Van Empel Wins Second Successive European Cyclo-cross Titles

By Siegfried Mortkowitz

Fem van Empel of the Netherlands and Belgium’s Michael Vanthourenhout defied rain and lots of mud to win their second UEC European Cyclo-cross Championships in succession on Sunday. The competition, which was held in the western French commune of Pontchâteau, was disrupted by an unusually intense storm, named Ciarán, which struck large parts of Europe, flooding roads, cutting power and killing at least seven people in Italy.

As a result, all races that had been scheduled for Saturday were postponed for one day, and only the mixed relay, which was won by the host country France, could be held as scheduled, on Friday. Another consequence was that by the time the last scheduled race, the Elite Men’s, was held on Sunday afternoon, the rainfall, which continued intermittently on race day, and the effect of six races held on the same course on one day – Junior Men and Women, U 23 Men and Women and Elite Men and Women – much of the course had been transformed into a muddy swamp, with ankle-deep ruts filled with water in some places. It is a testimony to the skills of the riders that there were not more crashes or more DNFs (did not finish).

The 29-year-old Vanthourenhout took to the course like, um, a fish to water. He took a clear lead early on the second of the eight laps, stretching it to 0:21 at the beginning of lap 3. Though the lead subsequently decreased, it never fell below 0:14 until the final 100 meters, when he slowed to celebrate his victory. Vanthourenhout won the U 23 world championship in 2015 but has had few major victories since. However, he has now become the first rider since Mathieu van der Poel to win two European championships in succession. Van der Poel, who won the UCI world cyclocross championship in February, took three European titles between 2017 and 2019.

Fem van Empel
Dutch Ceylin Del Carmen Alvarado (L), Dutch Fem Van Empel (C) and Italian Sara Casasola (R) celebrate on the podium after the Elite Women’s race at the European Cyclo-cross Championships. © Profimedia

“This season was not going well, so I’m happy for this win,” Vanthourenhout said after the race. “I felt from the beginning that I had good legs today and it was enough.”

Britain’s Cameron Mason finished second, 0:09  behind the winner, with two-time European champion (2015, 2021) Lars van der Haar another 0:10 behind in third.

The 21-year-old cyclocross phenom van Empel, who also won the UCI world championship in February, took control of the Elite Women’s race at the start of the second of six laps and never looked like losing. Her lead over her nearest rival, fellow Dutch rider and 2020 European champion Ceylin del Carmen Alvarado, was 0:59 at the end of stage 3 and 1:35 at the finish line. Italy’s Sara Casasola used a late run to finish third, 1:56 behind the winner.

Asked what her near-term plans were, van Empel told Eurosport, “It is mentally very hard to be a top favorite at the start line. I feel good physically, but I’m going to rest.” She may be resting up for next year’s road racing season. Van Empel joined Jumbo-Visma this year and won a stage of the Tour de l’Avenir and finished eighth in the UEC European Under-23 Championships, after finishing third in that race in 2022.

In addition to the mixed relay, France also won both junior races, with Célia Gery winning the women’s division and Aubin Sparfell the men’s. Jane Zoe Backstead won the women’s U 23 European title and Jente Michels of Belgium won the men’s U 23 championship.