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Fem van Empel crowns winter of dominance with cyclocross world title

Van Empel roars clear when season-long nemesis Puck Pieterse slides out midway through greasy Hoogerheide race.

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Fem van Empel rubber-stamped a winter of supremacy with solo victory at the cyclocross world championships.

The Duch powerhouse pressured rival and countrywoman Puck Pieterse into an error when they were elbow to elbow in lap four of seven, and rampaged away for a spectacular solo victory in front of huge home crowds.

Pieterse came wheelying across in second after a long lonely chase, with Lucinda Brand making an all-Dutch podium in Hoogerheide with third.

“It feels crazy, it’s an emotional victory,” Van Empel said at the line, “It’s the reward of a great season so far. I’m very happy. I had great people behind me, so thank you all for helping me.”

Van Empel follows in a well-worn groove of Dutch female world champions after the nation won the three previous rainbow jerseys with three different riders.

The 20-year-old also became the first Dutchwoman to win on home soil since Marianne Vos won on the same Hoogerheide circuit in 2014.

“The crowd was amazing, I never saw so many people at a race, so it was special for me,” Van Empel said.

“It was a battle with Puck, I think she crashed or fell so I went full gas …. it’s difficult to find the words. It’s emotional.”

Van Empel put a stranglehold over this winter that only Pieterse seemed able to break. She won 13 races in 21, dominated the World Cup rankings, and bettered the bunch at the European championships.

A rainbow jersey sees the 20-year-old complete the 2022-23 set.

Pieterse congratulates Van Empel after their seasonlong rivalry. (Photo: Getty Images)

Saturday’s race was touted a likely battle between the 20-year-old phenoms Van Empel and Pieterse, and that’s how it started.

Van Empel got a gap within minutes after Pieterse saw her start torpedoed by her foot slipping on the greasy tarmac. Pieterse wasted no time and came roaring through the pack to bridge back to her season-long rival within a lap.

Silvia Persico (Italy) and Brand joined the two supertalents for one circuit but couldn’t live with the pace and were soon left chasing close behind.

Persico was then dropped by Brand in the third lap as the 2021 world champ went in pursuit as her two compatriots went wheel-to-wheel through the first half of the race.

Van Empel’s massive raw power saw her crush the longer climbs over the greasy Hoogerheide surface, while the technically-adept Pieterse got the advantage on the rutted downhills and over the towering 40cm barriers.

It wasn’t until Van Empel forced Pieterse to follow through a slippery corner on lap four that the two could be separated. Pieterse slid out as she struggled to find her line, leaving Van Empel to blast clear and soon grab a dozen seconds.

Pieterse went off in hot solo pursuit after her error, but Van Empel was inch-perfect as she rode toward her rainbow jersey.

Van Empel came to the close of the final circuit and was able to take the time to relish the moment and high-five spectators before crossing the line 39 seconds ahead of Pieterse.

Brand finished third to ensure an all-Dutch podium as the white and orange jerseys flooded the top-8 positions. Sole disruptor Persico finished fourth.

U.S. champion Clara Honsinger had a horror start and never made it toward the front of the race, finishing 16th.

The coming months will see Van Empel join multi-discipline megastar Vos at Jumbo-Visma as she expands her horizon deep into the road. Expect big things.