Fem van Empel (Jumbo-Visma) defended her victory from last year in Waterloo, once again winning the opening round of the 2023-2024 UCI Cyclocross World Cup in Wisconsin on Sunday.
The cyclocross world champion brought her top form into the cyclocross season, fresh off her first road season racing on the Women’s WorldTour, and dominated the five-lap race from start to finish.
Van Empel, who only briefly lost the race lead once on the opening lap to Puck Pieterse (Fenix-Alpecin), crossed the finish line and took the win by 36 seconds ahead of her compatriot.
Former world champion Ceylin del Carmen Alvarado (Alpecin-Deceuninck), also from the Netherlands, finished in third place at 1:51 back, to complete an all-Dutch podium.
How it unfolded
A false start saw Fem van Empel (Jumbo-Visma) and Puck Pieterse (Fenix-Alpecin) blast off the start line only to have to turn around and line up again on the front row.
When the race officially began, Van Empel led the field onto the grass, followed by former world champion Ceylin del Carmen Alvarado (Alpecin-Deceuninck) and Pieterse, and then slightly further back, Zoe Backstedt (Canyon-SRAM), and Manon Bakker (Crelan-Corendon).
Although the sun was shining, the riders raced under cooler temperatures on a damp course due to overnight rain that caused the mud to thicken along the trickier section and run-ups.
By the end of the first lap, Pieterse moved into the lead, overtaking Van Empel over the barriers and leading the trio, which included Alvarado, into the second lap.
Van Empel appeared to be strongest on the steep run-up, moving back into the race lead and forcing Pieterse and Alvarado to spend energy to close the small gap to the world champion.
Pieterse and Alvarado were also forced to dismount on one of the trickier muddy sections, causing them both to lose group as Van Empel who pushed her lead out to nine seconds.
By the start of the third lap, Van Empel, who made almost no mistakes along the course, built her lead out to more than 20 seconds.
And a lap later, the penultimate lap, there were only three riders within a minute of her, with Pieterse racing in second position, Alvarado in third and Maghalie Rochette (Canyon Collective) moving into fourth as Backstedt drifted back into fifth position.
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