Fem van Empel beat her rival Puck Pieterse in a two-up sprint in Sunday’s penultimate round of the 2023-2024 UCI Cross World Cup on a dry, fast, rocky course in Benidorm, Spain. It was the world champion’s fourth victory of the 2023-2024 series. Having fought hard for most of the race, third place Ceylin del Carmen Alvarado locked down her first World Cup title after two Superprestige titles and the 2019-2020 X2O Badkamers (DVV) Trofee. The top Canadian was Maghalie Rochette in 15th.
The Situation Before Sunday
With three rounds tallied this season, Ceylin del Carmen Alvarado held a 52-point lead over Puck Pieterse going into the Spanish race. The Big Four of the season–Alvarado, Pieterse, Fem van Empel and Lucinda Brand–were all accounted for.
The Canadian contingent was Maghalie Rochette, Sidney McGill and Katelyn Walcroft.
On Lap 1 Van Empel immediately took the front with Pieterse on her six. Series leader Alvarado kept a close eye on them. Pieterse took over the front on the long drag in the middle of the circuit. Van Empel, Pieterse and Alvarado lost the rest of the string. There were gaps between the three of them when they completed the first lap, Pieterse in the lead. McGill was 19th.
New Dutch national champion Brand led the handful of closest chasers at the start of Lap 2 of 7. Van Empel and Alvarado found Pieterse again. Rochette was up to 18th and McGill raced in 22nd.
Alvarado clung on tenaciously on Lap 3. Brand had chase buddies in Sara Casasola and Kara Blanka Vas. Alvarado’s chain dropped before the long climb, and her compatriots beat on without her nine seconds ahead. Pieterse kept on jumping the planks. Rochette had hopped up two positions to 16th.
Alvarado toiled to catch up on the middle lap, but it was a hard ask. Finally on Lap 5 Alvarado made the junction, but had she worked too hard? Brand started to lag in the chase. Alvarado couldn’t keep up on the long climb and was 10 seconds in arrears at the line. Rochette was still 16th. McGill had tumbled to 30th.
Alvarado kept fighting on the penultimate lap. There was little to separate Pieterse and van Empel as the race headed to its conclusion. Impressively, Alvarado linked up again, stretching her back in anticipation of the final skirmishes.
Alvarado grabbed the reins going into the bell lap, but van Empel yanked them away. On the long climb Pieterse accelerated, van…