Cyclocross World Championships: Lucinda Brand’s celebration, Toon Aerts’ redemption and more

What Saturday meant to brand new World Champion Lucinda Brand

Lucinda Brand has done a lot of winning this season. With her World Championship in Oostende, she stepped on top of a podium for the 12th time in 24 races. For her career, the 31-year-old has 28 victories and 62 podium finishes. And none of them, no single performance, has felt as special as Saturday’s race in Oostende.

“The other victories are also beautiful, but this is the top, the thing where it all started,” Brand said. “It was a race we were working on so long already. It was a really big goal to become World Champion, so it’s really a dream come true.”

Brand gave a class performance, staying upright on a punishing course while her rivals faltered all around, and outdueling fellow Dutchwoman Annemarie Worst on the final lap to win. After finishing on the World Championship podium three times, she finally got a gold medal to go with her World Cup series victory.

If you missed the race, you can relive the excitement courtesy an all-access video produced by the Baloise Trek Lions:

Brand also leads the Superprestige and X2O Badkamers Trofee standings to potentially add to her dream season palmarès. And yet with so many great moments on her bike, Brand’s lasting memory of this season will be celebrating away from the course in Oostende.

“I will remember most the evening afterwards because we were a really small group together,” Brand said, “which was of course a little bit strange, but also really nice because they were the people who are so close to me helping me to achieve this big goal. It was really nice to celebrate with those people and drink a glass of champagne together. For everybody it was a very nice moment, and the pressure off the shoulders.”

For Brand, Saturday’s achievement was much more than a great day on her bike; it was the culmination of years of intense effort and supreme focus, aided by a supportive team structure that pushed her towards a crowning achievement at an advanced stage of her career.

Now there’s nothing left to say except: damn those rainbow stripes look good.

Lucinda Brand donning the rainbow jersey for the first time.

Lucinda Brand riding the course with Baloise Trek team manager Sven Nys.

Toon Aerts bounces back

Toon Aerts admits that the 2020-21 cyclocross season “was not my best.” He made 14 podiums this season, but they became much harder to attain after a blistering October.

But on Sunday, Aerts looked like his old self. He placed his focus and energy on powering through the beach sections of the course, and the decision paid dividends. For most of the race, he was all alone in third place, trailing leaders Mathieu van der Poel and Wout van Aert but putting distance between himself and the rest of the field. Only 21-year-old Tom Pidcock briefly caught his wheel late in the race before falling off the pace.

Aerts said that his third-straight World Championships bronze medal was also the most difficult.

“Wout and Mathieu were a lot stronger than all the other guys this year, and it was a race within the race to become the third guy on the podium, so I’m happy that it was my spot,” Aerts said. “With this victory, everything came back together, and I hope to have some nice weeks at the end of the season.”

Toon Aerts racing along the shore in Oostende.

Toon Aerts celebrating a hard earned bronze medal.

Aerts’ strategy worked to perfection. He took created a gap to fourth place on the stretch of sand just before the steep bridge climb on the first lap. Then on Lap 2, he surged on the beach once again, taking a nearly 30-second lead on his chasers by the time he returned to the climb. Though Pidcock would use the bridge and grassy technical sections to eat into Aerts’ advantage, he couldn’t sustain the effort long enough to threaten Aerts’ medal.

“To compare this race with my best races of my career so far, I think this was my best real sand race,” Aerts said. “I saw some intermediate times today and it was clear that I made the best technical decisions to [save my energy] on the easy parts and the fast parts, and to put all my energy on the beach and hard sections, and on the steep bridge. I think it worked out very well.”

Aerts may not have consistently performed up to the high level he expects this season, but on Sunday he won the race within the race, and proved he is still a force in men’s cyclocross.

Toon Aerts pumping his fist before the finish line in Oostende.

Evie Richards keeping her competitors at bay in Oostende.

Evie Richards and TFR CX challenge the order

Despite a lockdown-interrupted racing schedule, the members of Trek Factory Racing’s cyclocross squad were poised in Oostende. Evie Richards took seventh place among the elite women Saturday in just her second race since late December. Then on Sunday, Maddie Munro and Hattie Harnden finished 11th and 13th, respectively, among under-23 women.

In both races, they were among the few riders to challenge the Netherlands’ hegemony atop the standings. Richards was the second fastest non-Dutch rider, just 21 seconds behind fourth-place Clara Honsinger. Munro was the sixth-fastest non-Dutch rider among the U23 women, while Harnden was eighth.

All three riders were unable to race as consistently as they would have liked due to travel restrictions created in response to the coronavirus pandemic. Richards had planned to compete regularly after beginning her program in December, but had to miss more than 30 days worth of racing when she was unable to travel back to Belgium after going home for the holidays.

Evie Richards finished seventh at Worlds in just her second race since late December.

In an Instagram post, Richards wrote that she was grateful to be racing, even in unpleasant condition: “I never thought I would be basically riding through the sea, when it’s [one] degree and the rain is coming down, but I’m here for these crazy conditions. [Seventh] in the World, at only my [fifth] cross race of the season, and I could not be happier.”

The experience will no doubt serve the trio well; Richards is the oldest at just 23 years old. They’ll have several more racing opportunities this season to continue building on their World Championship performances. Hopefully they’ll see some sunshine before hanging up their Boones until next Fall.