NOS Cycling•today, 3:23 PM
Unapproachable Van Empel extends cyclo-cross world title, Brand and Pieterse on podium
Fem van Empel has extended her cyclo-cross world title in Tábor, Czech Republic. On the tough, muddy course in South Bohemia, the 21-year-old from Brabant was far too strong for her competition.
Lucinda Brand came second at almost a minute and a half, Puck Pieterse came third at almost two minutes. It is the fourth all-Dutch podium in the last five editions.
It was already certain in advance that the women’s world title would go to the Netherlands for the fifth consecutive year. Of the possible foreign competitors, only the Italian Sara Casasola was present.
Zoë Backstedt, Kristyna Zemanova and Marie Schreiber will be in action on Sunday at the World Cup for U23s and Blanka Kata Vas – who was still strong in Hoogerheide last week – had to withdraw due to illness.
Three Dutch former world champions fought from the start to be the first to enter the field. Ceylin del Carmen Alvarado (world champion in 2020) was the first to start despite her back problems, followed by defending defender Van Empel and Lucinda Brand (world champion in 2021, who is still struggling with a broken nose). Puck Pieterse, the fourth Dutch favorite, also did not have perfect preparation due to illness.
Van Empel had no such worries, looked fresh, took off after a few hundred meters and after one lap already had a sixteen second lead over Brand and Pieterse. Alvarado, who already gave in 39 seconds, was able to put away her dream of a new rainbow jersey after one lap.
Van Empel stoically plowed through the muddy top layer, using her strong running technique. In the meantime, the technically superior Pieterse only saw her deficit increase, partly due to the fact that even she could not jump over the forty centimeter high beams that had been placed on a boggy slope on her bike.
While Van Empel continued to advance, the tension was in the battle for silver. For three laps the battle was between Pieterse and Brand, but in the third of the four laps Brand distanced himself and that battle was also decided.
In the background, Alvarado toiled on fourth place and also came into contact with the kick. For Van Empel, the fourth and final round felt like a lap of honor. She rode to victory unthreatened and was able to clench her fist and celebrate the victory long before the finish.
Behind unlucky Alvarado, Belgian Laura Verdonschat finished fifth, just ahead of Casasola. Sanne Cant, the last non-Dutch world champion (in 2017, 2018 and 2019), finished 14th in the last race of her impressive career.
Del Grosso U23 World Champion
Earlier on Saturday, Tibor Del Grosso took the world title among the promises. The 20-year-old Drent, second behind Thibau Nys last year in Hoogerheide, was considered the favorite in advance and, like Van Empel, rode alone in the lead for most of the race.
In less than half a minute, Belgian Emiel Verstrynge won the sprint for silver from his compatriot Jente Michiels.
Dutchman Del Grosso takes World Cup title promises: ‘Wants to get as close to Mathieu as possible’
Pim Ronhaar was the last Dutch world champion among the promises in 2021. Ryan Kamp, Joris Nieuwenhuis, Lars van der Haar, Lars Boom and Thijs Verhagen preceded him.
Mathieu van der Poel, remarkably enough, never became world champion in the under-23 category. His best performance was third place in 2014 in his own Hoogerheide.
Yet Van der Poel is the great inspiration for Del Grosso, who now rides for the Alpecin-Deceuninck training team. “I hope to one day get close to Mathieu. But that is still a long way away.”