Van Empel goes two-for-two in cyclo-cross World Cups with victory in Fayetteville

Fem van Empel (Pauwels Sauzen-Bingoal) powered from a lead group of three riders to win the second round of the UCI World Cup in Fayetteville, Arkansas on Sunday. Lucinda Brand (Baloise Trek Lions) finished second and Annemarie Worst (777) faded on the finishing straight to place third.  

Worst only saw the front of the race at the end of the race, leading the sprint before the final turns. Then Brand took a brief lead but Van Empel made the final pass for the victory on the pavement. For a second week in a row, the 20-year-old World Cup leader outsprinted Brand for the win.

“It was a surprise to me to win there. I am very happy to take the victory there. Today to win the race is the goal, we will see. It was a hard battle in Waterloo,” Van Empel said before the green flag dropped to start the race.

“Yeah, it's fantastic. We've gone to the US and take two victories,” Van Empel said at the finish. “My legs did not feel very great today, but I did everything to follow Lucinda [Brand] on the climb. So yeah, everything goes to my plan and I'm happy to finish it off.”

It was a warm and sunny day in the Ozark Mountains in north-west Arkansas, and overnight rains turned the dry and dusty course from Friday’s OZ Cross C1 contest into a more tacky surface.

Hélène Clauzel (AS Bike Racing) took the hole shot followed by Ceylin del Carmen Alvarado (Alpecin-Fenix), and the duo set the pace for the first half lap. Coming through the zig-zags past the pits and onto the giant climb of the Walmart Stairs, Denise Betsema (Pauwels Sauzen-Bingoal) rode at the front with a small gap to Inge van der Heijden (777). 

There were four chasers on the second lap who trailed by 15 seconds, Annemarie Worst (777), Lucinda Brand (Baloise Trek Lions), Clauzel and Fem van Empel (Pauwels Sauzen-Bingoal). Trying to catch on to the chase were Alvarado, who had dropped back due to an issue with her chain, and Clara Honsinger (EF Education-TIBCO-SVB). Alvarado used the second pass on the stairs to pass Clauzel.

It was a group of five Dutch riders - Betsema, Van Empel, Brand, Van der Heijden and Worst - amassed at the front to take on a third lap. By the time the quintet began the lap, Alvarado and Clauzel had latched onto the back of the bunch, Betsema setting the pace. A half of a lap later, Alvarado had to stop in the pits to change her bike for a second time, leaving a gap of almost 5-6 seconds from the leaders. 

While Alvarado was able to make a connection with the leaders on the fourth lap, Honsinger and Manon Bakker (Crelan-Fristads) trailed in eighth and ninth positions, respectively, 19 seconds back. At the front, Brand attacked on a long uphill climb on the dirt, Van Empel holding her back wheel, but a small gap forming for the duo with Betsema chasing solo in third.

On the fifth time around the circuit, Betsema made contact with Brand and Van Empel for a trio at the front, seven second ahead of the 777 pair of Worst and Van der Heijden. In the twisting section in the woods, Betsema appeared to drop her chain, which broke her momentum and once back on the bike she was back into chase mode again, this time with the 777 teammates.

There was just a six-second gap to the three chasers as Van Empel and Brand hit the penultimate lap, Clauzel 14 seconds back and Alvarado 16 seconds back. Van Empel attacked by riding over the barriers, immediately putting distance between her and Brand.

“The barriers, yeah, I did not do much on training. So, it was a bit of a risk. But when you  take no risk you can maybe not win,  so it was an all or nothing,” Van Empel stated.

But the former World Champion reeled her back.

It was a group of five Dutch riders who regrouped for the final lap, Brand charging at the front. Van Empel attacked on the technical section of the course, looking back to see that only Brand and Worst followed. The podium was set and the medals up for grabs.

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