Shirin van Anrooij (Baloise Trek Lions) mastered the sand to solo to victory at the Zonhoven World Cup. The Dutchwoman beat her compatriot Puck Pieterse (Alpecin-Deceuninck) by 37 seconds, while Fem van Empel (Jumbo-Visma) overcame early crashes to place third and retain the lead in the World Cup standings.
Fresh from her recent victory in Koksijde, Van Anrooij knew that the shifting sands beneath her wheels played to her strengths, and the 20-year-old delivered an assured performance to forge clear alone on the second of six laps to claim a resounding victory.
“It wasn’t easy, but I had a really good feeling and I just had control over the lap, I think,” Van Anrooij said. “I didn’t make any mistakes, so I could just ride my pace and I was just in a really good flow and the sand is so nice to ride through.”
While Van Anrooij was in total control throughout, Van Empel was forced to steady the ship after a disastrous start, and the World Cup leader can take heart from how well she recovered after two crashes on the opening lap all but ended her hopes of victory.
Van Empel had been the pace-setter at the very beginning, but she paid a price for that early enthusiasm on the downhill Kuil sandpit, where she came off the bike. That fall left Van Empel with significant ground to make up, as Van Anrooij and Pieterse forged clear. The duo built a lead of 20 seconds over Lucinda Brand (Trek Baloise Lions) at the end of lap one, while Van Empel was down in 7th at over half a minute.
On the second lap, Pieterse would also take a tumble in the sandpit, but Van Anrooij made it safely through, and she would press on alone for almost five laps to claim an assured victory. By the midway point, it was already clear that only a grave error or mechanical mishap could deny her.
“I did not expect it, but I knew it was possible,” Van Anrooij said. “After Koksijde, I knew I just had to trust in the sand and I knew that the power bits uphill, but I did not expect to go solo after the first lap.”
In turn, the suspense would be provided by Van Empel’s fightback and she looked to reduce her losses on Pieterse with just two rounds of the World Cup still to come. Van Empel first had Brand and Ceylin del Carmen Alvarado (Alpecin-Deceuninck) for company, but she eventually moved clear of her compatriots and set off in lone pursuit of Pieterse.
At the bell, Pieterse trailed Van Anrooij by 38 seconds, while Van Empel was a further 22 seconds back. The positions would remain unchanged to the finish and the time gaps barely moved either, as Van Anrooij won by 37 seconds from Pieterse and 58 from Van Empel.
Brand secured fourth place at 1:46, while Alvarado took fifth ahead of the 777 duo of Inge van der Heijden and Annemarie Worst. Blanka Kata Vas, eighth at 2:59, was the best non-Dutch rider on the day.
Next week’s national championships will be fiercely contested, but Van Anrooij admitted that she was already casting her mind forward to the World Championships in Hoogerheide, where she has yet to decide between competing at under-23 or elite level. Sunday’s triumph hasn’t made the choice any more straightforward.
“I think it’s actually just harder, but now I really want to maybe change to elite, while first I was almost 100% sure I wanted to stay under-23,” Van Anrooij said. “Even during the last bit of the race, I was thinking about it and how people were going to ask me about it again. But no, I’m still not sure. It will be a really hard decision.”
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