Fem van Empel (Visma-Lease a Bike) claimed her 16th victory of the season at the X2O Trofee Hamme-Flandriencross after attacking off the front right from the start in the opening lap and never being seen again by the rest of the field.
The World Champion seemingly had things all but wrapped up after doubling her 11-second lead on lap one to 25 seconds by the time the next lap was completed and this lead would only increase past the minute mark as the six laps ticked by.
“I felt very good today and I am very happy with that,” said Van Empel immediately after the race. “I just wanted to ride at my own pace. This is a treacherous circuit, with all those tracks, so it is an advantage if you can ride alone.
“Halfway through the race, I heard the speaker announce the time difference. From then on it was just a matter of keeping a good pace.”
Lucinda Brand (Baloise Trek Lions) and Manon Bakker (Crelan-Corendon) were the best of the rest as the cyclocross world returned to the Belgian mud after last week’s sunny and sandy round in Benidorm, but neither could live with Van Empel throughout the hour or so of racing.
Saturday’s race was Van Empel’s penultimate day in the World Champion’s jersey before she heads to Tabor next week in the orange of the Netherlands to try and defend her crown.
Van Empel will look to win the final World Cup of the season at tomorrow’s race in Hoogerheide which should serve as a much better preview of the World Championships with other top favourites Puck Pieterse (Fenix-Deceuninck) and Ceylin del Carmen Alvarado (Alpecin-Deceuninck) also on the start list.
“At the end, I was already thinking about tomorrow’s race. That one is very tough,” said Van Empel.
Pieterse won both the races Van Empel missed from her perfect record after ending her unbeaten streak in Gavere, with the 21-year-olds – who were first and second at last year’s Worlds – looking set for another epic showdown in both Hoogerheide and Tabor.
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