‘Excruciatingly strong wind’ ensures a packed European Cyclo-Cross Championships with Van Empel as top favourite


NOS Cyclingtoday, 10:00

  • Jeroen Koster

    commentator at the European Cyclocross Championships

  • Jeroen Koster

    commentator at the European Cyclocross Championships

Storm or not, Van Empel remains top favorite: ‘Let’s hope for the best’

World champion Fem van Empel can see the high waves from the window of her hotel room on the Boulevard des Océanides. “The wind is blowing terribly hard,” the cyclocross rider concludes dryly.

Apart from the high waves, it is difficult to imagine in the French coastal town of La Baule-Escoublac that the women’s race at the European Cyclocross Championships has been postponed to Sunday due to the extreme weather. It is 14 degrees and the sun shows itself every now and then between rain showers. But the authorities are taking no chances with the tail of Storm Ciarán, which is blowing over the French west coast.

Van Empel, who is defending her European title, is cool about it. “I had just finished exploring the course for five minutes yesterday when I heard it. It’s a pity, but I have no influence on it, so I try to worry about it as little as possible.”

Forbidden to drive

From the hotel it is about half an hour inland towards Pontchâteau. Rain and wind there too, but much less. There is no rider in sight. The authorities have banned any activity on the course for Saturday.

National coach Gerben de Knegt shows understanding: “There was supposed to be 45 millimeters of rain today. That has not happened yet, but there are still many gusts of strong wind. I think it was a good decision.”

The men and women have the least to complain about the new schedule. De Knegt is also national coach of the juniors and promises (under 23). Because everything is now crammed into one day, they have to arrive at 8 a.m. today. “The alarm is set at 5:45 am and at 6:00 am the mechanics are already heading to the course with tents, bicycles and wheels.”

National coach Gerben de Knegt between his mixed relay team, which became world champion in Hoogerheide. Fem van Empel (right) films the scene.

Most riders ride on the roller bench in the hotel. Van Empel suddenly has an extra day to recover from last Wednesday’s tough Koppenbergcross.

The Brabant woman has been lagging behind the competition for weeks and won all six races she competed. She tolerates the day’s delay without any problems. Yet this is new for her, because a cyclo-cross race that cannot take place due to extreme weather almost never happens.

The UCI regulations have the small article ‘cancellation’. It talks about “strong wind, heavy snowfall and temperatures lower than -15 degrees”. However, the local government is usually decisive.

For example, in 2016 the World Cup competition in Koksijde was suddenly canceled a few hours before the start. The mayor of the Flemish coastal municipalities felt that safety was at risk due to the strong storm. The drivers didn’t understand it much.

One-day World Cup

And ten years ago, all categories were forced to be completed in one day at the world championships. Not a day later, as in Pontchateau, but remarkably enough a day earlier.

The World Championships were held in Louisville, Kentucky, at the time. The course was located on the banks of the Ohio River and due to heavy rainfall upstream, authorities knew that half the course would be flooded on Sunday.

Fem van Empel emerges as the winner on top of the Koppenberg.

Everything was done in a hurry on Saturday. It was a historic day for Dutch cyclo-cross with world titles for Mathieu van der Poel (juniors), Mike Teunissen (promises) and Marianne Vos (women). Lars van der Haar won bronze among the men. De Knegt with a broad smile: “Things went very well then.”

Van Empel was then still a 10-year-old fanatic football player from the RKSV Sint-Michielsgestel. In addition, she had just started cycling. Today the 21-year-old from Brabant is the sky-high favorite. “I’m here for a reason. I’m looking forward to today.”

Fem van Empel has dominated cyclo-cross since she switched to the pros.

The fact that Puck Pieterse and Shirin van Anrooij have taken a break will make the battle much less exciting. And the absence of eight-time world champion Marianne Vos, Lucinda Brand (the best in 2021 and six times on the podium) and the Hungarian Blanka Kata Vas due to injuries does not help either. De Knegt: “Fem’s shape is fine, but she also has to ride first.”

The article is in Dutch

Tags: Excruciatingly strong wind ensures packed European CycloCross Championships Van Empel top favourite


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