The FULL race report from Cyclocross World Championships in Tabor!
Cyclocross World Championships in Tabor brought out the best performances of the year, and two validating podiums for two of the hardest working riders in the sport.
Lucinda Brand and Joris Nieuwenhuis emptied their tanks on the way to silver medals, capping resurgent seasons. For Brand, her 2023-24 campaign has felt like a return to form after battling injuries for two straight years. For Nieuwenhuis, his performance only buttressed his decision to race cyclocross full-time after several years splitting time with the road.
With just three weeks to go until the cyclocross season officially concludes, we can now confidently call this one of the best seasons in Baloise Trek history. Brand and Nieuwenhuis gave the squad its 73rd and 74th podium finishes on the year, which included 24 wins spread across nine different riders.
Brand and Nieuwenhuis weren’t the only Trek riders who got in on the fun. Pim Ronhaar took fourth in the men’s race, just missing out on the podium after a thrilling battle, and Thibau Nys took ninth to give Baloise Trek three top 10 men’s riders. (Lars van der Haar finished 15th, and likely would have given the team a fourth top 10 rider if not for some bad mechanical luck.)
Baloise Trek wasn’t the only team mixing it up in the grass and mud on a Trek Boone. CXHairs Devo, Bear National Team and the Steve Tilford Foundation Racing squads showed out in the Czech Republic with rosters full of exciting young North American talent.
We have a busy weekend to recap, but two riders deserve a deep dive.
Lucinda Brand does not stay down
Brand, coming off a dominant 2021-22 cyclocross season, broke her hand in October 2022 to severely hamper what could have been a strong follow-up campaign in 2022-23. A shoulder injury this past September threatened her prospects once again, but this time, after waiting until November to return, Brand wouldn’t be deterred. Even a broken nose suffered in Zonhoven just before Dutch National Championships didn’t break her stride.
Brand won the coveted Dutch champion’s jersey. Then this past Saturday, she held off a plucky Puck Pieterse to take silver behind Fem van Empel and earn her seventh consecutive World Championships podium.
“It really means a lot to, again, be on the podium of World Championships,” Brand said after the race. “It was a late start this season because of injury — again, an injury — so it was already a victory to be able to come back on my level from two seasons ago.”
It was already a victory to be able to come back on my level from two seasons ago.
- Lucinda Brand
The 2021 World Champion was aiming for victory, of course, but Van Empel would not be denied the crown jewel on a dream season. But Brand was clearly the next strongest rider in the field. Only Pieterse — who, like Van Empel, is more than a decade younger than Brand — was capable of sticking to Brand’s wheel, but only until roughly the midpoint of the race. Then Brand imposed her will on the battle with her experience and strong engine.
“In the end, it was a battle for silver with Puck,” Brand said. “She was riding in front. … And suddenly I saw her struggling a bit. I think she just didn’t have the right traction on one part, and I did. And then I knew that I had to pull past straight away before we started the downhill, because that’s always hard mentally for another rider.”
When Sven Nys spoke about Brand with the Trek Race Shop in December, he praised her ability to continuously improve and fight for wins despite being a veteran rider going up against a flourishing new generation of elite women’s racers. The secret to Brand’s success is her ability to never lose focus, no matter what her circumstances.
Brand is nearly unrivaled in terms of consistency of longevity in cyclocross. Saturday emphasized why she is a legend of the sport.
“There are still three weekends to go, but my season in cyclocross was really how it should have been,” Brand said. “Maybe for next year my goal will be a few more wins, but we can say I’m back. And now it’s only about keeping this level and finding the small details to improve them.
“I think it was a perfect way to end the season.”
Joris Nieuwenhuis shocks even himself
Nieuwenhuis is one of the most unique riders in cyclocross. Nys described him as a guitar-strumming, nature-loving warm soul who doesn’t neatly fit the stereotypical profile of a pro bike racer.
But Nieuwenhuis can race. And at 27 years old, he was arguably the most impressive breakout rider of the season. He missed the podium just six times in 19 races after European Championships in early November, and he won six races on the season including a Dutch national championship in which Baloise Trek swept the podium.
