Heading into the U23 Women’s race at the 2022 Cyclocross World Championships in Fayetteville, Arkansas, all eyes were on three young Dutch podium contenders in any Elite Women’s race: Puck Pieterse, Shiring van Anrooij and Fem van Empel.
The three racers all had plenty of success this season in Elite races, but on Sunday, the three had their own playground and stage to put on a show for fans and race for the coveted rainbow jersey.
Could a dark horse upset the three medal favorites?
First Lap Mystery
France’s Amadine Fouquenet and Line Burquier as well as American Katie Clouse had quick starts and did their best to disrupt the three Dutch stars from riding away.
Their efforts lasted a lap for a lap and a half, until Van Anrooij attacked the climb on the second lap and started the fireworks.
The Favorites Emerge
With Van Anrooij’s attack, the orange armada climbed away. Pieterse was quick to respond, but Van Empel, climbing steadily away from most of the rivals, watched the other two accelerate away.
Pieterse and Van Anrooij worked together to hold off the fast-finishing Van Empel, a winner of two World Cups this season.
Van Empel, riding steadily, rejoined her compatriots on Lap Four, only to stall on the sole technical feature of the course, a steep bump followed by a right-hand turn. Forced to chase yet again, Van Empel took a half a lap to regain the lead by the top of the stairs.
Behind the three favorites, Burquier was the last woman left to challenge the Dutch domination, but had nine seconds to close with just two laps to go.
American Maddie Munro had a steady ride, putting in consistent laps to climb into the top ten, with Clouse fading after her fast start to sit just behind Munro.
One Nation, Three Teams, Three Medals
With two laps to go, the three Dutch stars look to one-up the thrilling Elite Women’s race between Dutch stars Brand and Vos race in terms of drama and suspense. It certainly had one extra rider as a variable.
The three racers had contrasting riding styles and strategies.
Van Empel, with a powerful sprint, rode a steady race, spinning up the climb in a seated position, upper body rock steady.
Pieterse, known for her technical ability, was all over her bike during her repeated out-of-the-saddle accelerations.
Van Anrooij sprinted up the climbs, out of the saddle.
The three styles made little difference with one lap to go.
“It was such a weird race really. We were three, we kept overtaking each other but no one could get away,” Pieterse said after the finish. “I had the plan to go all out the final climb, but it didn’t work, they still were on my wheel.”
Pieterse was all over her bike attacking the final climb, but Van Empel looked calm, spinning away and glued to Pieterse’s wheel.
While Pieterse looked to implement Vos’ tactics of trying on the final climb, Van Empel looked to do her own Vos impersonation by waiting for the sprint, exactly what Van Anrooij was trying to avoid.
Could the course’s one tricky feature, the pointy rise followed by a right hand-turn, make a difference and the second three-way sprint on the day after the thrilling Junior Men’s finish?
Entering the feature, you could be forgiven thinking the race could come down to who made the fewest mistakes. Yet a mistake by Pieterse, clipping her toe on the steep peak, was the mistake that made a difference for the other riders.
Pieterse’s rear wheel popped up when she clipped her shoe, and Van Empel suffered the consequences. Pieterse’s wheel hit Van Empel’s handlebar, and forced her to dismount and stalled Van Anrooij.
“There was a hip corner, it was really tricky, my back wheel slipped because I had so much speed,” Pieterse recalled. “I heard my team shout that I had a gap.”
Pieterse was off to the races, with Van Anrooij chasing and Van Empel off her bike with a dropped chain. Pieterse hit the stairs with a commanding lead, but Van Anrooij narrowed the gap on the stairs and had Pieterse within her sight.
Pieterse looked back and saw a sprint coming. “Just before the final corner, Shirin got my wheel and I knew it would be a sprint,” Pieterse said about the late drama.
For the first time all day, a sprint for the win was all Van Anrooij could dream of.
The two slow-rolled into the final straight, with Pieterse leading out, looking back and Van Anrooij sitting on her wheel.
Pieterse wound up the sprint, and Van Anrooij popped out her slipstream with the finish line in sight. She came along aside Pieterse and threw her bike just as Pieterse threw her arms in the air.
Pieterse timed it perfectly. She saved her first victory of the season to win the most-coveted title.
“It is really cool that we could get on the podium with three girls” Pieterse said of the podium sweep. “We thought we could do it, just weren’t sure of the order. I’m really happy we could do it.”
Americans in the Mix
Munro led Clouse into the top ten. “I’m really happy and excited with the result,” Munro said after the finish. “I gave it all I could out there. There was so much energy, so many fans, it was really special today. I think it’s always motivating and humbling to finish in the top ten. I would have loved to be in the front group and make the split in the beginning but I gave it all I could and had a good day mentally and physically.”
See the full results below.
See our full coverage of the 2022 Cyclocross World Championships in Fayetteville, Arkansas here.
2022 Fayetteville UCI Cyclocross World Championships Results: U23 Women
|2.||2||VAN ANROOIJ Shirin||Netherlands||2002||46:27||+0:00|
|3.||1||VAN EMPEL Fem||Netherlands||2002||46:39||+0:12|
|7.||24||ZEMANOVA Kristyna||Czech Republic||2003||48:42||+2:15|
|8.||17||MUNRO Madigan||United States||2002||48:43||+2:16|
|9.||18||CLOUSE Katie||United States||2001||49:30||+3:03|
|10.||6||HARNDEN Harriet||United Kingdom||2001||50:01||+3:34|
|12.||19||GUNSALUS Lizzy||United States||2003||50:28||+4:01|
|14.||22||HICKEY Cassidy||United States||2003||50:56||+4:29|
|15.||20||ZOERNER Lauren||United States||2003||51:01||+4:34|
|17.||21||TOOLEY Bridget||United States||2002||52:00||+5:33|
|18.||23||MITCHELL Ellie||United States||2000||52:14||+5:47|
|19.||15||WALCROFT Katelyn||Canada||2000||-1 LAP|
|20.||14||BILODEAU Christiane||Canada||2001||-1 LAP|
|21.||28||SEIDEL Clea||Germany||2002||-2 LAP|
|22.||16||LAWSON Kelly||Canada||2002||-3 LAP|
|25||PINTO LARENJO Lydia||Spain||2003||DSQ|