Shirin van Anrooij won her first elite World Cup with a bold attack from over a lap out
Shirin van Anrooij, just 20 years old, didn’t think her first elite World Cup victory would come so soon. She entered the 2022-23 cyclocross season aiming for podiums, and lined up Sunday in Beekse Bergen against a red-hot Fem van Empel, who won eight of her first nine races, including four consecutive World Cups and a European Championship.
But with an ambitious attack just before the start of the final lap, Van Anrooij took perhaps her biggest win yet in a young cyclocross career that already includes a European Championship. She fended off Van Empel and Puck Pieterse by just one second.
“I still can’t really believe that I just won a World Cup,” Van Anrooij said after the race. “I think it was, for me, as unexpected as it was for a lot of people. Maybe not for the team, as they always tell me to believe in myself. But I just did not expect to win the race. It was a really big goal and a dream for this season to try and win a big TV race. But I did not expect it to be a World Cup.”
The victory was especially impressive given that Van Anrooij was chasing for much of the race. Midway through, Pieterse was setting the pace at the front with Van Empel and Ceylin del Carmen Alvarado close behind. After a bad start, Van Anrooij gradually clawed her way up to the lead group. On the second-to-last lap, she was dropped again by Van Empel and company at a set of barriers that they were able to hop over on their bikes while she got off and ran, but she latched back onto the leaders on the paved stretch heading into the start of the final lap. Then Van Anrooij made her move.
“Before the race, I knew the last lap would be really important, and I just needed to believe in myself and just attack when I could,” Van Anrooij said. “Sven [Nys] was in a corner before that straight and he just screamed at me, ‘If they slow down, you just need to go full gas.’ So that’s what I did. I attacked on the road, and I just didn’t make any mistakes anymore. And I knew if I had a gap at the barriers, and I could keep them just behind me, that maybe it would be enough.
“I really ran my heart out over the barriers. And I saw I had a little gap, and I had one perfect ride through the sand. At the moment it needed to be perfect. And then it was just one long sprint until the finish line.”
Van Empel and Pieterse were breathing down Van Anrooij’s neck in the closing stretch, but Van Anrooij was able to start her celebration just before she crossed the line. “It was nice because the sun was behind us, so I could see the shadows and I could see there was no shadow coming. I knew then I was winning the World Cup.”
The race took place in Van Anrooij’s native Netherlands, where she led an all-Dutch top five. Lucinda Brand, Van Anrooij’s Baloise-Trek teammate and 2021 World Champion, took seventh in her first race back from a broken hand that sidelined her for three weeks. She’s working her way towards regaining the form that made her one of the most dominant cyclocross riders of the past two years.
Brand and Van Anrooij could form a formidable duo going forward. For now, Van Anrooij is deservedly celebrating another milestone result during what has been a fantastic year for the young rider. This past July, she also won European championships in the U23 road race and individual time trial, as well as the Youth Classification at the inaugural Tour de France Femmes while riding with Trek-Segafredo.
Van Anrooij made a lot of incredible memories this year, but there’s no question that Sunday was one of the best so far. Her grandparents were on hand to watch her win, along with many other members of her family.
“It was just a really special victory, and it’s also a pretty important step to really start believing more in what I can do,” Van Anrooij said. “Everyone from the team keeps telling me this, and kept telling me that there will be a victory soon and that I just had to believe in it and go for it instead of looking too much up to the others and thinking they are a lot stronger than I am.
“I hope this will give me a big confidence boost. It was just a really nice day.”