Van Empel forges on victorious with triumph at Tabor World Cup

A last-lap attack by Fem van Empel saw her charge clear to take her third successive victory of the cyclo-cross World Cup in Tabor.

The Pauwels Sauzen-Bingoal rider withstood last-lap attacks by Dutch rivals Puck Pieterse (Alpecin-Deceuninck) and Annemarie Worst (777) before hitting her riders with a blistering attack in the last minutes of the race and riding away.

Worst had tried to dominate the last lap but was closely followed by Pieterse and Van Empel with little to separate the leading riders.

Pieterse was the only rider able to jump the uphill hurdles on her bike but when her attack also failed to work Van Empel launched her successful bid for glory.

Pieterse had to settle for second at three seconds behind with Worst third.

Van Empel had won the first two races of the World Cup series in sprint finishes but on this occasion showed her power from a late attack, despite suffering from jetlag from the flight back from America to Europe.

“My legs didn’t feel that good today, the jetlag during this week meant I didn’t have too much sleep every night,” said Van Empel.

“All I could do was follow, on the last climb I did an attack and that was enough. I knew that Puck (Pieterse) could jump the barriers so it was a hard push to the barriers but I can follow a wheel also on the climb.”

The World Cup returns for the fourth of 14 rounds this season at Maasmechelen in Belgium next weekend, where Van Empel will look to continue her winning streak, after also winning in Waterloo and Fayetteville.

“Three World Cup wins - I never expected this,” added Van Empel.

“It’s a long season this year, maybe [I’ll get] some rest as well, but next week at Maasmechelen I will be there.”

How it unfolded

Fem Van Empel (Pauwels Sauzen - Bingoal) led the series after winning the opening two rounds in America with impressive sprints at Waterloo and Fayetteville.

The World Cup returned to Europe and Tabor but one rider who wasn’t on the start-line was last year’s overall series winner and European Champion Lucinda Brand (Baloise Trek Lions). 

The 33-year-old had finished on the podium in the opening two rounds but a crash while practicing on the Tabor course resulted in the star breaking her right hand. 

Brand said she needs an operation after sliding out on a corner and hitting a course marker. She will need 10 days off the bike before hoping to return later in the season. 

The Tabor course was dry and fast based on a testing climb with sweeping corners on the way down to the finish. 

Talented youngsters Puck Pieterse (Alpecin - Deceuninck), Blanka Kata Vas (Team SD Worx) and Shirin Van Anrooij (Baloise Trek Lions) didn’t make the trip to America but were present for the third round. 

Sprinting away on the asphalt start teenager Marie Schreiber (Tormans Cyclo Cross Team) was quickest out of the blocks taking an early lead while Denise Betsema (Pauwels Sauzen - Bingoal) got tangled on a short bank, losing time. 

Going into the uphill hurdles Pieterse showed her skill and was the only one of the favourites able to jump the barriers catching Schreiber and taking the lead. 

After the opening lap, a group of 10 riders remained at the front some 13 seconds ahead of a second chasing group. 

Van Anrooij came into the event after a long road racing season with Trek–Segafredo and put pressure on her opponents during the second lap. 

Although the surface of the course was hard, the corners were slippery resulting in Pieterse almost crashing while leading an expanded 13-rider leading group into the third of six laps. 

After suffering a mechanical in the last round Ceylin Del Carmen Alvarado (Alpecin-Deceuninck) had two minor crashes at the midway point and had to stop and correct her handlebars which had turned. 

At the front Pieterse attacked after 20 minutes of racing taking Van Empel and Annemarie Worst (777) with her and pulling out a 12-second gap on the chasing group. 

As the leading trio hesitated coming through the finish Vas used her power to close the gap along with Betsema and Alvarado to form a leading group of six riders. 

The Czech Republic course snaked around the Tabor countryside and Worst displayed her cornering skills, dropping her rivals only for Pieterse to jump the planks again and pull the race back together. 

Coming into the penultimate lap an easing of pace gave Van Anrooij a chance to bridge across to the leading group to compete for the victory.  

Vas was the first rider to mount an attack on the descent back down to the finish but the Hungarian rider was closely monitored by Van Empel as a leading group of seven riders came into the final lap together. 

The lead during the last lap kept changing with Worst the first to force the pace taking Pieterse and Van Empel clear again. 

Worst guarded her lead against an advancing Pieterse coming into the hurdles and despite the Alpecin–Deceuninck rider jumping the barriers she was unable to gap her rivals. 

On the fast corners Worst attacked again but was countered by Van Empel who, with her rivals under pressure, forced a winning gap. 

In her first World Cup event of the season, Pieterse finished second while Worst, the more experienced of the leading trio, finished third. 

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