Fem van Empel (Jumbo-Visma) continued her winning streak by powering to victory at the Antwerp World Cup. The world champion has now won 11 races out of 11 this winter, though she had to fight hard for this latest triumph against an on-form Lucinda Brand (Baloise Trek Lions).
Brand, winner of the Exact Cross Mol on Friday, once again used her mastery of sand to good effect here, but she was ultimately beaten by Van Empel, who made full use of her technical skills to forge clear on the fourth of six laps.
Van Empel managed her lead smartly thereafter, winning by 18 seconds. Puck Pieterse (Fenix-Deceuninck, who had briefly managed to battle her way back into contention with a fine surge on the fourth lap, faded slightly in the finale, but she did enough to round out the podium, 55 seconds down, while world Cup leader Ceylin del Carmen Alvarado came home in fourth place.
Brand was the early pace-setter, hitting the front on the opening lap in Antwerp, but Van Empel was also on the march, moving up quickly from the second row and catching up to the leader. Together they came through the start-finish line with a lead of 8 seconds over Alvarado, with Pieterse a little further behind.
One lap later, Van Empel and Brand had a lead of 11 seconds over Pieterse and the race already looked like a straight duel. Pietese battled gamely, however, slicing four seconds off her deficit on the next lap before bridging up to the two leaders at the start of the fourth.
An error on the sand, however, proved fatal to her chances, while it also presented Van Empel with her invitation to go on the offensive. The Dutchwoman managed to carve out a lead of 10 seconds over Brand with two laps remaining, while Pieterse was now beginning to flag.
Brand never relented, at one point closing almost to within touching distance of Van Empel, but the world champion’s speed across the sand proved decisive and she nudged her lead out once again.
“My start was quite good from the second row and during the race I felt really strong,” Van Empel said afterwards. “I missed a little bit pushing myself to the limits after being sick recently, so it was a tough race, but I felt confident especially once I was able to jump the barriers.”
Brand felt that she had matched Van Empel’s strength on the day, but the world champion’s technical ability helped her to the win. “Jumping the barriers was very decisive here,” Brand said. “We were the same strength, maybe, but she could keep the gap.”
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