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Cyclocross

Cyclocross World Cup: Shirin van Anrooij pips Fem van Empel

Shirin van Anrooij wins her first career World Cup race with well-timed late-race attack to fend off favored Fem van Empel.

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It appeared there was no stopping Fem van Empel in the cyclocross World Cup, but Shirin van Anrooij didn’t receive the memo.

Van Anrooij powered through the final sand sector, and Van Empel was not closing things down as easier as she was earlier in Sunday’s World Cup stop at Beekse Bergen.

Van Anrooij, the best young rider at the Tour de France Femmes, hit the final pavement sector with just enough to fend off Van Empel to win her first career World Cup victory. Puck Pieterse finished third.

“I didn’t make any mistakes and I raced full-gas on the final lap,” Van Anrooij said. “I never won a big race in cyclocross before, so to win a World Cup is amazing. I was dreaming of getting on a podium this season, and now I win. It’s something very important for me to gain more confidence. It’s a big boost for the next weeks.”

Van Anrooij attacked coming through on the bell lap with the race still tightly wound at Beekse Bergen, and was determined to make things difficult.

Van Empel and Puck Pieterse followed a few seconds back, with Marianne Vos and Ceylin del Carmen Alvarado chasing a handful of seconds back. It was a top-5 Dutch duel going into the final throes of the race.

Van Empel started Sunday’s fifth World Cup with a big lead in the standings, and had the chance to match Katie Compton and Daphny van den Brand as the only female riders to win five World Cups in a row.

Van Empel, who’s won eight of her first nine races so far this season, was on everyone’s radar.

Van Anrooij played it patient and opened a five-second gap nearing the midway point with her race-winning attack on the final lap, and it came down to who could carry power through the string of technical corners and obstacles in the finale.

“It would have been nice to win again, my reaction was a bit too late. I was hoping for the sprint, and we came very close in the end,” Van Empel said. “Shirin was very fast in the last round, I am happy with second.”

Van Empel might not have won, but she easily retained her World Cup lead.

Timing the attack perfectly

Shirin van Anrooij won her first World Cup on Sunday. (Photo: Luc Claessen/Getty Images)

Sunday’s race at Beekse Bergen was the first time the World Cup was contested on the Dutch course. A similar layout was used for the 2013 Dutch national championships, but with a mix of grass, tight cornering, some sand and grippy sections, along with some man-made obstacles, the course presented a tightly wound backdrop for the fifth round of the 2022-23 World Cup.

As expected for the Netherlands, there was almost no significant elevation. Under cool temperatures, sunny skies, and little wind, the technical, fast, mostly dry course provided a test of course and the ability to make short accelerations.

Midway through the six-lap race, Van Empel, and Alpecin-Deceuninck’s Puck Pieterse and Ceylin del Carmen Alvarado opened a small gap to the chasers.

Rising star Pieterse pushed hard to open a gap, with Carmen Alvarado marking Van Empel’s wheel. There was a group of six still within 10 seconds of each other with two laps to race.

The recently crowned U23 European champion kept pushing at the front in lap 4, with Van Empel holding back ever so slightly. Carmen Alvarado crossed her front wheel on a run on a tight right-hander and lost a few positions, leaving Van Empel alone to chase down Pieterse. Clara Honsinger was hanging in the top-15 at about a minute and a half back.

Van Empel closed the gap to Pieterse to go into the closing two laps, with Van Anrooij, the best young rider at the Tour de France Femmes, slotting into third, and Marianne Vos and Carmen Alvarado chasing in fourth and fifth at 15 seconds back.

Van Anrooij saved her best lap for her last, and powered clear at the bell to carry her slender gap all the way to the line for a breakout victory.