Fem van Empel is the Cyclo-Cross World Champion for a second year in a row on Cervélo’s carbon R5 CX cyclocross bike. We caught up with her bike for a closer look at what the, now 2x Elite World Champ, was racing to a fresh set of rainbow jerseys…
Oh, and those fan-held flags above, they were created by her uncle & illustrator Wouter van Empel who was leading a supporters club around the muddy fields of the Tábor course.
Cervélo R5 CX of 2024 World Champion Fem van Empel
Dutch domination was the rule for the elite racers at the 2024 UCI Cyclo-Cross World Championships in Tábor, Czechia this weekend. Nicknamed SuperFem, the 21-year-old Fem van Empel continues to rack up big wins on her Cervélo R5 CX cyclocross race bike.
Developed in a partnership between Team Jumbo Visma & Cervélo, first as a race bike for Marianne Vos and Wout van Aert, van Empel has put the bike to good use, as well – winning almost every race she entered on this bike.
The Cervélo R5 CX has been ridden to the past 3 Elite Women’s World Championship titles. First, by Vos with a Shimano build.
Now twice by van Empel on SRAM.
What’s different on Fem’s bike? And what stayed the same?
What’s the same is the shorter list. A classic double clamp to make sure the seatpost stays securely in place when jumping back onto the saddle. And a 2-piece FSA AXR cockpit with fully internal cable routing and a separate carbon handlebar.
The biggest difference on Fem van Empel’s Cervélo cross bike is the SRAM Red AXS groupset. The majority of elite pro cyclocross racers do seem to be on Shimano Di2, but there’s a solid contingent on SRAM AXS, too.
Curiously, a lot of top riders race not on the top-tier group, but on Force, as well.
And even 2x World Champ van Empel is no different, with a little Red & Force mix-and-match.
Part of that stems from Red’s road focus and its chainring integration. Not available in appropriate 1x chainring sizes for CX racing, van Empel opts for the non-series carbon crankarms and 4-bolt AXS power meter spider on her Cervélo R5 CX. This lets he ride a relatively small 42T SRAM X-Sync chainring for the muddy Tabor course.
While her mechanic can easily swap out a bigger ring for faster, drier courses, like the recent Spanish World Cup track in Benidorm just a couple of weeks ago.
She also opts for Force AXS shift/brake levers with non-series graphics. The difference isn’t huge, but teams have told us that pros with smaller hands prefer the slightly shorter Force hood shape and the longer shift button. Those levers are connected to Red brake calipers, and top-level CenterLine XR rotors.
Btw, another athlete not racing on a Shimano groupset, but who still prefers XTR pedals.
Little pro CX details
Van Empel’s mechanics add a few small additions to tweak the bike for cross racing. Of course, since she runs a 1x, she doesn’t need the braze-on front derailleur hanger. But instead of just removing it, the bolt on an alloy chain retention device, with an adjustable plastic puck that sits just over the top of the gold flattop chain as an insurance policy against dropped chains.
While some CX pros ask for frames without water bottle bosses, most still prefer the versatility for hot weather racing or training. And van Empel’s mechanics keep things clean with little stick-on covers to keep mud out of the bolt holes.
The most popular pro CX tubular, no longer made in Europe
The Rhino tubular is maybe the most popular & most common mud tire on the professional cyclocross circuit. Still, Fem van Empel was racing on the most high-performance of them all. The handmade 100% cotton casing is the most supple Dugast makes for cross. Plus, she gets the factory Neoprene sidewall treatment (the little star logo on the sidewall). And Dugast’s latest Monsoon “superior” compound rubber that promises “lower rolling resistance” AND “enhanced grip”. It’s a next level after their 11 Storm rubber, both introduced after being bought by Vittoria a few years back.
Also, Fem van Empel was racing on 32mm Rhinos, a shade thinner than the max allowable 33s we saw on most of the men’s bikes. A couple years ago chatting tires with the staff behind Team NL, they told us essentially that the smaller and lighter riders (like van Empel) can race the smaller tires to save every last gram without sacrificing grip or comfort.
Of note, this might be the last season to see all these Dugast tires handmade in Europe. Dugast shut down their Dutch production at the end of 2023. And moved it all to the Vittoria factory in Thailand from this year. So outside of existing stock, Dugast will make all new CX tubulars in Asia, now.
Race-ready for a muddy World’s course
Wheel-wise, Fem van Empel races on Reserve 36|39 mixed depth carbon tubulars. Also from the same Pon Holding corporate family as her Cervélo bike. Built light enough to win Tour de France climbing stages, but also clearly strong-enough to race cross. Her wheels are 28mm wide – 36mm deep up front & 39mm deep in the back. And they are laced up to DT Swiss 240 EXP hubs for proven durability and ease of servicing.
Fem van Empel delivered another emphatic win in the Czech mud aboard her Cervélo R5 CX in its stock Jumbo Visma team-edition black & yellow paint job. With another World Championship title she can go back to racing her white bike painted with rainbows for another year. The real question is, will Cervélo think up an all-new World Champ’s custom paint job to celebrate her win a little differently this coming year?