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Fem van Empel (Visma-Lease a Bike) edged a thrilling duel against Puck Pieterse (Fenix-Deceuninck) to win the Benidorm World Cup, while Ceylin del Carmen Alvarado (Alpecin-Deceunick) sealed the overall series with a round to spare after placing third.
The fast, dry course in Spain made for a considerable change from the typical fare on the cyclocross circuit, but it was business as usual for the field when Van Empel immediately came to the front and stretched things out.
Pieterse and Alvarado, inevitably, were the riders immediately on Van Empel’s wheel, and that trio would forge clear of the rest midway through the opening lap, setting the tone for the remainder of the race.
By the end of the first lap, Van Empel and Pieterse had a lead of five seconds over Alvarado, while Lucinda Brand and the best of the chasers already trailed by over 20 seconds.
On the second lap, Pieterse made repeated attempts to shake off Van Empel on the more technical sections, but she was unable to shake off her compatriot, while Alvarado – mindful that a podium finish would secure the World Cup title – battled gamely to regain contact with the leaders.
Alvarado’s hopes of winning the day would suffer a hefty blow, however, on lap three, when she dropped her chain as she remounted after the second set of steps. By the time she got going again, her deficit was in double figures, and she grimly set about closing the gap over the next three laps.
Alvarado would eventually claw her way back up to Van Empel and Pieterse on the penultimate lap, and she defiantly led them through the bell with an acceleration of her own. On the final lap, however, the power of Van Empel and Pieterse proved decisive, with the world champion launching a fierce acceleration on the tarmac climb. Pieterse tracked the move while Alvarado was left to ride alone to the finish in third.
On the run-in, Pieterse made repeated attempts to shake off Van Empel, first in the sand pit and then by jumping the barriers while her rival was forced to run. The world champion held firm, however, and she showed nous as well as strength when she dived ahead of Pieterse on the final chicane.
From there, the two-up sprint was a relative formality, as Van Empel led from the front and cruised to a fine victory that underlined her credentials ahead of her title defence at the World Championships next month.
“It was super hard, the whole race from start to finish because Puck and Ceylin had very good legs. It was a battle to the finish,” said Van Empel, who won in Benidorm for the second year in succession.
“Puck was very strong, and she jumped the barriers, so she had a couple of metres on me at one point, but I kept fighting to the finish. I knew the first rider into the last corner would maybe win the race, and luckily, it was a good plan.”
Alvarado paid a price for her efforts in the wake of her slipped chain, but the Dutchwoman had the considerable consolation of claiming the overall title at the World Cup for the first time.
“I’m very happy I could finally do it,” Alvarado said. “My chain dropped on the second stairs, so I had to get off the bike and put it on again. That was a very long catch-up race for me, and later, I was dropped again because I was tired.”
Lucinda Brand (Baloise Trek Lions) came home in fourth place, 27 seconds down, after outlasting fellow chasers Kata Blanka Vas (SD Worx) and Sara Casasola (FAS Airport Services – Guerciotti) on the final lap.
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