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Fem Van Empel retained her title at the 2024 UCI Cyclocross World Championships with a near perfect and dominant display after riding away from her rivals in the opening laps.
The Dutch rider showed used her power and bike skills to open a gap on the first lap before gradually extending her winning margin to over a minute.
Behind former world cyclo-cross champion Lucinda Brand used her experience to take second after distancing fellow Dutch woman Puck Pieterse during the last two laps. Pieterse had looked most likely to challenge Van Empel but faded on the penultimate lap and was disappointed to be passed by Brand.
Van Empel was in control throughout the race, lapping the quickest each time to claim a second elite world cyclocross crown at the age of just 21.
As expected, Dutch riders dominated the podium positions with Brand taking a seventh world cyclocross podium in second place at 1:20.
Pieterse is targeting the Olympics mountain bike event this summer but lacked the strength of her rivals and finished third at 1:54.
It was Van Empel’s 18th win from 20 cyclo-cross races this season and she said that retaining her world title was the “cherry on the cake.”
“I did everything for this race, the whole season,” said Van Empel.
“It’s the cherry on the cake of my pretty good season, I’m so happy.
“This is not my own victory but the victory of Team Fem, the whole group around me. It’s so special. It meant a lot. It was a special day today, everything needed to be in the right place at the right moment and it went so well today. I’m super happy.”
How it unfolded
Defending champion Van Empel came into the race as a clear favourite after also winning the European title and so many other races this winter but she faced a number of dangerous rivals. The front row of the grid was filled by seven Dutch and they were expected to dominate the podium positions.
Hungarian rider Blanka Kata Vas had been considered as one of Van Empel’s challengers after finishing second at last weekend’s World Cup in Hoogerheide but was a late withdrawal due to a viral infection.
When the race started, former world champion Ceylin Del Carmen Alvarado led away from the asphalt start and onto the mud. She was rapidly joined by her fellow favourites and Dutch teammates.
Van Empel took the during the opening muddy sections and while the reigning world champion powered up the short ramps, Alvarado was forced to get off and run, creating a small gap.
Lucinda Brand was aware of the immediate danger and led the charge to chase Van Empel and was joined by Puck Pieterse. The race was on but Van Empel was already out front.
Dutch riders dominated the top six positions on the opening lap with Belgian Laura Verdonschot and Italian Sara Casasola leading the rest 29 seconds behind.
Former talented footballer Van Empel used her running speed on the long climb to pressurise Brand and Pieterse who were struggling to hold her pace. After struggling in the muddy conditions Alvarado slipped back to fourth on the opening lap and 20 seconds behind the podium positions.
After a fast opening 11-minute lap, Van Empel led the two chasers by 16 seconds, with Alvarado a further 23 seconds behind. She appeared in control at the front.
Pieterse finished runner-up in last year’s cyclocross world championship and looked to cement second again by distancing Brand on the technical sections of the second lap.
Up front, 21-year-old Van Empel showed the strength which could prove vital on road this year as she increased her margin to over 30 seconds on the second lap.
In the battle for silver former world champion Brand was keeping in touch with Pieterse as just seconds separated the pair.
34-year-old Brand used her experience and on the penultimate lap she passed Pieterse to set-up a silver medal but both sat a minute behind the lone leader.
As the bell rang out to signal the last lap, Van Empel remained in firm control, 1:03 ahead of Brand, while Pieterse was 1:20 back.
A delighted Van Empel high-fived the crowd and then punched the air in the closing metres, finishing 1:20 ahead of Brand, while Pieterse finished a further 34 seconds back.
Alvarado finished fourth during a Dutch domination as Belgian Laura Verdonschot came home fifth.
American Clara Honsinger came home 3:45 back in eighth, while Canadian Maghalie Rochette completed the top 10 at 3:52.
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