Cyclocross racers rang in the New Year at the muddy Sven Nys round X2O Trofee in Baal, Belgium on Monday. Ava Holmgren, clad in her new Lidl-Trek duds, had her best performance in Europe this season, surging clear of Sanne Cant and Clara Honsinger to claim the last podium spot after Fem van Empel and Lucinda Brand. Ava’s sister Isabella was ninth and Rafaelle Carrier was tenth. There were a dozen Canadians racing in Baal.
🇨🇦 Three young Canadian riders in the top 10 in the X2O Trofee in 🇧🇪 Baal. 🤯
🇨🇦 First podium for Ava Holmgren (18) in Belgium in her first year as U23, and first race for Lidl-Trek. 🇨🇦 Isabella Holmgren 9th and 🇨🇦 Rafaelle Carrier (16) – first year Junior – 10th. 👏 pic.twitter.com/PUGc3L4lus
— Cyclocross24.com (@cyclocross24) January 1, 2024
The Situation Before Monday
Although the World Cup and the Superprestige series are nearing their conclusions, there had only been three out of eight rounds of the X2O Trofee raced before Monday. Fem van Empel swept the first three rounds and held a commanding 5:39 lead over Denise Betsema and 5:46 over Lucinda Brand.
The Canadian contingent was huge: Ava Holmgren, Isabella Holmgren, Rafaelle Carrier, Nico Knoll, Lily Rose Marois, Christiane Bilodeau, Aislin Hallahan, Madeleine Pollack, Kaitlyn Walcroft, Maude Ruelland, Mary Fay St. Onge and Mia de Martin.
Van Empel immediately took the lead on Lap 1, with Brand on her wheel. Isabella Holmgren crashed with British rider Imogen Wolff, but sister Ava was in the chase group with veteran campaigner Sanne Cant, Betsema and American Clara Honsinger.
After one lap van Empel and Brand enjoyed a 1:15 gap back to Cant, Holmgren and Honsinger, the trio having split from Betsema and Brits Anna Kay and Wolff. Betsema’s ambitions were interrupted by a crash. Brand pushed clear of the world champion, but having to trot through the mire was in van Empel’s favour. After Lap 2 of 4, Holmgren was still in the podium race with the Belgian and the American.
Van Empel and Brand continued their mucky melee on Lap 3. Brand still held the day’s fastest lap time at 11:22. Cant, who won her first race of the season on Friday, almost biffed on the tricky washboard section. To the delight of Canadians fuzzily watching however they could, Holmgren pushed clear of her chase pals. Van Empel slipped in the mud, and Brand had a few seconds on her…