Fem van Empel of Visma | Lease a Bike claimed her first victory of 2024, conquering the X2O Trofee Baal on New Year’s Day. The world champion engaged in a protracted battle with Lucinda Brand, eventually asserting her dominance in the final lap of the race.
The event in Baal saw both Van Empel and Brand start strongly, with Van Empel initially leading into the field. However, Brand soon took the lead on the challenging, muddy course. The pair quickly established a significant gap from the rest of the field, leaving Sanne Cant, Ava Holmgren, and Clara Honsinger trailing by over a minute after the first lap.
The contest quickly focused on Van Empel and Brand, with Brand appearing to have the upper hand initially. She managed to create a small lead in the second lap, but Van Empel responded fiercely, rejoining and then attacking Brand. However, Brand neutralised this move, and the two riders entered the third lap together.
Despite a running fall by Van Empel that put her under pressure, she recovered and continued the tête-à-tête with Brand. Van Empel eventually made a decisive move in the fourth lap, establishing a gap that she extended to finish 25 seconds ahead of Brand. Ava Holmgren, the 18-year-old Canadian, finished an impressive third, her first podium in a cyclocross classification event.
Post-race, Van Empel expressed self-critical views despite her victory, noting a need for improvement in her technique and confidence. She also sustained a knee injury that required stitching, which she discovered during the interview. Despite these challenges, she was pleased to start the year with a win under her newly renamed team, Visma | Lease a Bike.
Brand, finishing second, reflected on her performance, noting the intensity of the race and her eagerness possibly leading to small errors. She acknowledged the need for faultless execution to win against a strong competitor like Van Empel.
The third-place finisher, Ava Holmgren, expressed her astonishment at achieving a podium position, highlighting the race’s difficulty due to the heavy mud. She also mentioned her twin sister, Isabella Holmgren, the junior world champion, predicting a quick return to top form for her sister. She became one of the youngest podium finishers in a major cyclocross in the process, with only Shirin van Anrooij being younger in the last 15 years or so. You have to go all the way back to a young Sanne Cant or Marianne Vos to find it done at such a young age. It’s all the more remarkable because it’s the Canadian’s first race for Lidl-Trek after officially joining the team on the same day.
GP Sveny Nys Baal 2024 Women result
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Main photo credit: Cor Vos