Van Empel beats Alvarado at the finish line

Wednesday 27 December 2023

Van Empel beats Alvarado at the finish line

It was a nail-biting finish in Heusden-Zolder. At the line, Alvarado had to concede to Van Empel. The world champion was the fastest in the sprint between the two. Van der Heijden finished third, 16 seconds behind.

At the beginning of the race, world champion Van Empel (Jumbo Visma) and Alvarado (Alpecin-Deceuninck) were clearly evenly matched. The two riders pulled away from the competition after two laps and went on together. In the third lap, it was the world champion who accelerated and seemed to put Alvarado at a disadvantage. However, things went wrong in the descent. Van Empel slid out and grabbed her knee briefly, but soon the world champion set off in pursuit again.

In the battle for third place, it was initially the series leader, Annemarie Worst (Cyclocross Reds), who showed that skipping the race in Gavere seemed to pay off. Just before the halfway mark, however, the Dutch rider had to deal with a flat tire. Returning to the front was no longer an option, and she lost more time and positions. It was Van der Heijden (Crelan-Corendon) who settled into third position.

Meanwhile, Van Empel managed to catch up with Alvarado again and just before the descent where she had fallen a lap earlier, the world champion took command. She confidently took the descent and put Alvarado under pressure again. Van Empel started the penultimate lap with a small lead and kept the pace high. At the end of the fifth lap, Alvarado had to stretch her back briefly, but she stuck to the pursuit of the world champion. Just before entering the final lap, Alvarado managed to rejoin the front.

Van der Heijden closed in during the final lap, but the winner was up front. In the last descents, Alvarado took the initiative and the lead. On the steps, Van Empel tried to pass Alvarado but held back. The tension was palpable. Alvarado briefly went down, causing Van Empel to put a foot down as well. Heading towards what seemed to be a sprint finish, Alvarado had some trouble getting her feet back into the pedals.

Van Empel didn't push and Alvarado led into the final straight. Van Empel then surged past and sprinted to victory in Heusden-Zolder. Alvarado finished just one second behind, with Van der Heijden taking third place, 16 seconds back.