Lucinda Brand, Pim Ronhaar and company impressed in a World Cup doubleheader
The holiday cyclocross gauntlet is upon us. From Dec. 26 through Jan. 5 — an 11-day span — there will be 10 races at the C2, C1 or World Cup level, drawing the fastest mud merchants in the world.
This past weekend served as an appetizer to the madness about to take place — back-to-back World Cup races in Rucphen and Namur on Saturday and Sunday, respectively. Across a doubleheader weekend, riders got a solid helping of the many challenges they’ll be facing over the next two weeks. And if the results were any sort of preview, the Baloise Trek Lions are gearing up for a very happy new year.
Lucinda Brand comes just short in duel with Vos, but wins in Namur
Lucinda Brand is following up her World Championship season with another incredible campaign. Her win on the famed course in Namur on Sunday was her 10th of the season, and eighth in her last 10 starts.
Brand started the race clean, and kept Denise Betsema away despite a few bobbles on the course’s technical and off-camber sections. She finished 20 seconds ahead of her Dutch rival, giving her a fourth win in Namur in as many years.
The result came just one day after another classic battle with Marianne Vos. Brand and Vos have started four races together, and each time one of them has won the race — Vos three times, and Brand once. On Saturday, they locked horns on the last lap, distancing Betsema from the final group to set up a heads-up sprint to the line.
Brand opened first, but Vos answered with a powerful kick that gave her the edge in the closing meters. Brand no doubt would have loved to add to her already impressive win tally, but there’s no shame in getting pipped by a legend of the sport. Round 5 of their season-long battle will be yet another must-watch affair.
Pim Ronhaar and Shirin van Anrooij shine among U23s
Pim Ronhaar and Shirin van Anrooij only seem to be getting faster as the weeks go on. And over the weekend, they gave the world another sampling of their potential.
Ronhaar won his third race of the season, beating Niels Vandeputte by 28 seconds in Namur to add a U23 World Cup gold to his palmarès. Ronhaar is now second overall in the men’s U23 World Cup standings, just seven points behind fellow Dutchman Mees Hendrikx, who took third in Namur.
Ronhaar, the reigning U23 world champion, is riding in his first season with Baloise Trek and enjoying the experience. After his latest win, he hopped off his bike and bowed for the cameras.
Van Anrooij went straight to Rucphen after participating in training camp with Trek-Segafredo in Spain. She took seventh in Rucphen and eighth in Namur, finishing third among U23 riders in both races.
Her performance on the challenging Namur course was particularly impressive. She was forced onto her back foot early in the race due to a flat tire, and she chased her way back into the top 10. She finished the race within 20 seconds of the top five, and 37 seconds out of a medal.
Both Ronhaar and Van Anrooij appear to have the legs to make a lot of noise over the holidays. They are two of the biggest names within an incredible rising generation of cyclocross racers.
Toon Aerts battles back for third place in Namur
Toon Aerts appeared to be in excellent form to start Sunday’s race. He left the start quickly, and was off the front within the first lap. But Namur was unkind to Aerts, as it has been in the past. A third-lap crash brought the chase group back within striking distance. Then a flat front tire on the next lap dragged Aerts out of win contention.
The fact that Aerts was able to fight back for third confirmed how strong his legs were, however, and how well challenging courses like Namur suit him. Few riders can match his engine. Aerts didn’t have luck on his side Sunday, but he proved that he’ll be a factor within a high-powered men’s field in the coming weeks.