Dutch rider Fem van Empel confirmed that moving up to the Elites race instead of the U23 race she was entered in originally was the right call. She attacked and rode solo for most of the race and lived up to her top favourite billing. Winner by a comfortable margin, the 20-year-old took her first senior major championships in Namur. Behind her, former champion Ceylin del Carmen Alvarado kept Van Empel honest in 2nd, with Hungarian rider Blanka Vas in 3rd.
The course in Namur looked like one of the toughest we’ve seen this season, with plenty of tough obstacles and mud. That made gaps appear quickly from the first lap. Van Empel led with Blanka Vas able to go with her initially, Alvarado and Betsema having to chase together a little way off. Big names like Vos, Worst and Ferrand-Prévot had plenty to close already.
The race was potentially turned on its head on the 2nd lap by a mechanical for Van Empel. She was in line with the pits but had to run back not far off the full length to the entrance, before running down the pits to get a bike change. That put her back around 30 seconds and with work to do to overtake rivals. The now trio at the front pushed on, aware that their big rival was distanced. Van Empel put out the power to close the gap and launched a counter-attack that took her past Annemarie Worst and Sandra Casasola quickly.
It took until the start of the 4th lap (of 6) for Van Empel to regain the time she’d lost. She didn’t sit in and take a breather though, instead choosing to push on and put the pressure back on the other riders. Attacking the climbs saw Van Empel gap the rest, with Alvarado catching a little on some of the technical sections. Their gap was small for a long time but a mistake on the off-camber section saw it increase and break the back of the chase. With the gap at 15 seconds, Van Empel now had breathing room to ride onto the finish.
Van Empel celebrated over the finish line with a slightly rueful Alvarado behind her. Vas was a comfortable 3rd ahead of Denise Betsema and a great ride from the surprise of the day in Italian Sandra Casasola.
“I had a flat tire and after the switch the goal was to drive to the finish without regrets. I found a good pace again and I’m really happy that it worked out. I never thought I’d grab the sweater. It’s already my eighth win of the season. I can not believe it. It’s an iconic circuit. It was very slippery today, I like it. It really looks like a mountain bike course.”Fem van Empel
“Is this a surprise? Maybe for many people, but not for us. This was coming. I knew what I could do here, everything went well and I rode a good race. Until that slipper after that, but I couldn’t really control that. It was a beautiful day. It was quite a dry edition, but there was still enough sliding and there were enough technical sections to make the difference.
I also felt good. I didn’t realize at first that Fem was unlucky, but saw her running back into the post. I saw that something was wrong, but then I decided not to attack. It was still a long cross and you can meet here pretty quickly. I forced a few things here and there, but she came back. The match eventually turned into a duel between Van Empel and Alvarado.
We were the strongest women in the race and we made it a great battle. I don’t think I could have done anything else. The ascending sections suited her a bit better, the technical passages were for me. It was a bit of a cat and mouse game. We were evenly matched and both rode a good cross.”Ceylin del Carmen Alvarado
“This feels very good. It was a super tough and technical cross,” she told WielerFlits in front of the camera. “It was very tough mentally and physically. I like the descents and the technical passages, but the uphill sections were really tough. I didn’t feel very well uphill and didn’t have my best day.
Before the race, however, I only felt during the reconnaissance during the technical passages, but luckily that went well in the race. Then I thought for a moment about the win, but Fem was very strong. When she had material problems, I thought for a moment: this is my chance. She just quickly rejoined. She is currently racing at a different level.”Blanka Vas
2022 Cylocross European Championships Results
Results powered by FirstCycling.com