The Baloise Trek Lions keep finding ways to win
Lucinda Brand won on the renowned course in Tabor for the second year in a row. But unlike in 2020, she couldn’t simply steam ahead of her opponents. For the second consecutive race, Brand had to wait until late to make a decisive attack, and as in Niel, her opposition’s last gasp charge fell just short.
Brand outpaced Puck Pieterse (second) and Annemarie Worst (third) by three seconds to extend her winning streak to three races. In the process, she took back the outright lead in the World Cup standings from Denise Betsema, who fell to second after finishing fifth in Tabor.
On Sunday, Brand found herself chasing the 19-year-old Pieterse from the outset. Pieterse looked strong, particularly on an uphill section that featured barriers that she deftly bunny-hopped while the rest of the field dismounted their bikes. Brand realized early that she might struggle to stay at the front, so she let herself slip to the back of the lead group while several young riders feuded for the lead.
“It was a fast course. I knew it was going to be a tactical course. So when I found out that the level was very equal and I couldn’t drop riders, then I had to think about a different plan,” Brand said after the race. “I took some risks to go a little bit back in the group. Then I tried to plan a hard final lap in the hope that I could gain a little gap because I knew I had to make sure I was the first coming to the tarmac.”
Pieterse tried to get away for good on Lap 4, but Brand aided in chasing her down before the start of the last lap. Then Brand pushed her accelerator to the floor, forcing Pieterse and Betsema to dig deep and chase. In the process, Brand also ensured that Pieterse wouldn’t be able to pull away again on the mid-lap climb.
Worst got on the podium with a ferocious attack that she left too late. As Brand approached the finish line, she looked back to confirm that her win was secure, then celebrated perhaps her most hard-fought victory yet.
Next up, Brand will race a Superprestige series race in Merksplas on Saturday, Nov. 20, followed by a World Cup race in Koksijde on Sunday, Nov. 21. The challenges keep coming, but Brand keeps finding new ways to win and proving she’s one of the best all-around cyclists in the world.
Lars van der Haar confirms resurgent form
Lars van der Haar jumped into second place on the men’s World Cup standings with a punchy final lap that resulted in the Dutchman’s second win in three starts. Before Sunday, Van der Haar hadn’t won a World Cup race since Hoogerheide in 2017. The current European champion is in some of the best form of his career at 30 years old.
“I don’t know where the resurgent form comes from,” Van der Haar said after the race. “I don’t think I’ve ever felt like this, but this year it’s all falling more together. A good shape, a good life, a good team! It’s all in sync, and it makes me happy on the bike.”
On Sunday, Van der Haar was once again an animator within a lead group stacked with the usual suspects, including teammate Toon Aerts. On the sixth of eight laps, Eli Iserbyt attacked, catching the pack flat footed except for Van der Haar, who hung onto Iserbyt’s wheel before going on the offensive himself over the final two laps of the race.
Van der Haar had a slight lead at the start of the last lap, and slowly pulled away from Iserbyt to the finish line, taking the win by 11 seconds over the Belgian rider. Quinten Hermans finished third at 15 seconds behind Van der Haar, and Aerts was fourth at 29 seconds back.
“Super nice to be able to show that in a race like Tabor,” Van der Haar said. “And in the European jersey!”
Van der Haar now leads an intense points battle for second place in the World Cup standings. At 154 points, he is just one point ahead of third-place Hermans, and three points ahead of Aerts and Michael Vanthourenhout. Iserbyt is in first place by a comfortable margin at the moment, 51 points ahead of Van der Haar, but with just six races down and 10 to go in the series, there is still time for Van der Haar, Aerts and company to potentially take the top step.