Fem van Empel comes from behind to take fifth Cyclocross World Cup victory of the season in Antwerp

The Dutchwoman extends her overall lead at the summit of the World Cup standings

Cyclocross Antwerp
(Image credit: Getty)

Fem van Empel (Pauwels Sauzen-Bingoal) overcame a challenging start to win her fifth Cyclocross World Cup race of the season on the banks of the Scheldt River in Antwerp

On a technical course, 20 year old Van Empel fell off her bike in a deep section of sand in the second lap of five, allowing Puck Pieterse (Alpecin-Deceuninck) to move into a decent-looking lead at the head of the race.

But Van Empel gradually clawed back the gap and once she took retook the lead on the third lap she never relinquished it, eventually winning by 34 seconds from Pieterse who had won the two most recent World Cup races. 

Shirin Van Anrooij - who was triumphant at the fifth round in Beekse Bergen - rounded off the podium in third place, finishing 1.12 back from Van Empel.

The win was Van Empel's fifth of the season, having also taken wins at Waterloo, Fayetteville, Tabor and Maasmechelen.

It means that, with six rounds remaining, the Dutchwoman has a lead at the top of the overall standings of 95 points to Pieterse; only a sequence of low-scoring results can seemingly get in her way of becoming champion.

Asked if she was the best rider on the day, Van Empel said: "Not the first part of the race but maybe the second.

"In the first part my hands were really cold so I was not good with my handlebars. But in the second part I felt good again, and I rode my own pace that was enough for the win."

It was clear from the grid start that both Van Empel and Pieterse were to be the main protagonists of the race yet again, the latter looking to make it a hat-trick of consecutive victories and immediately pulling clear.

Van Empel kept within 10 metres of her fellow compatriot and come the end of the first lap the duo were neck and neck, with Van Anrooij seven seconds in arrears.

The pair exchanged lead at the head of proceedings in the second lap, and just as looked like Van Anrooij was making up ground, she suffered an unfortunate incident in the sand that stalled her progress.

Up ahead, meanwhile, Pieterse stretched out a small advantage and that grew almost to 10 seconds when Van Empel was forced to climb off her bike and becoming entrenched in the deep sand. 

Yet Van Empel remained calm and unflustered, gradually working her way back to her main rival. The duo rode wheel to wheel for a good proportion of the third lap, but once Van Empel took the lead she remained there.

A seven second advantage became 15 seconds at the end of the fourth lap, and by the end she was comfortably the winner, the first time she has triumphed since the end of October, putting an end to three successive second places.

Racing moves away from the continent next week with a first-ever round taking place in Dublin, Ireland. 

Results: Cyclocross World Cup women's elite Antwerp

1. Fem van Empel (Ned) Pauwels Sauzen Bingoal in 49-10
2. Puck Pieterse (Ned) Alpecin-Deceuninck, at 34s
3. Shirin van Anrooij (Ned) Baloise Trek Lions, at 1-12
4. Denise Betsema (Ned) Pauwels Sauzen Bingoal, at 1-30
5. Inge van der Heijden (Ned) 777, at 1.45
6. Manon Bakker (Ned) Crelan-Fristads, at 2-14
7. Aniek van Alphen (Ned) 777, at 2-41
8. Laura Verdonschot (Bel), at 2.48
9. Marie Schreiber (Lux) Tormans Cyclo Cross Team, at 3-15
10. Sanne Cant (Bel) Crelan-Fristads, at 3-31.

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