Nieuwenhuis isn’t new to cyclocross. He won a U23 World Championship in 2017. But in 2023, he decided to focus full-time on cyclocross racing, and the career pivot has been even more successful than he could have imagined.
You work hard for it, you train hard for it, and then when it folds out like this, I can only be happy about the whole season.
- Joris Nieuwenhuis
“I think if I said before the season that I would be second in the world, I would win the national championship, I would laugh at myself and think it would not be realistic,” Nieuwenhuis said after the race. “Now it’s becoming realistic. And yeah, that’s crazy to me. I mean, you always aim for the best. You work hard for it, you train hard for it, and then when it folds out like this, I can only be happy about the whole season.”
Nieuwenhuis was unable to match Mathieu van der Poel’s virtuosity on Sunday, but he left no doubt that he was the next best rider on the course. He was the only rider who could stay within shouting distance of Van der Poel’s wheel for most of the race. And even when Michael Vanthourenhout came within roughly 10 seconds of Nieuwenhuis in the second half of the race, Niewenhuis promptly shut the door on his rival.
“The first three laps felt like a breeze for me. I was maybe overreaching a little bit there, trying to not fall off my chair, but I tried to keep the gap as close as possible,” Nieuwenhuis said. “I felt really good. But then I also felt that I overdid it a little bit. [Laughs] I was suffering a lot on the fourth and fifth laps. But in the end, I got the strength to hold the effort until the finish line.”
Nieuwenhuis finished 37 seconds behind Van der Poel, and 29 seconds ahead of Vanthourenhout. The result reflects his evolution as a rider throughout the season. When racing began in October, Nieuwenhuis would alternate podium performances with races in which he fell out of the top 15. As the weeks went on, he learned how to be comfortable riding within himself near the front of the pack.
“I mostly improved my mental game,” Nieuwenhuis said. “I was ready to go for a win, which I didn’t think I was last season. I was just trying to get to the front, and then I didn’t have a plan of how to win. And now I really had a plan of how am I going to win this race, or how am I going to be on top of my game.”
Most importantly, Nieuwenhuis enjoyed himself this season. Camaraderie was a major reason why the Baloise Trek elite men were particularly successful.
“I enjoy going to races. I enjoy doing this sport,” Nieuwenhuis said. “I think that’s in the end the most important part about it.”
Elsewhere around the Trek-verse
Ronhaar admitted after his race on Sunday that fourth place was a disappointment, but such were his expectations after an excellent season that included two World Cup wins. Among the top 10 riders, only Nys, his teammate, was younger.
“After my season, it was such a great season, so I can’t be disappointed,” Ronhaar said. “I said before the race, if I can make the best out of it, then I can be happy. So I did that.”
Ronhaar gave himself plenty of motivation heading into an offseason that will be focused on training and road racing.
Fleur Moors, another Baloise Trek rider, and sisters Isabella and Ava Holmgren will also be turning their attention to road racing after strong World Championship performances. Moors finished 10th in the women’s U23 race. Isabella and Ava, who finished 1-2, respectively, in last year’s junior World Championship race, finished fourth and 13th in the U23 race in Tabor. All three riders are just 18 years old, and will be racing as teammates on the storied Lidl-Trek women’s program this year.
The Holmgren twins hail from Canada, and led the way for what was an excellent showing by young North American riders. From the CXHairs Devo squad, Andrew Strohmeyer finished 16th in the men’s U23 race, and Keira Bond and Ella Brenneman finished 20th and 23rd, respectively, in the women’s U23 race. Among CXHairs Devo’s juniors, Miles Mattern finished 17th in the men’s race, and Lidia Cusack and Alyssa Sarkisov took 17th and 25th, respectively.
Finally, Vida Lopez de San Roman finished sixth in the women’s junior race as the sole representative of the Bear National Team, closing out a brilliant European campaign that included a win in Heusden-Zolder. The future of North American ‘cross is very, very bright.