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The Italian champion is set to make her 2022-23 debut later this month on home soil in Italy at the Gran Premio Val Fontanabuona. She plans to keep racing in Italy through to the Val di Sole World Cup on December 17, before heading to Belgium around the Christmas period.
Ferrand-Prévot returned to the cyclocross field this fall after signing with the Ineos Grenadiers team on a two-year deal. With Persico’s rise through the ranks coming as the Frenchwoman stepped away from the sport a few years ago, the pair have never raced against each other, but the Italian is keen for it to happen.
“Pauline is the strongest, she is really strong in gravel and mountain bike, and she was so strong also on the road, so I think that she can be a tough rival to fight. I’m happy to race with her because I never raced with her before. I hope to fight with her for this cyclocross season,” Persico told VeloNews.
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Ferrand-Prévot is now on a short break following the European cyclocross championships at the weekend, so it’s not clear when Persico will get to race her. The 25-year-old is riding a slightly shortened cyclocross season after a busy year on the road that concluded with a bronze medal at the UCI Road World Championships in September.
She is due to swap teams this winter as she steps up to WorldTour level with UAE Team ADQ and her ‘cross program will work around that with a race planned at the World Cup round Benidorm in January to encompass a team training camp. Persico will conclude her season at the world championships at the beginning of February before setting off for her road season.
Persico believes that her strong cyclocross campaign last season, which saw her take third at the worlds in Fayetteville and win the Italian national title, set her up for her best-ever season on the road.
“For sure, it’s a small calendar, but I’ll be busy,” she said. “For me this year, it was easy to balance cyclocross and road. I started good in the cyclocross, and I think that the cyclocross helped me for the road, so I also started good on the road. It was an amazing season for me.
“I never thought before I could do one season and like the last one, but I started to believe so much in myself and I work so much. Also in the last year, not only this year. I think that when you work it’s also time to have a good result.”
Though she has been enjoying some much-needed off-season downtime in recent weeks, before returning to training last week, Persico has been keeping an eye on her CX rivals since racing got underway in late September.
From what she’s seen so far, she knows it’s going to be tough to get up to speed with those that have been racing for almost three months with a field that is only getting stronger as the years go by.
“You look at the races and, oh my God, it’s really hard because there are so many strong riders now,” she said. “All the youngest go really full gas, so I don’t know when I start how I can be. For sure, it will be hard to restart and fight those young girls.”
One youngster that has been dominating the women’s races this season is the 20-year-old Fem van Empel, who won the European title over the weekend after racing back from an early puncture. Van Empel has won all but one of her races this season, which is just her third full campaign after initially starting her sporting career in soccer.
“My God, she’s really strong,” Persico said with awe in her voice. “I raced with her in the last years, and I think in the last months she’s stepped so much. She’s super young, but I like how she races, because, for me, she has a good head and she’s also good at finding the right moment to attack. I like her as a cyclist.”