Van Empel capped off a fantastic campaign by easily winning the elite women’s world title at the 2023 UCI Cyclocross World Championships in Hoogerheide, the Netherlands on Saturday. A Puck Pieterse crash on Lap 3 proved essential in the race. Van Empel, who had 13 victories and earned the World Cup in 2022-2023, was the world U23 champ in 2021. After a torrid start, Maghalie Rochette raced from 15th to 9th.
Hoogerheide is a World Cup standard, with an infamous off-camber section, a long staircase, a long uphill drag and a triple flyover. Mathieu van der Poel’s father Adrie built it. The first two races of the day revealed a greasy course.
Marianne Vos, who elected not to defend her title, had victories at Hoogerheide, as did Lucinda Brand, part of another powerful Dutch squad. Van Empel and Pieterse were heavily favoured, the third part of 2022-2023’s Youth Trio, Shirin van Anrooij, electing to try to add a U23 rainbow jersey to her 2020 junior stripes on Sunday. Only 30 riders were in the field.
Maghalie Rochette and Sidney McGill flew the Canadian flag.
Puck didn’t have a stellar start to Lap 1 and had to weave her way up the string. Van Empel was the engine of the train, with Silvia Persico second before more Dutch riders. After a foot coming off the pedal at the start, Rochette had sifted all the way down to 25th. It didn’t take van Empel long to go solo on the long uphill drag, but a slide out brought Persico and Pieterse closer. The big Dutch duo finished the first circuit together. Rochette had jumped up to 15th.
On Lap 2, Persico and Brand linked up with Van Empel and Pieterse. Rochette was 12th by the end of the second circuit, but Van Empel and Pieterse were off by themselves again.
Brand dropped Persico on Lap 3 of 7 and found the front again. Pieterse crashed and Van Empel avoided her prone form. Van Empel pulled away and was 14 seconds clear by the top of the long uphill drag. Rochette was at 13th and McGill at 25th.
Laps 4 and 5 saw van Empel continue to press on alone, Pieterse her closest pursuer, and Brand looking to hold off Ceylin del Carmen Alvarado and Persico for the final medal.
At the start of the penultimate lap, Rochette had popped up to 12th and McGill worked at 25th. Van Empel had half a minute’s lead. Rochette kept making her way through the others riders–Sara Casasola, Marion…
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