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European Cyclocross Championships: Fem van Empel recovers from early mechanics to win the women’s race

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Fem van Empel (Netherlands) bounced back from an early mechanic to take a commanding victory in the women’s race at the European Cyclo-Cross Championships in Namur.

The 20-year-old lost over 30 seconds to the leaders when she had to run against the track to pit after a puncture on the first lap. Van Empel made quick work of getting back to the front before going solo on lap five to win by 22 seconds.

Ceylin del Carmen Alvarado made it 1-2 for the Dutch with Blanka Vas (Hungary) rolling in to take third place.

Van Empel made a late decision to enter the elite race, having dominated the early part of the cyclocross season. His elite European title cements his position as one of the stars of this cyclocross season.

“After my puncture, I wanted to finish the finish line with no regrets,” Van Empel said after the race. “I found a good rhythm and caught them on every loop, so I’m really happy.

“I never thought I would take the jersey, but this is my eighth win this season and I can’t believe it. Namur is very iconic. It was very slippery today, I really like this course and it looked like a mountain bike.”

As a step

Riders faced cold weather and muddy conditions in Namur following previous downpours, making the course very tricky. One of the toughest parts turned out to be a downhill turn off the camber in the second half of the lap. While some were able to descend, others had to dismount to navigate it.

Although there was no clearly dominant rider from the start, the Dutch team looked the strongest and put several riders up front, including world champion Marianne Vos, the fit Van Empel and Alvarado. Vas was one of the few riders who seemed to have the power to match the Dutch, along with Italy’s Sara Casasola.

The gaps began to widen as the riders made their way into the second lap with Van Empel and Vas making their way. Alvarado and Denise Betsema formed an all-Dutch chase group with Casasola letting go of Vos as he closed in on them.

There was high drama as the leaders pitted with pre-race favorite Van Empel suffering a mechanical problem. He hadn’t finished pitting and was able to run against the direction of the race to pit and pick up a new bike, leaving Vas to go off on her own.

Vas wasn’t alone for long as Betsema and Alvarado caught her shortly after the pits. Behind, Van Empel was making rapid progress catching and passing teammates Vos and Annemarie Worst before the end of lap two. She was just 20 seconds behind the leaders when she crossed the line and had Casasola in her sights next.

Up front, Alvarado was picking up the pace and put up some severe pushes on the field-packed climbs, giving Betsema a hard time with every move. Vas was also caught on the back foot after one of Alvarado’s attacks, but he caught her from behind after gaining ground on another uphill section.

Pauline Ferrand-Prévot, who had been an outside favorite for the podium before the race, struggled to make an impact. The Frenchwoman was back in 10th place less than a minute behind the leaders by the third lap.

Van Empel had caught up with Betsema at the end of lap three, but soon dropped her as they reached the first climb of lap four. Just as he had the two leaders within arm’s reach, Vas decided to attack on another uphill ramp, forcing Van Empel to chase some more.

Vas was eventually caught by Van Empel going into the latter part of lap four with Alvarado close behind. Having yo-yoed at the back of the lead pack for much of the race, Betsema looked like she had finally cracked and the gap to the front three widened.

Heading into the penultimate lap, Van Empel and Alvarado had a small lead over Vas, who looked tired. As the lap progressed, Van Empel built a small lead on her teammate, but she was struggling to shake off Alvarado until the older rider slipped in a corner going into a climb and had to dismount and race to the top. .

Once Alvarado was gone, Van Empel went up another level and there was no catching her before the line. She had plenty of time to celebrate as she crossed the line some 22 seconds ahead of Alvarado, with Vas stopping Betsema to take third place.

Ferrand-Prévot made up some positions in the closing laps of the race to eventually come home in seventh, while Vos finished ninth at 3:07 behind Van Empel.

Results powered by FirstCycling.com

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