Puck Pieterse is bunnyhopping her way through the ranks

She's known for bunnyhopping the barriers in cyclocross but that's not the 20-year-old super talent's only off-road endeavour.

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Puck Pieterse has become synonymous with bunnyhopping. The 20-year-old is one of only a few female cyclocross racers who can do it every time while her competitors dismount and run. 

“It’s way better if you can do it,” she tells me. If only it were that simple for everyone.

But what did it take for Pieterse to gain the edge that sees her able to ride away from the field? Her answer is equally straightforward: “Lots of practice, actually.” 

“At the races, all the boys could always do the cool tricks. And I wanted to do that too. So I just started practising outside, trying to wheelie and everything. And I’m happy I did that when I was younger because now the skills are quite easy to do.” 

Having seen Pieterse’s repertoire of wheelies, bunnyhops, and other tricks first-hand she really does make them look easy, and it is clear that her skills are borne out of having fun.  

“When I was young and watching cyclocross races when you see the men do it, you want to do it too,” she says. Now, she and the other up-skilled women are there for aspiring girls to see.  “I think when girls are now looking at the TV and see me, Anniek [van Alphen] and Anna [Kay] all bunnyhop they will do it too,” she says. 

That’s not to say that Pieterse was devoid of female role models coming into the sport. Indeed, she has one of the best cyclists in the world to look to as a home-grown hero in the form of Marianne Vos, whom she describes as her “biggest idol” in the sport. Over in her other discipline, cross-country mountain biking, she cites another multi-disciplinary  rider, Jolanda Neff, as a role model.  

Although most know Pieterse primarily as a cyclocross star, it is in the latter discipline that she has been quietly working towards a very big goal: the Paris 2024 Olympic Games –  and she’s well on course. Pieterse podiumed at every round of the U23 UCI mountain bike world cup in 2022 and took second at the U23 world championships behind the even more precociously talented Line Burquier. 

“When I came over the finish I was like ‘ah second is good, but I wanted to win,’” she recalls. “Then later when I got on the podium and stuff, I felt how special it was. And Line who got first, she was just better that day. It wasn’t an unfair win or something. So yeah, now I’m happy that I got second.”

Pieterse’s team, Alpecin-Deceuninck, are perhaps better known for a certain other multidisciplinary sensation, but the young Dutchwoman is every bit the star in the making herself, something which the team clearly believes in enough to invest heavily in her development. 

“Coming up to World Champs we did lots of training with the team and went on an altitude camp and everything just to prepare for Worlds,” she says.   

As part of her pathway to Paris, Pieterse’s XCO results had to place her within the top-4 ranked U23 riders in the world in order for the 20-year-old to graduate to the elite category for 2023 – a category she already competes in in cyclocross in the absence of an U23 series. 

Thanks to her consistency, and despite having to miss out on the final race of the season in Val di Sole due to Covid-19, she earned her ticket for 2023 to compete alongside the likes of Pauline Ferrand Prevot and her idol, Neff. Crucially, she will now be able to earn points towards a potential place at Paris 2024. 

“I think it’s a good long-term goal for me,” she says of the Games. “And  it’s pretty nice to try. It will be difficult because I have to ride in the top-10 and we also have, of course, other Dutch girls that want the same so it will be an exciting year next year.”

Before that, however, there’s a whole cyclocross season ahead of her. Pieterse will go into the 2022/23 season as U23 world champion (a title also previously held by British rider Evie Richards who later went on to win the elite XCO world title) and having placed third overall in the elite rankings. She missed the early US rounds, including Fayetteville where she won her U23 title, owing to the toll of travel on top of a busy summer.

“It’s just a precaution actually to not burn myself out immediately,” she explains. Which is part of a wider strategy to ensure that her talent doesn’t burn so bright at her tender age as to burn her out prematurely.  

For the same reason, she will avoid double weekends where possible and race very few races outside of the world cups. “I just think it’s better for the long run to not do too much now. I can always go back to ‘cross and ride a full season if I want. But then that has an impact on my summer season on the mountain bike, and I don’t want that,” she says. 

When we speak, Pieterse is on a rest week – one which involved watching as much cycling as possible on television – and has yet to begin her ‘cross season. Since then, she has raced three times, winning the C2 GP Oisterwijk and coming third at another C2, Kiremko Nacht van Woerden, as well as taking second in her first world cup of the season in Tabor behind long-time rival on both mountain bike and ‘cross, Fem van Empel. 

Pieterse and Van Empel locked in a fierce sprint for the win at the Flamanville round of the 2021/22 cyclocross world cup.

As well as van Empel, Pieterse has her eye on another fellow U23 rider, Shirin van Anrooij, for competition, “I’ve seen how they rode this summer season,” she says of her compatriots. “Shirin on the road of course and Fem on the mountain bike and they were both really strong so I think it will be a difficult task to ride against them.”

Despite their rivalry there is no malice, “It’s a fun rivalry. Also, like, in the youth I was always riding with Shirin every race and then yeah, it was always one got first and one got second and then it’s just kept being that way up until now, so it’s fun to grow with each other also.”  

Pieterse has “grown” at rapid speed in cyclocross since joining the elite ranks. 

“Every year in ‘cross, my results have gotten better,” she reflects. “Then last year it just really went one big step up again. I was also happy about it. I didn’t think before [that would happen] and it could work.”

With Pieterse’s considerable talent comes the weight of expectation, but she is pragmatic – or perhaps coy –  about her chances. 

“I think for this ‘cross season, I just want to podium too, I don’t think I can win every ‘cross race already, it’s maybe too difficult. But it would be nice to be consistently top five and hopefully consistently on the podium,” she says.  

So far, so good.

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