Van Empel wins thrilling battle for victory in Benidorm
The first World Cup race on Spanish soil since Igorre in 2011, was absolutely Fem van Empel’s thing (Pauwels Sauzen-Bingoal). She beat compatriots Puck Pieterse (Alpecin-Deceuninck) and Shirin Van Anrooij (Baloise Trek Lions). This win secures Van Empel’s overall victory in the 2022-2023 UCI Cyclo-cross World Cup.
After a fast start from Schreiber, the favourites powered to the head of the race in the first lap. We saw a sizeable group of riders including van Empel, Pieterse, Van Anrooij, Persico, Worst, Vos and Brand, all keen to make this a fantastic battle.
Entering lap two, Van Anrooij (Baloise Trek Lions) took control with the aim of thinning out the extended peloton. Her brisk pace created a small gap that disappeared on the long climb. Van Empel was not happy and accelerated. She put pressure on the rest of the peloton, which resulted in two small slips by Brand and Pieterse respectively on the ensuing descent.
From lap three, we saw a breakaway of four riders, consisting of Dutch Van Empel, Pieterse, Van Anrooij and Italian Persico. Pieterse tested her legs and increased the pace. Van Anrooij did not immediately close the gap and left Persico to take over. Numbers three and four again entered the long descent slightly behind, but caught up just before entering the fourth lap.
In the background, we saw Annemarie Worst coming up some 15 seconds from the head of the race. However, she no longer played a significant role and had to settle for sixth place.
Four riders took a tactical approach by taking the best position bend after bend. Persico and Van Anrooij had already shown a minor weakness, but were able to work their way to the front again and again. On the penultimate lap, Van Anrooij rode another very fast descent to avoid getting left behind.
Van Anrooij did not hesitate and reclaimed the lead entering the final lap. With a quick passage in the loose sand, she stepped up the pressure some more. Would there be the same scenario as in the World Cup race in the Beekse Bergen or was it all to be decided on the long climb? Van Empel launched a powerful attack to tip the scales of the race, but not discounting a strong Pieterse who was just able to join the lead group.
Bend after bend the two swapped places. Side by side, shoulder to shoulder, the youngsters battled for victory. Taking such incredible risks, these gutsy players embarked on a long sprint. Van Empel had just that little bit more power in her legs, allowing her to cross the line as winner of the day’s race as well as the World Cup overall. Puck Pieterse finished second, with Shirin Van Anrooij completing the podium.