Fem van Empel got her season off with a bang in Sunday’s opening round of the 2023-2024 UCI Cyclocross World Cup on a challenging course in Waterloo, Wisconsin, USA. The Canadians had a fine outing, with Maghalie Rochette fourth, world junior champion Isabella Holmgren eighth and Sidney McGill 12th.
The Dutch aces were all there: World Cup, X2O Badkamers Trofee and World champion Fem van Empel; Puck Pieterse; Shirin van Anrooij, who won Friday’s muddy C2 race; and Superprestige champion Ceylin del Carmen Alvarado. Van Empel claimed the Waterloo round last year.
The Canadian contingent was world Junior and Canadian champion Isabella Holmgren starting in the second row, U23 Canadian champion Ava Holmgren, red-hot Rochette, Sidney McGill, Jenaya Francis and Siobhan Kelly. Ava was top Canadian in Waterloo last season.
After a false start, thirty riders sallied forth, with van Empel taking the hole shot, Zoe Backstedt on her wheel. Rochette and McGill were 3-4. Pieterse then moved into the lead. By the end of the first long uphill carry, Rochette was sixth and McGill eighth.
Van Empel reestablished her place at the front of the string and put some real estate between herself and Pieterse-Alvarado. Pieterse, the Dutch champion, found van Empel again. Manon Bakker started to mix with Alvarado and Backstedt. Van Empel made a little error on the planks that saw her rival get away from her. Van Empel, Pieterse and Alvarado crossed together. Rochette was sixth, McGill 9th and Isabella Holmgren was 10th.
On Lap 2 of 5 Pieterse fell on the steps and Fem van Empel pushed away. A gap also grew between Pieterse and Alvarado. Behind, Holmgren slipped past McGill into eighth. Ten seconds separated van Empel from Pieterse at the end of the second circuit. Rochette kept 6th and Isabella was 9th.
Lap 3 was where Rochette powered by Bakker into fifth and rode with Backstedt before dispatching the Brit. Alvarado was the same distance in arrears of Pieterse as Pieterse was of van Empel. Isabella finished the lap in eighth, McGill at 12th.
On the penultimate lap, Rochette kept Backstedt and Bakker at bay and looked for Alvarado. Pieterse didn’t make any inroads into van Empel’s gap, and Alvarado continued to fall behind the Dutch…