Fem van Empel and Michael Vanthourenhout with convincing victories at Exact Cross Kruibeke

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Fem van Empel Kruibeke 2022 (David Stockman)

The serious cyclocross season kicked off today with the Exact Cross Kruibeke. The first of the main season-long series to kick off, Exact Cross Kruibeke saw the strongest line-up we’ve seen at any cyclocross race so race in the young 2022/2023 season. The men’s race saw the likes of Eli Iserbyt and Michael Vanthourenhout square off against their former teammate, Laurens Sweeck. On the women’s side it was a chance to see Fem van Empel, recently confirmed as moving to Jumbo Visma, race against the likes of Denise Betsema and Annemarie Worst.

Women’s Exact Cross Kruibeke Report

The women’s race saw dryish conditions, certainly compared to what we’ll see later in the season. The odd patch of mud in the lower sections was the only sign of heavy going. Fem van Empel made use of a strong start to comfortably pull away from her rivals after an initial group of 8 formed. Denise Betsema had an uncharacteristic slow start, normally she likes to lead from the front and spent her race chasing back to the front. She was also best by shifting issues which left her back with Marie Schreiber and Sanne Cant behind the main group.

Once Worst changed bikes, Van Empel went clear solo and managed the gap which never came back down. Interestingly, we saw more women bunny hopping the barriers, something we tend to see the top riders do less of. Lucinda Brand rarely does it for instance. We can add the likes of Anna Kay to a list of young riders, that also includes Puck Pieterse, confident enough to show off their skills.

I do notice that I recover quickly, so I’m actually just as fresh here as before the start, I wanted to create a good starting position, especially with the steep climb at the beginning of the lap. It worked. I never really worried, I tried to save a bit in the beginning. Then Annemarie switched bikes. I just kept up the pace and in the end that was enough to keep increasing the lead. I didn’t have to give it everything today

I didn’t have many expectations. But of course you always hope that you can show something at your first race, and you have succeeded. So I think we started the season with confidence. Before the start I was actually quite unsure. I wondered how everyone had gotten through the summer period, also because I had a slightly different preparation for the mountain bike. It is always a matter of waiting to see.”

Fem van Empel

Exact Cross Kruibeke Women’s Result

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Michael Vanthourenhout

Men’s Exact Cross Kruibeke Report

A heavy downpour changed the way the course looked for the men’s race. Much more mud, including on the first technical corners meant we saw many more riders sliding out compared to the women. Almost surprisingly, it was Danny van Lierop of BHST Cycling Team who negotiated the early part of the race the quickest and led out the chasing Pauwels Sauzen – Bingoal pair before being overtaken. By the end of the first lap, it was the expected names at the front – Michael Vanthourenhout, Eli Iserbyt, Laurens Sweeck and Jens Adams.

“In the beginning I had a pretty good feeling, but when Laurens continued, I had a bit of a hard time. All in all I was able to ride in the wheels. Then Eli tried something and I felt that there was still something to it. I just kept going at my own pace. 

I had to go all the way. This is not a course that lends itself to saving yourself. It was full throttle from start to finish.”

Michael Vanthourenhout

New father, Lars van der Haar was always there or thereabouts too and when Iserbyt upped the pace, we were left with only a small group on the front. His teammate Vanthourenhout countered and managed to gain a handful of seconds, which Laurens Sweeck, the former teammate of both Vanthourenhout and Iserbyt was unable to close. With Iserbyt sticking to his wheel, it was all down to Sweeck to close the gap himself but he couldn’t. The gap held steady at around 20 seconds for a time but had increased to 45 seconds by the last lap with Sweeck resigned to not winning today. With the race win secure, Iserbyt kicked past Sweeck to ensure a 1-2 in the men’s race for Pauwels Sauzen – Bingoal.

“I’ve been struggling with my back, so I’m a bit behind until mid-July. In the summer I tried to make up for that, but we always have to wait and see how that pays off. So far the feeling is ok and my back is not bothering me, I am satisfied with that.

[Coming up is] the first World Cup Cross in America. That is not the big goal, but it is the moment when you really have to be there. Anyway, these slightly smaller crosses are also very nice to win and very nice to participate in the front. I am looking forward to next weekend, to Beringen.”

Eli Iserbyt

Exact Cross Kruibeke Men’s Result

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