Fem van Empel is unstoppable: the Jumbo-Visma rider has won all nine races she participated in this cyclo-cross winter, leaving only breadcrumbs for the rest. Even Puck Pieterse, who could often offer some resistance last winter, is not getting close to Fem's performance at the moment. Both sides were realistic after the Superprestige in Boom.
On the Tomorrowland site, Van Empel broke away from the competition in the second round, after facing some difficulties in the first round. "It's nice to win with such a lead, it definitely gives a good feeling," the main character expressed. Pieterse understands that feeling, as she only saw her opponent ride further and further away from her on the straightforward course. "This was a power course, so when the difference is that big, that is too bad for me. Fem is just riding really well, it is as simple as that, I think. She is really flying this season and she has confirmed that once again."
Jumbo-Visma team director Jan Boven also watched with pleasure, though he did not immediately respond to Pieterse's 'Fem is flying' comment. "I can only speak for Fem and she was very good. The first round was a bit messy and clumsy, in part because it was a bit different compared to the reconnaissance. It seemed like she needed a moment to find her groove, but once she did, I saw a very good Fem."
"After the second time through the pit area, she started riding really well. When Puck made a slip, Fem extended her lead round after round, so she was indeed faster. Fem was just very good," Boven concluded in an interview with IDLProCycling.com. Van Empel adds to his analysis, also considering the return of Shirin van Anrooij, who eventually finished ninth. "I try not to look too much at the competition, because you can't influence that anyway. I only try to look at myself and then get the most out of it."
Van Empel continues to train, rest, eat well and take care of herself
There is little time for Fem to really enjoy her victory. "During the week, I work very hard for it, and not just by training. Also by resting, keeping track of my diet and taking good care of myself. It all needs to come together, I try to think about everything," Van Empel explains her success. Pieterse also continues to work hard, but for her that is more in order to stand on the highest podium someday. "As long as I keep doing my thing, I can get closer again. Over the summer, on the mountain bike, I was the stronger one, and now she is. But after three cyclo-cross races, you've gotten into the groove of things, so I definitely wanted to finish closer."
The Fenix-Deceuninck rider is far from discouraged, although she secretly also hopes to soon measure herself against Shirin van Anrooij, Lucinda Brand and Ceylin del Carmen Alvarado. "It's nice to work on this, but it is a pity that Ceylin and Lucinda weren't there. They might have ridden with me or been in between. We didn't get that experience now. I was riding in no man's land, while the fight for third place behind me was very nice. I tried to discover new lines to go faster, you have time for that in such a position. I look forward to the next battle."
That will be in two weeks, as Van Empel will not be racing in the Belgian rain and cold next week. "It was nice for once not to have to struggle too much, but it was still very treacherous. It was quite tough, with a lot of intervals. A mix of everything," she said in Boom. "Getting used to the cold again is a bit of a challenge, but I can manage that too."
Jumbo-Visma looks beyond cyclo-cross winter with Van Empel
The Jumbo-Visma team is certainly careful with its star, preferring to see her in action only once per weekend and only letting her compete for the classification in the X2O Trofee. "We look at Fem's program and make choices from there, also considering days when she can do endurance training and maintain her baseline. The energy cost of such a trip also plays a role," Boven adds, explaining Van Empel's absence in races such as Troyes, Dublin, Flamanville and Val di Sole.
"We did those World Cup races last year, but it's always about making choices. Last year, Fem was still a full-time cyclo-cross rider and really wanted to do the World Cup, but this year a different decision was made," he explains. "If you're only doing cyclo-cross, you have 35 cyclo-cross races and then a whole summer to lay the foundation. But now, we also have a very busy road cycling schedule," Boven says, looking beyond February.
Anyway, Van Empel still has some time before she can raise ten fingers in the air for her next victory. But how should she handle all those wins at the end of the season? "I don't think much about my victory move," she replies with a smile. "I take it race by race, so I'm not too concerned with that. I just want to get the best out of every race. I am a bit more confident than usual, but this is still cyclo-cross. You never know what will happen," she concludes with a nice one-liner about her undefeated status.