How Baloise Trek conquered Boom’s deep mud

*Another* win for Lucinda Brand, and *another* double podium for Toon Aerts and Lars van der Haar

Cyclocross is meant to be raced in mud. And on a rainy Sunday in Boom, Lucinda Brand, Toon Aerts and Lars van der Haar embraced the weather. Brand won going solo midway through the five-lap race. Aerts and Van der Haar took second and third, respectively, behind only a fresh-legged Wout van Aert.

After their races, both Brand and Aerts seemed reinvigorated after gutting out roughly an hour of slow, slippery racing each.  

“It’s not so nice when it’s raining while waiting for the start, but the conditions of the course, so muddy, that’s real cyclocross,” Brand said. “That’s really what I like, to combine power and the technique to get through the course safely and fast.”

Lucinda Brand powering through thick mud.

Toon Aerts just after crossing the line in Boom.

Few riders made it through the course unscathed, not even the podium finishers. In the men’s race, Aerts was the only rider able to stick with Van Aert on his surge up a steep climb during the second lap, but he slipped out on a slick descent turn and Van Aert escaped and wasn’t challenged again for the rest of the race. 

Aerts stayed in front of the non-Van Aert field for the rest of the race, showcasing his specially-built engine for mud.

“I really like these weather conditions,” Aerts said. “The first crash was probably because I was on my limit to follow Wout. Technically, this descent was very difficult! But I’m never afraid of muddy races. Everybody makes mistakes. And deep, muddy running sections are my habitat.”

Toon Aerts doubling back for his bike after a slip while Lars van der Haar goes on ahead.

Aerts finished 1:40 behind Van Aert. Van der Haar finished just eight seconds behind his Baloise Trek teammate for the third spot on the podium, giving the duo their third joint podium of the season in addition to the UCI World Cup race in Zonhoven and the Koppenbergcross in Oudenaarde. 

Brand’s victory was her ninth of the season, and one of her most impressive yet. She started slow, finding a spot in the chase group as 22-year-old Inge van der Heijden went off the front during the first lap. She took the front of the race on Lap 2 and then, on Lap 3, went clear for good when Van der Heijden fell while trying to hold Brand’s wheel around a tricky off-camber turn. 

Brand finished 37 seconds ahead of Van der Heijden, who took second, and 43 seconds ahead of Denise Betsema, who took third.

Brand celebrating.

All cleaned up at the top of the podium.

“It was uphill as well in Boom, so it became a very nice and tricky, heavy race,” Brand said. “During the recon I noticed that we really needed a lot of power to get through the mud and keep some speed. And also we needed to stay relaxed and focused going down to not slip away. Going into this race, I had a little bit easier week because after the race I will be going to a training camp. So one thing is for sure, I came to the race very rested and ready to suffer.”

Both Brand and Aerts did sizable damage in the Superprestige series standings. With three races left, Brand leads the women’s standings by three points over Betsema. Aerts is in second place to Eli Iserbyt by two points after moving two points closer with Sunday’s result. Van der Haar is in third place, one point ahead of Quinten Hermans.

Toon Aerts and Lars van der Haar sharing their third podium of the season.

Suffice to say, Baloise Trek’s top riders made the most of unpredictable conditions.

“Training for mud is really difficult,” Aerts said. “You can’t keep riding in mud during training because there’s no pit zone to change your bike every 10 minutes. With good shape, mud and slippery conditions are easy. With bad shape, it’s hell.”

For Baloise Trek, what could have been a hellacious day was a boon. Once again, the riders were up for a brand new challenge, and kept a sterling season rolling.