Lucinda Brand will not be denied

Brand briefly stepped off the top step of the podium, then got right back on

On Saturday, it seemed Lucinda Brand’s previously invulnerable armor had cracked. After winning four straight races, she was finally knocked off the top step of the podium, slipping to second place in the X2O Badkamers Trofee in Antwerpen. Denise Betsema, a fellow Dutchwoman who had been nipping at Brand’s heels for several weeks, got a long-awaited victory by going solo midway through the race and holding off a fierce pursuit from Brand on the final lap.

“I had to really go deep on the last lap,” Brand said. “I really fought to come back and give it all a try in the last lap. I came in second still, but I think I could be really happy with that.”

Brand dashed any ideas that she wasn’t still cyclocross’ top dog the very next day. On a sticky, mud-bogged course in Gavere, Brand flipped Saturday’s result and beat Betsema by 14 seconds. The win was Brand’s fifth in her last six starts, and fourth straight in the Superprestige series.

Lucinda Brand gave a valiant comeback effort in Antwerpen.

Brand got the win by completing a comeback on Betsema, and then some. Betsema liked her Antwerpen gameplan so much, she tried something similar in Gavere, attacking on the first of five laps to force Brand and company to chase. Brand bridged on the second lap, but fell back again due to a small slip on the third.

Brand proved once again how valuable her pure power can be when the course features climbing and mucky conditions. She would claw back and open up a four-second gap by the end of Lap 3, and extend it to 12 seconds by the start of the final lap, thanks in part to a wonky bike exchange in Betsema’s pit. There was no doubt about victory from then on.

“A lot of climbing, a lot of mud,” Brand said. “Of course, I was not completely recovered from the day before. But I’m really happy that I could take the win there, and I had a lot of fun with going down and stuff like that.”

Lucinda Brand's power could not be denied in Gavere.

With the win, Brand moved into the outright lead in the Superprestige series, two points ahead of world champion Ceylin del Carmen Alvarado, who took third in Gavere. With just two more races left in the series — Dec. 26 in Heusden-Zolder, and Feb. 6 in Middelkerke — Brand’s rivals are running out of time to unseat a rider with so much momentum on her side.

Brand called the hectic weekend of racing “good preparation” for next Sunday’s World Cup race in Namur. After one race in the series, she leads the standings by 10 points over Alvarado.

“I’m able to race for the first time in my leader’s jersey from the World Cup,” Brand said. “So I’m really looking forward to that.”

Evie Richards made her season debut this weekend.

Evie Richards, Maddie Munro make season debuts

Trek Factory Racing’s CX squad made its first appearance this season, and came away with a pair of solid results. Evie Richards, 23, took 18th in Antwerpen (3:12 out of first) and 14th in Gavere (2:28). Maddie Munro, one of the youngest riders in both fields at 18, finished 31st in Antwerpen (4:54) and 26th in Gavere (3:41).

Both riders improved significantly from one day to the next, suggesting that both are finding their legs after so much time away from cyclocross racing. They will both race in Namur next Sunday, along with Hattie Harnden.

For more on this year’s TFR CX team, check out our preview

Toon Aerts remains a model of consistency in a hyper-competitive men's field.

Toon Aerts climbs the podium once again

The top end of the men’s cyclocross gets more and more crowded every weekend.

On Saturday, road and mud star Mathieu van der Poel made his season debut in Antwerpen and won, pushing Toon Aerts to fourth, just three seconds behind Great Britain’s Tom Pidcock.

But Aerts didn’t stay off the podium for long. He bounced back Sunday to take third in Gavere, beating Eli Iserbyt, who finished in second place on Saturday, by 10 seconds.

In a chaotic season, Aerts has been a model of consistency, finishing on the podium in 10 out of his 15 starts, with only one result worse than fifth. He is in second place on the Superprestige standings by four points, and third place on the X2O Badkamers Trofee standings by 3:07 out of first. Iserbyt leads both competitions.