Lucinda Brand won her third career national title against a stacked field, while Joris Nieuwenhuis took the top step of an all-Lions men's podium
European National Championships weekend was going to be thrilling no matter what, but few could predict the level of success Baloise-Trek would have at the Dutch National Championship in Hoogeveen.
Lucinda Brand, riding with a broken nose she suffered in Zonhoven, pulled away on Lap 2 from Puck Pieterse on a mud-logged course to win by 45 seconds over her young countrymate. Then in the men’s race, Joris Nieuwenhuis pulled away from Lions teammates for an emphatic victory. 22-year-old Pim Ronhaar took second, while last year’s Dutch champion, Lars van der Haar, took third for his 11th career nationals podium.
The results extended what has thus far been one of the best seasons ever in the history of the Baloise-Trek program. The squad has won seven World Cup races this year with five different riders — Thibau Nys, Van der Haar, Nieuwenhuis, Ronhaar (twice) and Brand (twice) — and has 23 victories as part of 66 total podiums. Team manager Sven Nys credited Baloise-Trek’s family atmosphere for its success.
“It’s really nice that we see that everyone supports each other, they help each other in the race, but also outside of the race,” Nys said. “You feel that it’s more like a family than it’s a team. When they go on training, they push themselves to a higher level. When somebody has a bad day, they support each other. And that makes the team much stronger.”
Brand is in the midst of a rejuvenated season. There’s arguably no one more battle tested than her in cyclocross, and she has the scars to prove it. Her 2022-23 season, in which she finished sixth at nationals, was derailed by constant ailments. Another injury suffered late in the ’23 road season forced her to sit until Nov. 12 to begin her season. But since then, Brand has had four victories and been a near constant podium presence within an elite women’s field that’s younger and deeper than ever.
Dutch women dominate the World Cup standings, setting up a high-powered bout in Hoogeveen. Brand, at 34 years old, was one of the oldest riders in the field. No one else among the top 21 finishers from Sunday was over the age of 28. But none had Brand’s overwhelming power. On a muddy course, when Brand is firing on all cylinders, she is near unstoppable.
“What a sweet win,” Brand wrote on Instagram after the race. “Haven’t often managed to turn the race into a victory this season. To be able to do so on a championship is very special.”
Nieuwenhuis has been one of cyclocross’ breakout riders this season. He’s committing to the discipline full-time after splitting his attention with road racing for most of his career. The transition has paid off with 11 podiums and five victories so far.
He and his men’s teammates have displayed tremendous teamwork all season while trading off highlight results. Nieuwenhuis was the best rider Sunday, but Van der Haar and Ronhaar have been just as capable of snatching victory when conditions are right and their legs are in good form. Van der Haar, after all, had won the previous two Dutch titles. A Baloise-Trek podium sweep was fitting for a season that has already featured at least two Lions teammates on the same podium seven times.
“Nationals over and done. A new champ with [Joris] who just blew everyone away, and a 3rd place for me,” Van der Haar wrote on Instagram. “Can’t say I had a bad day. Legs felt good, some lions were just a lot better today!”
Elsewhere over the weekend, Baloise-Trek riders battled gamely. Thibau Nys finished sixth in the elite men’s Belgian title race, while Ward Huybs and Seppe van den Boer took third and 13th in the U23 event, respectively. Fleur Moors, just 18 years old, was fourth in the elite women’s Belgian national championship race. David Haverdings, 20, was 11th in the elite men’s Dutch race.
With nationals over, cyclocross season officially enters the home stretch. Just two more World Cup races remain — Benidorm on Jan. 21, and Hoogerheide on Jan. 28 — and then comes World Championships on Feb. 4 in Tabor, where every Baloise-Trek rider is aiming to be at their best. This season has been special for the squad, but the job’s not done. The Lions are saving their biggest fireworks for last.