Inside Baloise Trek’s historic European Championships performance

Lucinda Brand, Lars van der Haar and Shirin van Anrooij all won in their home nation

Baloise Trek just completed a historic weekend in the Netherlands. Three Lions riders were crowned European champions at Col du Vam. Defending world champion Lucinda Brand soloed away to win by nearly a minute among the elite women. Lars van der Haar clawed his way back to surpass a lone leader among the elite men. And Shirin van Anrooij held off 2020 European champion Puck Pieterse to score a breakthrough U23 women’s victory.

All three riders were flying Dutch colors as well, headlining a banner weekend for the Netherlands. (Their compatriot Ryan Kamp won the U23 men’s race to complete a Dutch sweep of the U23 and elite events.)

Here are the quotes and highlights from one of the best weekends in Baloise Trek’s storied history.

Lucinda Brand all alone at the front.

Lucinda Brand returns to dominant form

Lucinda Brand hasn’t been able to replicate the hot start she had in 2020, which is no knock against her: Brand is coming off a season for the ages. But on Saturday, she once again displayed the dominant form that resulted in a truckload of accolades last season, including a World Championship.

In the process, Brand took home one of the few cyclocross prizes she hadn’t yet collected. She walked over the finish line with her bike held high, 56 seconds ahead of Kata Blanka Vas. 

“In the beginning of the season, the European Championships were one of my goals to win. I’d never won the jersey before, and coming closer to this weekend not everything was working as I hoped it would work out,” Brand said after the race. “Today everything fell into place. The good days from training were also in the race. And it’s of course super nice to win. And I’m proud that I could show the good legs again.”

Brand attacked hard on the second of seven laps as Vas was going into the pits. From there, Brand pulled farther and farther away from a Vas-led chase. Yara Kastelijn took third at 1:02 back, and Ceylin del Carmen Alvarado was fourth at 1:29 back. 

Brand collected one of the last cyclocross prizes she had yet to win.

Brand hadn’t won since the World Cup race in Fayetteville on Oct. 13. Though that was hardly cause for concern — she took top five in all five races between her two wins, including silver and bronze in two World Cup races — taking the European title comes as a relief to an athlete who has set an unbelievably high standard for herself.  

As a bonus, winning on Saturday left her free to relax and root for her teammates Sunday.

“I’m just very very happy,” Brand said. “The other two made me even more proud on the next day.”

Lars van der Haar celebrating one of the best rides of his life.

Lars van der Haar: 'I raced the race of my life'

Lars van der Haar took a risk when he went to the pits for a new bike on Lap 4 of 10. The pits were running slow due to an awkward layout, and Quinten Hermans immediately took advantage and created a large gap.

Thus commenced Van der Haar’s long chase back to the front. He proved he was easily the strongest rider of the race when he caught Hermans early on Lap 9 and continued to power away for a 25-second win. 

“I raced the race of my life, and I’m really happy that I could give the team and Trek this championship,” Van der Haar said after the race. “I went all in. Of course I didn’t want to have so much time to make up in the race.”

Van der Haar lighting up the home Dutch crowd.

Van der Haar was part of an elite lead group of five riders at the start of Lap 4, with Eli Iserbyt, Michael Vanthourenhout, Hermans and teammate Toon Aerts, who finished fourth. By the time Van der Haar had caught up to Aerts and Vanthourenhout after his slow pit stop, Hermans was making what seemed like a potential race-winning move up the course. Hermans finished second, 29 seconds ahead of Vanthourenhout.

“In the end it was only Quinten that I had to get back, and I didn’t know if I could get the last seven seconds back,” Van der Haar said. “And then from there on I noticed I had a small gap. And I just went for it. I can tell you the last lap was hell. It was really hard to keep the pace and get up, but the rewards were big.”

Van der Haar is in the midst of a resurgent season at 30 years old, with second place finishes at World Cup races in Iowa City and Zonhoven, and third place at Koppenbergcross. Sunday was his first win, however, as well as a career highlight. 

His confidence is sky high, and that signals continued success the rest of the season.

Shirin van Anrooij running in the midst of a mistake-free race.

Shirin van Anrooij holds off defending champion

Shirin van Anrooij kept defending European champion Puck Pieterse and defending World champion Fem van Empel at bay to record a milestone win. She took a gap on Lap 1 after Pieterse crashed, and rode immaculately to maintain a slim lead ahead of a furious chase. Van Anrooij crossed the line 17 seconds ahead of Pieterse, and 1:03 ahead of Van Empel.

“My plan was to be with the front group for the first part of the race, but I was alone very early, so I didn’t have a choice and just had to keep on going,” Van Anrooij said after the race. “After three or four laps it became really difficult and Puck Pieterse came really close. But I noticed I was just that bit faster on the Col du Vam, so I knew I needed to focus on that part of the course. It just was a perfect race, no mistakes, and it gave me the win!”

Van Anrooij celebrating a career win in front of a home crowd.

Van Anrooij also won at Jingle Cross in Iowa City in October before finishing top 10 in three consecutive World Cup races against elite level competition. The 19-year-old rider is picking up the momentum she left off last year when an arm injury in November sidetracked her season. 

With a European title, Van Anrooij reasserted herself as one of the best riders within a hyper-talented class of U23 women. Expect to see her involved in plenty more exciting finishes this season.