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Fem van Empel (Netherlands) won her first-ever elite women’s title at the UEC Cyclo-cross European Championships in Namur, Belgium, on Sunday.
Adding to her remarkable winning streak this season, while racing for the first time in the elite category at the Cyclo-cross European Championships, Van Empel finished 22 seconds ahead of teammate and former World Champion Ceylin del Carmen Alvarado and 36 seconds ahead of bronze medallist Blanka Vas (Hungary).
“After my flat tire, I wanted to reach the finish line without regrets, and I found a good pace and caught up on each lap, so I’m very happy,” van Empel said.
“I never thought I would take the jersey home, but this is my eighth victory of the season, and I can’t believe it. Namur is iconic, and it was very slippery today, but I liked this course … it was a bit like mountain bike racing.”
Multi-discipline World Champion in mountain bike and gravel, Pauline Ferrand-Prévot (France) finished seventh, and world champion Marianne Vos (Netherlands) finished ninth.
How it unfolded
Marianne Vos (Netherlands) led the field through the opening section of the first lap of the women’s race, with promising starts from Inge van der Heijden (Netherlands), Fem van Empel (Netherlands), Denise Betsema (Netherlands) Ceylin del Carmen Alvarado (Netherlands), and Blanka vas (Hungary).
French rider Pauline Ferrand-Prévot, who started near the back, pushed her way through the field on the opening lap until she moved into a chase group just off the back of early race leaders van Empel, Alvarado, Vos and Vas.
It appeared to be a much smoother race than Ferrand-Prévot had in her debut with Ineos Grenadiers at Koppenbergcross, where she suffered multiple mechanicals due to jammed gearing.
Vas showed her strengths on the circuit, moving to the lead and forcing Alvarado and Betsema to hang on to her pace as the race headed into lap two.
Bad luck struck Van Empel with a flat tire had to run back into the pits going the wrong way on the course, luckily permitted to do so because she had not crossed the second pit flag that would have forced her to continue forward on the course.
Vos also fell off the pace and raced in 10th position, with Ferrand-Prévot moving forward from 12th and into the top 10.
Alvarado attacked on the third lap and opened a three-second lead on Vas, eight seconds to Betsema, and 12 seconds to Van Empel, while Italy’s Sara Casasola moved into the fifth place on the course at 22 seconds back.
Vas used her uphill running strengths to close the gap to Alvarado in the run-up, and the pair started the fourth lap together with four seconds on Betsema and fast-moving Van Empel.
Van Empel reconnected with the leaders, her teammate Alvarado and Vas in the closing laps. Vas struggled to stay with two Dutchwomen, and a gap opened on the penultimate lap.
Van Empel flawlessly rode the second half of the penultimate lap. As she raced up the run-up near the end of the lap, Alvarado faltered, and a gap opened between the Dutch teammates.
Van Empel went through the finish line, hearing the ringing bell to signify the last lap, with a 30-second lead on Alvarado and 45 seconds on Vas.
Much more assured of her performance as she orbited the last lap, Van Empel displayed savvy skills on the slippery and muddy straightaways, looked calm and smooth on the run-up, and was strong on the technical sections.
Van Empel’s early flat tire didn’t seem to affect her overall performance or her winning streak, as she crossed the line with the championship title and her eighth season victory.
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