UCI Cyclo-cross World Championships: Van Empel’s greatness

Victory second year running

Fem van Empel claimed a dominant and historic victory on the second day of the 2024 UCI Cyclo-cross World Championships, also marked by the successes of Célia Gery (Women Junior) and Tibor Del Grosso (Men Under 23).

Women Elite: Van Empel rides into the legend

At 21 years old, Fem van Empel is already a two-time Women Elite UCI Cyclo-cross World Champion. She is the youngest to claim two Elite crowns after her stellar performance in Tábor, Czechia, today (Saturday), soloing her way to the rainbow jersey ahead of Dutch teammates Lucinda Brand and Puck Pieterse.

“I did everything for this race, the whole season,” rejoiced the winner after her 18th victory of the season (out of 20 races). “It’s just the cherry on the cake after a pretty good season. It’s a special day today. Everything needs to be in the right place at the right moment and it went so well today. I’m super happy.”

Van Empel took a flying start to open a 15’’ gap to Brand and Pieterse as early as the first lap, while another Dutch contender, Ceylin Alvarado, saw the battle for the podium slip away. The tone was set, with Oranje stars at the front, and the brightest of them giving an absolute masterclass.

Pieterse tried to resist but the gap kept growing and the chaser faltered in the third lap, dropping 45 more seconds on Van Empel while Brand moved up to second position, albeit more than a minute behind the leader.

Impressive physically and technically, Van Empel triumphed after 46’19’’ of effort. Brand was also delighted when she crossed the line 1’20’’ behind - she’s been on the podium of every edition since 2018 (1 gold, 3 silvers, 3 bronzes). Pieterse’s bronze (+1’54’’) is her second medal in the Elite class, after silver in 2023.

Alvarado pursued the Dutch dominance with 4th place (+2’37’’), ahead of Belgium’s Laura Verdonschot.

Men Under 23: Del Grosso’s dream comes true

Tibor Del Grosso made it look easy as he flew away from his competition, en route to glory and the rainbow jersey a year after taking silver in the same category behind Thibau Nys (BEL). But “no, it definitely wasn’t easy,” the young Dutchman assured, moments after completing his one-man show. “The conditions made it even tougher. I definitely suffered. It’s everything I’ve ever dreamed of, to become UCI World Champion.”

After an eventful first lap, Del Grosso led the way with Belgian Emiel Verstrynge (his main rival in the 2023-2024 UCI Cyclo-cross World Cup) following him. Behind them, another Belgian, Jente Michels, and Frenchman Léo Bisiaux looked set to battle for the bronze medal.

Del Grosso kept pushing in the second lap while the two Belgians got together behind the young Dutchman from the Alpecin-Deceuninck Development Team. Verstrynge eventually took silver 27’’ behind Del Grosso and just ahead of Michels.

In his first year among the Under 23 talents, Bisiaux claimed a promising 4th place (+1’13’’). Another Frenchman, Rémi Lelandais (part of the winning team relay sextet on Friday), rounded out the top-5 (+1’28’’) with a strong performance to come back from a mass crash right at the start.

Women Junior: Gery takes it all

Célia Gery came to Tábor as French Champion, European Champion and winner of the 2023-2024 UCI Cyclo-cross World Cup in the Junior category. She started her UCI Worlds with victory in the team relay, on Friday, and went on to claim a second rainbow jersey in the Women Junior race, on Saturday morning.

“It’s the first title for France in this category, I’m really happy to achieve this,” the youngster celebrated as she succeeded Shirin van Anrooij (NED), Zoe Bäckstedt (GBR) and Isabella Holmgren (CAN). “In the first and second laps, I didn’t feel the best so I decided to take the lead in the last technical section. I’m really happy, I did my best.”

The three best riders of the season quickly rode away from their rivals, with Great Britain’s Cat Ferguson (runner-up in the UCI Cyclo-cross World Cup with victories in two rounds) and Slovakia’s Viktória Chladonová (winner of the last UCI World Cup round, in Hoogerheide, the Netherlands) leading the way alongside Gery.

The French teenager waited for the last lap to launch her decisive move. Ferguson tried to resist but eventually took silver (+5’’), ahead of Chladonová (+14’’).

Three more titles will be awarded on Sunday, the final day of the 2024 UCI Cyclo-cross World Championships:

Men Junior (11:00), Women Under 23 (12:30) and Men Elite (14:30).

Full results and live timing