The cyclocross season continues with the European Championships this weekend and all eyes turn towards the French town of Pontchâteau. Host to the eagerly awaited European Championship clash amongst the Elite Women riders this Saturday. A challenging course beckons, raising the question of who might come close to last year’s champion, Fem van Empel. The Dutch powerhouse has set the bar high and she stands as the undeniable favourite.
Update: Due to poor weather, the women’s race will now take part on Sunday 4th November at 1pm GMT
The history of the European Cyclocross Championships is dominated by the Dutch, with Fem van Empel’s triumph in 2022 following the likes of Lucinda Brand, Ceylin del Carmen Alvarado, and a string of victories by the Belgian Sanne Cant. Last year’s contest in Namur was a showcase of Van Empel’s superiority, finishing in 50m25s, a convincing lead over Alvarado and the Hungarian contender, Blanka Vas. The Hungarian unfortunately won’t be here this year after breaking her collarbone recently.
Pontchâteau presents a transformed landscape compared to the previous 2016 championships, where straight stretches and minimal turns characterised a course that leant towards a half-road race. This weekend’s course will offer no such straightforwardness. With numerous sharp turns added, the circuit promises to deliver a quintessential cyclocross experience. Nonetheless, power will be a critical component for success, given the numerous straights and elevation changes. Adding to the complexity is the inclement weather, which is set to convert the terrain into a gruelling mudfest. Men’s favourite Eli Iserbyt has described the course as “broad everywhere” and befitting of a championship.
The placement of the planks near the finish could prove pivotal, particularly on a challenging surface that favours the daring and technically adept.
2023 Women’s European Cyclocross Championship Participants
A list of the riders to take part can be found here.
2023 Women’s European Cyclocross Championship Favourites
Fem van Empel, whose season so far has been a relentless string of victories, is predicted to retain her European title, despite her youth and the pressures that come with it. Ceylin del Carmen Alvarado, meanwhile, has demonstrated the potential to challenge Van Empel, particularly after opting to rest during the recent heavy mud Koppenberg event, possibly giving her a freshness advantage.
The battle for third place is an open field, with a cadre of riders closely matched in capability. Annemarie Worst is anticipated to shine, based on her commendable season start and her knack for peaking at championships. Aniek van Alphen, celebrating a recent World Cup podium finish, and also the rest of the Dutch contingent, including Inge van der Heijden and Manon Bakker, are strong contenders, with Bakker especially keen to showcase her talents following recent setbacks.
International riders like Marion Norbert-Riberolle, Laura Verdonschot, Alicia Franck, and Sara Casasola also harbour aspirations for a top-5 finish, with Casasola having previously impressed with a fifth-place at last year’s European Championships. Britain’s Anna Kay, fresh from a third place at the Koppenbergcross. France’s Hélène Clauzel, and Spain’s Lucia Gonzalez Blanco complete the list of athletes to watch.
Fem Van Empel is the top favourite, with Alvarado and Worst most likely to round out the podium for me, followed by the likes of Van Alphen, Van der Heijden, and Bakker.
2023 Women’s European Cyclocross Championship Live Coverage
Broadcasting of the Women’s European Cyclo-Cross Championship will start from 1:00pm GMT on the online channels of Eurosport/Discovery+/GCN+.
Update: these timings may change due to the postponement of all planned Saturday races to Sunday