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Cyclocross

Lucinda Brand shakes tenacious Fem van Empel at Superprestige Zolder

World champion shakes 19-year-old challenger after cagey final-lap battle.

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Lucinda Brand (Baloise Trek Lions) won for the third time in a row on the Heusden-Zolder circuit Monday, distancing Fem van Empel (Pauwels Sauzen-Bingoal) with a downhill move in the final minutes of the race.

Brand and van Empel had been locked together for the majority of the race, and Brand was relentless in attempting to shake her tenacious young rival through the final lap.

It was only in the final quarter-circuit that Brand was able to sneak the smallest advantage to take her 12th win of the season.

The victory further extends Brand’s lead in the Superprestige series, now seven points ahead of Denise Betsema (Pauwels Sauzen-Bingoal) with just one race remaining in Gavere mid-February.

Placing second continues van Empel’s impressive season after she took a breakout elite victory at the Val di Sole World Cup earlier this month.

The fast, technical circuit made for road-style racing, and the action saw mini-pelotons form throughout the course.

Brand, Blanka Vas (SD Worx), and Ceylin del Carmen Alvarado (Alpecin-Fenix) were all fast out of the gate. Vas led the strung-out bunch through the opening circuit before a small group including Brand and van Empel began to pull clear through lap two.

Brand took control through the middle of the race, upping the pace and pulling away with van Empel on her wheel, who had the advantage of having teammate Betsema in the chase group behind.

Brand crashed on a fast descent on lap four, but van Empel was unable to take advantage, and the two came back together at the front as a five-rider group chased around 10 seconds back.

The world champ was relentless in the final lap as she tried to shake her tenacious young rival before what looked likely to be a two-up sprint.

It was only in the final quarter lap when Brand was finally able to detach van Empel on the long fast descent in the back-half of the circuit, fending off the chase to win by just two seconds.

Annemarie Worst (777) led home the chasing group at 21 seconds.

Clara Honsinger (Cannondale Cyclocrossworld) and Marianne Vos (Jumbo-Visma) were not racing as they focus on World Cup races ahead of the Fayetteville worlds.