UCI Cyclocross World Cup: Van Empel in charge in Waterloo

An all-Dutch podium kicks off season opener.

Photo: SnowyMountain

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Fem Van Empel (Pauwels Sauzen-Bingoal) took home the first win of the 2022 UCI Cyclocross World Cup circuit Sunday in Waterloo, Wisconsin, after holding off a late charge from Ceylin del Carmen Alvarado (Alpecin-Deceuninck) to the line. Lucinda Brand (Baloise Trek Lions) took third, nine seconds back, after running out of steam in the closing moments of the final lap.

“In one word, ‘wow,'” Van Empel said. “I achieved my goal, and that’s amazing. I did everything according to plan, but the last lap was one big sprint. I think that’s the longest sprint I’ve ever done. The plan was to go the last half lap, but it was also Lucinda’s (Brand) plan, so it was a bit of a fight through the corner, but I’m very happy to take the victory.”

With temperatures in the low 60s (16 degrees Celsius) and partly sunny skies, the Waterloo course was extremely fast and dry, making the margin for error minimal as speeds remained high the entire 47 minutes of racing.

From the start, a group of four made an early separation, including Van Empel, Alverado, Denise Betsema (Pauwels Sauzen–Bingoal), Inge Van Der Heijden and Annemarie Worst (Team 777). It was only a matter of time before world champion Brand made her way up to the group of five.

The group stayed together until Denise Betsema moved to the front halfway through the race, with Van Empel, who took the front position, dropping down into third.

Sensing the group was too large, Alvarado made an all-in move as the penultimate lap started while Honsinger knocked on the door to bridge the gap. The attack completely shredded the group, and Van Empel and Brand were the only two riders who could stay in contention with Alvarado, but they had to work together to get across to the 2020 Dutch world champion. The duo caught Alvarado’s wheel with 20 minutes remaining, and Brand moved ahead before Betsema and Worst joined on.

Betsema made an attack on the final lap, to which Alvarado was the first to respond, but the move didn’t have enough power to split the five riders, who traded positions at the front for the majority of the race.

On the final lap, Alvarado advanced to the front of the group, but Brand attacked through the same corner Alvarado did previously, causing panic as the tension built. Van Empel caught her wheel, but Alvarado was in difficulty and couldn’t quite make the connection to the leaders until the final moments, when Van Empel and Brand began the fight for the front.

Brand cracked in the finale, but Van Empel stayed on the pace, while Alvarado found enough left in the tank to move into second and even challenge Van Empel for victory.

“I’m happy of course,” Alvarado said. “It’s my first podium of the season. It was a hard race from the start to the finish. I didn’t win the sprint, so a bit of a sad point there, but I lost to Fem (Van Empel) and that’s not a shame.”

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