Fem van Empel (Pauwels Sauzen-Bingoal) took a historic World Cup victory in the snow of Val di Sole, her first elite victory and only second ever after the 2021 U23 World Championships.
Val di Sole is a name that will be familiar to anyone who follows pro mountain biking, or indeed alpine skiing, but it’s the first time the mountain resort has hosted a major cyclocross event. World Cup organisers hope to prove cyclocross could be a winter Olympic discipline; a sport must be held predominantly on snow and/or ice to qualify…obviously.
The hard-packed snow and ice proved a new challenge for the riders, and though it wasn’t an especially technical course, every corner, climb and descent represented a huge test of skill and patience.
Van Empel looked equal to the challenge from the gun, as did Canadian national champion Maghalie Rochette. Marianne Vos (Jumbo-Visma) joined them at the front of the race in the opening lap while others paid for lack of momentum with inevitable slipping and sliding. Denise Betsema (Pauwels Sauzen-Bingoal) was one of the first to come off, but she was soon back up and chasing up to the top three on course.
On the second lap, Vos powered to the front in her first race since a successful US campaign, but even she could not escape bad luck. A mechanical held her up after just moments in the lead, and she lost almost a whole minute to new leader Van Empel, Betsema and Rochette chasing.
Van Empel’s lead had shrunk to around ten seconds going into the final lap, Vos now up to second having surged from seventh place. It looked like being a huge upset for the young phenom as Vos joined her 19-year-old compatriot in the finale, but the veteran came down hard after hitting a fence pole on one of the last corners, leaving Van Empel to regain the front and sprint up the clear tarmac to take victory.
A resigned Vos crossed the line second and Rochette held on for third.