Puck Pieterse (Alpecin-Deceuninck) took her second World Cup victory in a row on Sunday after beating Fem van Empel (Pauwels Sauzen-Bingoal) and Shirin van Anrooij (Baloise Trek Lions) on the undulating and muddy course in Hulst.
After winning the first four races of the series, overall leader Fem van Empel is left still waiting for her next win after a crash in the third lap saw Pieterse ride away for the victory.
Having won in Overijse last Sunday, Pieterse has not finished off the podium so far this season and is closing in on Van Empel’s leader’s jersey.
“I got a lot of free seconds there,” Pieterse said of her rival’s crash. “From then on I just had to push really hard everywhere.”
“It was such a hard one with all the climbing, and I felt that Fem was stronger on that part. I got a bit lucky today with Fem’s crash, but otherwise it would have been a battle for first or second.”
Britain’s Zoe Bäckstedt (EF Education-TIBCO-SVB) sat out the Hulst World Cup after taking 11th in the Kortrijk X2O Trofee on Saturday.
HOW IT HAPPENED
Pieterse led for almost the entire race after having the strongest start from the front row, already in the lead going through the first corner. The young Dutch rider began to apply the pressure almost immediately, pushing ahead with only Van Empel and team mate Ceylin del Carmen Alvarado able to follow her.
The trio were already forging ahead of the field in the opening minutes of racing, and soon Pieterse was clear of Van Empel as she tackled the mud and inclines skillfully. The repeated ups and downs already made for a challenging course in Hulst, but the deep and loose mud made for an even harder race.
One off-camber descent proved particularly treacherous for much of the field, with the likes of Lucinda Brand, Yara Kastelijn and Sara Casasola among the list of riders to crash on the same corner.
By the end of the second lap, Pieterse was just eight seconds ahead of Van Empel, but the pair were over a minute ahead of Van Anrooij and Del Carmen Alvarado, who led the battle for third place. The uphill run-ups were a weak point for Del Carmen Alvarado, and soon it was Van Anrooij who took up position in third as her compatriot faded.
Halfway through the third lap, Van Empel managed to come round Pieterse to take the lead of the race, but her time in front was short lived after coming off on one of the many tricky downhills. Though the 20-year-old got up quickly, mechanical issues with the bike hindered her recovery as she battled problematic gears and more small mistakes on her way back to the pits.
With a new bike, Van Empel was still in the race, but had lost almost a minute to Pieterse and seemed somewhat unnerved by her crash. Clearly a difficult corner, Pieterse then came off at the same spot as Van Empel on the following lap, but came away with her bike relatively unscathed in comparison and conceded only a few seconds to the chasers.
Pieterse started the final lap with a 44 second advantage on Van Empel, who was a minute ahead of Van Anrooij in third. With a solid lead, Pieterse just needed to get through the last lap safely, though that proved a challenge on the tough course: she went down yet again on the descent that cost Van Empel the race.
However, her lead was big enough that the Alpecin-Deceunick rider was able to solo to the finish, taking her second World Cup victory in as many weekends. Van Empel took third, now three races without a win after a strong start to the season, and Van Anrooij held on for third.
Del Carmen Alvarado finished fourth after holding off an improving Lucinda Brand, who is coming back to form after a hand injury saw her sidelined for a chunk of the season.
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