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Fem van Empel came out the strongest of three Dutchwomen to take the U23 cyclocross world title Sunday.
Van Empel, 18, dashed away from a lead quartet on the sandy section of the final lap in Ostende to take victory in her first year as an Under-23, with compatriot Aniek van Alphen taking second.
Last year, van Empel finished fifth at the junior worlds and has been riding the past season with the elites for team Pauwels Sauzen-Bingoal.
The Hungarian Blanka Vas was able to better Inge van der Heijden (Netherlands) at the close of the final lap to take third place having been outnumbered by Dutch riders through much of the race.
Boulder-native Madigan Munro took 11th having been caught behind a crash on the opening lap that also held up pre-race favorite Manon Bakker (Netherlands).
Van Empel, van der Heijden, van Alphen and Vas were all able to dodge the pile-up that delayed Munro and Bakker to emerge in a large lead group. Van der Heijden peeled off the front in the middle of the first lap and soon had a sizable lead as a chase trio of van Empel, van Alphen and Vas formed behind.
Van der Heijden looked to be riding away to victory as the pursuit faltered behind her. The two Dutchwomen put the pressure on Vas to chase, who initially failed to cooperate, so allowing the gap to grow. The Hungarian eventually took the responsibility to bridge herself, pulling the front four back together midway through lap 3.
Heading into the fourth and final lap, the Dutch trio worked the textbook attack-and-counterattack to squeeze Vas. Van Alphen was first to accelerate and when Vas closed down the move, van Empel countered to gain a slim lead.
Once in the lead, van Empel consolidated her advantage thanks to quick feet in the sand. Meanwhile, Vas took a wide line in a gamble that backfired, leaving her in third, several seconds back on the leader.
Van Empel led teammate van Alphen through the back half of the final circuit to take a breakout victory while Vas and van der Heijden battled for bronze behind. Vas upped the pace in the closing minutes to distance van der Heijden and take bronze, disrupting another day of Dutch dominance.
- Fem van Empel (Netherlands): 36:59
- Aniek van Alphen (Netherlands): +03
- Blanka Vas (Hungary): +09