In the storm-battered European Cyclo-cross Championships in Pontchâteau, Fem van Empel delivered as expected, clinching the elite women’s European title. The Dutch powerhouse stormed away from the field in the opening lap and maintained a dominant solo ride to victory. Ceylin del Carmen Alvarado secured the runner-up spot, while Sara Casasola of Italy clinched an impressive third place.
Despite the adverse weather conditions, the championships proceeded with an action-packed Sunday, combining races initially scheduled for Saturday. The elite women’s race was keenly anticipated, with all eyes on world champion Fem van Empel. Unbeaten this season in cyclo-cross, Van Empel was the unequivocal favourite to take the title.
The Dutch riders made a formidable start, with Alvarado first to hit the field, trailed by Inge van der Heijden and Van Empel. The Netherlands quickly asserted their dominance with the top five positions early in the race. Van Empel, after a measured start, unleashed her pace seven minutes in, distancing herself from Alvarado and Van der Heijden.
Alvarado attempted to counter in the second lap, but Van Empel’s prowess on the power sections of the course was decisive, and the gap continued to grow. Van der Heijden joined Alvarado in pursuit, while Van Empel surged ahead, doubling her lead to over a minute and cruising through the final laps in control.
In the fight for third, Van der Heijden was joined by the emerging Italian force Casasola, who eventually pulled away in the latter half of the race. Van Empel wrapped up her impressive solo performance with ease, and after a gap, Alvarado crossed the line in second, while Casasola rounded off the podium places, slightly upsetting the Dutch dominance.
Despite her undisputed win, Van Empel admitted to a less-than-perfect start, reflecting on initial errors that made it tough to find her rhythm. Her attack plan on the first climbing stretch paid off, after which she steadily built her lead. Van Empel has now won all seven cyclo-cross races she has participated in this season.
The newly minted European champion is set to take a break, with her next appearance scheduled for the Urban Cross in Kortrijk on November 25. Citing the mental challenges of consistently entering races as the top favourite, Van Empel is looking forward to some much-needed rest days.
Van Empel’s victory reaffirmed her dominance, with Alvarado securing the silver medal, and Casasola’s bronze was a breakthrough, as she steps up in the cyclo-cross ranks. Meanwhile, Belgium’s Marion Norbert Riberolle staged a remarkable comeback to finish sixth, after trailing in the initial laps. The event underscored Van Empel’s unassailable form this season, with a performance that not only lived up to expectations but also added a European title to her impressive tally of victories.
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Main photo credit: BELGA