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Fem van Empel scores second elite World Cup victory in Flamanville

Young talents fill the podium in absence of a swathe of top racers as van Empel outsprints Puck Pieterse.

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Fem van Empel (Pauwels Sauzen Bingoal) won the penultimate round of the UCI cyclocross World Cup in Flamanville, France after a tense duel with Puck Pieterse (Alpecin-Fenix).

With many of the elite women not taking part, van Empel and Pieterse showed why they are two of the most exciting talents in women’s cyclocross. Kata Blanka Vas (SD Worx) finished third at 23 seconds.

The venue was the picturesque parkland surrounding the 17th-century Flamanville Castle in Normandy, less than a kilometer from the English Channel.

Using forest tracks and broad sections of grassland, the 2.9km course was fast, though with some slippery surfaces and tricky ruts on the corners that could catch riders out. There was minimal elevation change so the only serious running section were the stairs leading up onto a flyover bridge.

The start list for this round was thinner than any other round this season.

Notable non-starters were Lucinda Brand (Trek Baloise Lions), Marianne Vos (Jumbo-Visma), Annemarie Worst (777), Ceylin del Carmen Alvarado (Alpecin Fenix) and Shirin van Anrooij (Trek Baloise Lions).

Dutch coach Gerben de Knegt chose not to select these riders to protect their final training time before worlds and to avoid traveling to another country.

Denise Betsema was originally intending to ride but pulled out on Friday, citing fatigue from the intense festive racing. Betsema’s withdrawal means that Lucinda Brand has won the overall World Cup, with 402 points to Betsema’s 343 points. Pieterse is also secure in third place with 295 points.

Inge van der Heijden (777) got the holeshot and led the race into the first lap, followed by Eva Lechner (FAS Airport Services). Seeing that Vas didn’t get a good start, van Empel wasted no time putting on the pressure. Pieterse was alert to the danger and quickly jumped across to her friend and rival. The two riders – who shared a hotel room for the trip – didn’t seem fully committed to the attack and by the end of the first lap Vas had bridged across to them.

Pieterse, however, didn’t want to ride in a group. At the start of the next lap she attacked hard. Vas, struggling with traction in the corners, was dropped. Van Empel rode tenaciously to come back to Pieterse’s back wheel.

In the second half of the race Van Empel and Pieterse swapped the lead between them, testing the limits of the course and hoping to push the other into a mistake.

In the final lap Pieterse attacked on a grassy uphill section but van Empel was equal to it.

Van Empel led through the final technical sections. As the pair dropped onto the tarmac, curving around the castle walls, Pieterse jumped, knowing that the finishing straight was short. But van Empel had it all under control. She got down into the drops, powered up her sprint and swept past Pieterse in the final twenty meters to claim her second World Cup victory after winning in the snow of Val di Sole.

Pieterse was disappointed not to secure her first elite World Cup win but acknowledged that van Empel won fairly.

“The finish line came a bit too late for me. Fem came over really strong and she deserved it,” Pieterse said.

“In the beginning Puck was stronger and it was really hard to come back. I am very happy to take my second victory in the World Cup. I never expected it before the season. Yesterday me and Puck shared a hotel room and we made a plan for today.”

Top-5, Flamanville:

1 Fem van Empel (Pauwels Sauzen Bingoal): 53.39
2 Puck Pieterse (Alpecin Fenix): S.T.
3 Kata Blanka Vas (SD Worx): +0.23
4 Inge van der Heijden (777): +1.29
5 Silvia Persico (FAS Airport Services): +1.33