used the Belgian train. He also probably didn’t drive the white-knuckled Alps in a small two-wheel drive rental car. (It’s okay mum, we had chains in the trunk!) Wout was certainly on our minds as we returned from the station at 11:00 p.m. (He was, after all, in Spain at the time!)

And Denis and Matis? They arrived in Italy on Friday morning after being rerouted due to a closed pass.

The place

As a mountain town, Vermiglio had no shortage of equipment for packing and grooming snow. They provided the infrastructure to create the course. However, for the design and construction of the course, the promoter Flanders Classics brought in a team of Belgian course designers from 10 days before the competition.

Since our bikes arrived on Friday, we were able to hit the road while construction was still going on. The biggest surprise for me was the number of Belgians on staff. (The TV production crew also seemed to be Flemish.) On the course, I found myself calling “not op” (a Dutch phrase meaning “Watch out!”) as passing workers.

Frankly, we could easily identify the Belgians! They were heavily underdressed for the cold and stared wide-eyed at us, the first runners on the course. Mechanic Denis would agree that they felt uncomfortable. Before leaving Belgium, he grabbed a battery-operated heated jacket. (There are days when three layers of flannel shirts just aren’t enough!) Denis reported that there was more snow than he had seen in his last 40 years of life combined.

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Corey’s view from Airbnb.

For me, understanding how they were going to handle the course preparation was intriguing. Would they plow, pack or groom the snow? They settled on a bit of each. The pit appeared to be mostly plowed. Most of the trail was lightly trailed, packed but not groomed. Some sections have been perfectly groomed, a Nordic skate track has been set up. A few features were left minimal, if at all, wrapped. The slope at the highest point of the course has been left as is, as well as several turns. Obviously, the goal was to offer us a mix of experiences. They didn’t want the whole course to be crowded and potentially icy. They also aimed to create “heavy” sections of snow that would force runs or at least require a lot of power. The net effect was that some sections rolled like sand.

Tire tread and pressure

I’ve been asked a lot of questions about tires. Based on my snow experience, I had a few favorite treads in mind, but chose to make no assumptions and test everything.

During Friday’s hike, we discovered something interesting about the weather conditions at the site. The course was deep in a valley with towering mountains surrounding it on all sides. Although it was a beautiful sunny day, the place was shaded by the mountains except between approximately 12:30 and 2:30 p.m. In fact, some sections of the room have never seen the sun. On Friday, Saturday and Sunday, temperatures rose slightly above freezing in the afternoon sun, turning the snow to slush. As a result, Allison and I used our Saturday pre-race window to find the best tread/pressure at 1:30 p.m., our Sunday start time. The answer? Challenge Grifo at 13/15 for me.

When the snow was drier and more icy, I preferred the Chicanes, also at very low pressure. The tread on the edge of the tire held up on cambers, while the center tread provided a good contact patch with the snow. However, as the snow transformed, it became a little harder to get traction uphill. The Grifos offered a little more uphill traction without losing too much traction on the cambers.

At the start line of my race, I only saw medium tread (like Grifo) and light mud (like Baby Limus). I didn’t watch the men’s race, but I was told that Pidcock was riding chicanes. It makes sense not only because he’s a great bike handler, but also because the shadow hit the valley for the men’s race, dropping temperatures sharply and creating a more icy surface.

My race? I secretly had high expectations.

It was difficult to predict how Belgians and Dutch would react to snow, low temperatures and travel. It turns out that “the cream rises to the top”. Despite all the concerns that the “snow-cross” would be too different, the results basically reflected the standings. It appears to have remained a fair contest.

For my part, I did two very solid laps, getting into the top 25 at the start and staying in contact with a group until the second lap. Unfortunately, I slid out of camber near the end of lap two, and by the time I got up I was out of the way. With this quality of ground, I am not able to close the gap… so joy and regret!

Fans and Moka Pots

What I won’t regret is having made the trip. We were part of an event that will change the sport OR to be once in a lifetime. Also, I won’t forget the mountains, the sun, the Italian fans and the coffee!

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A good cup of coffee to warm up the body.

It is worth mentioning how different it was to race ahead of the Italians. I’ve gotten so used to cheers (and mockery) in Belgium. Yes, there are the real sports enthusiasts, who appreciate us all. Likewise, sometimes the party almost overwhelms the sporting event. We knew something was different when the Italians showed up for Saturday’s pre-race. They arrived very early and circled around the trucks, checking the riders and bikes (and not smoking in our faces!). On the day of the race, they all applauded us, from the first to the last, with enthusiasm. They would often shout “dia, dia”, which means “go, go”, but sounds like “die, die”. I must have laughed: given the technical challenge of the course and the low elevation, “die, die” sounded right!

And parking was so fair! With the exception of a few big ones (Marianne Vos, Wout van Aert and Tom Pidcock), rider parking was first come, first served. As we arrived on Friday afternoon, we were assigned a place very close to the finish, next to some Germans. On Sunday, Allison and I giggled to our parking spot. The Dutch and Belgian campers were parked further than us! Suddenly, we were no longer “less than”.

Finally, a word about coffee. When we walked into the room the first day, the woman assigning parking was sipping an espresso, a Moka pot sitting on the ledge behind her. Allison and I loved this image of Italy! In the spirit of “When in Rome”, while in Italy we drank way too much coffee…..

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Mocha pot

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