Fem van Empel has passed the final test for the upcoming world championship cyclocross with flying colours. After her victory in Hamme, the Dutchwoman also proved to be the strongest in Hoogerheide, to gain confidence for her goal of a second world title. On her home track, she held off the last remaining competitors on the final lap.
The Hoogerheide course is holy ground for Van Empel. It was there that the 21-year-old Visma | Lease a Bike rider raced solo to her first world cross-country title in 2023. Van Empel is hoping to repeat the feat in the Czech town of Tabor next weekend.
Van Empel got off to a flying start. Together with Lucinda Brand, she rode in the lead throughout the race. Hungarian Blanka Vas joined them in the final stages. On the final stair section, Van Empel set a fast pace uphill and rocketed across the line, leaving the competition empty-handed.
“This gives me a lot of confidence for next week”, Van Empel said. “I felt good today on a course I have fond memories of. It was fantastic to come back here in the rainbow jersey. The competition was also solid today. We had a good fight. On the last lap, I had a little bit of power left and was able to accelerate. This gives me confidence for next weekend.”
Van Empel hopes to crown her fantastic cyclocross season in the Czech Republic. “I have worked hard this season. The results have been great, with seventeen cyclocross wins. The most important race is next week. I am aiming for a second world title. I’m confident in my abilities, so I’m attending the world championships in good spirits. Today’s good performance has certainly contributed to that.”
Blanka Kata Vas also demonstrated in Hoogerheide that she is ready for the cyclocross world championships with a rock-solid performance. The 22-year-old Hungarian rider from Team SD Worx-Protime competed with Fem van Empel and Lucinda Brand for the victory, eventually claiming a handsome second place. “This feels like a victory for me. I am very happy with my performance. The good form comes just in time,” said Blanka Vas. “I hope I can fight for the podium in Tábor as well.”
The Hungarian top talent, Vas, took second in this final round of the World Cup despite an immediate catch-up race after not the best start from the third row. “I panicked for a moment,” she admitted, “but told myself to still stay as calm as possible and make my way to the front. Slowly but surely, I moved up until I was suddenly in front. That came as a bit of a surprise, but I realised I had a chance to win. I was able to follow when Lucinda Brand and Fem van Empel accelerated in turn. I parried their attacks and stuck to their wheel. For the last stairs, I tried my own luck with an attack, but Fem was very strong. In the end she still won with a big difference at the end, but at least I tried.”
With one more week until the world championships in Tábor, the good form seems to be back just in time. “This second place is really gratifying. I had a super feeling during the race. After my broken collarbone, it took me a while to get back into the race rhythm. But the form is back. I hope I can continue this trend in Tabor. It will be special anyway. This world championship takes place close to my home country. My family and a lot of fans are coming to watch. Hopefully I can cross at the front again and fight along for the podium.”
Marie Schreiber finished fifth in the elite category in Hoogerheide, to take second place in the U23 category. “This was a really fun race, one of the nicest of the season. I was constantly close to the battle at the front. I also felt really good. On the last lap I blew myself up a bit, but I keep a good feeling from this race. At one point Blanka Vas and I found each other. It was nice to be able to do teamwork for her and help her get back all the way to the front.”
“This was a good preparation for the world championships. I don’t want to get too deep into what I hope to achieve in Tábor yet. I don’t want to put pressure on myself, but of course I always go with the attitude to get the highest possible out of it. I’m sad that the cyclocross season is almost over. I rode a lot of races and overall this was really a successful season. Hopefully I can finish in Tábor with a nice performance.”