How Lucinda Brand made her triumphant return to the winner's step
Sunday was a milestone in almost every sense for Lucinda Brand.
The 2021 Cyclocross World Champion had been one of the most dominant riders in the sport, but a broken hand suffered early last October pushed her season off track. She gradually returned to form throughout a strong road campaign with Lidl-Trek, but then a September shoulder injury that required surgery threatened her cross season yet again.
But in her return to racing in Dendermonde two weeks ago, she quickly resumed podium form. And in Dublin on Sunday, she looked every bit like her old self, starting fast on a muddy World Cup course and never letting off the gas during a 38-second solo win over Ceylin del Carmen Alvarado.
In the process, Brand earned the 50th elite win of her career, and her first win since an Exact Cross win in Meulebeke on Oct. 1, 2022.
“It means a lot to finally win a race again,” Brand said. “If you think back, it’s my first victory since I broke my hand last year. So it’s a very long time, with many ups and downs in between. Of course, it’s all relative, and it was not the end of the world. But as an athlete, you always want the best and to perform the best you can on the highest level. And it was not always my level that I reached.”
Rain began to fall at the start of the elite women’s race, making the course more difficult to ride throughout the 55-minute effort. But Brand, as has become her trademark, thrived in muddy conditions. Her legs showed no sign of fatigue from a second-place effort during Saturday’s X2O Trofee race in Kortrijk.
“When I came back racing two weeks ago, I was surprised by my level,” Brand said. “Of course, I felt good on the bike, but you never know how that ends up being in a race. And that I could take little steps forward every week, and then stepping on the highest podium spot this weekend, it’s really great to be back on that level.”
Brand was just one half of yet another banner weekend for Baloise Trek. Her men’s teammate Pim Ronhaar scored his second World Cup win of the season — and of his career — by two seconds in a muddy sprint with Laurens Sweeck. Ronhaar rode a clever race, riding the wheels of his competitors as they tried to chase down a solo effort from Ronhaar’s teammate, Thibau Nys, who finished sixth.
Ronhaar went to the front on the second-to-last lap, got caught by Sweeck in the final few hundred meters of the race, then turned on the jets again on the pavement into the finish line.
“At the beginning, I thought Thibau [Nys] was going to win the race easily. It was a really hard race,” Rohnaar told Cyclingnews. “Laurens passed me in the last 500 metres, and I thought, ‘Ah shit, am I not going to win this race.’ I was waiting for the right moment, and when I went, I was so strong, looked back, and he was nowhere, so it’s a nice feeling to win like this.”
Baloise Trek men’s riders have now won four out of five rounds of the Cyclocross World Cup — Ronhaar has wins in Dublin and Dendermonde, Nys won the series opener in Waterloo, and Lars van der Haar won in Maasmechelen. The team also scored a Superprestige win with Joris Nieuwenhuis in Merksplas.
As the cyclocross calendar creeps towards the Kerstperiode and the heart of the season, Baloise Trek is firing on all cylinders. For Brand, her best may be yet to come.
“I’m super happy to be at this level, and super excited about the races that are coming,” Brand said. “Of course, I know it will not always be a podium because there are some tough battles coming up in the coming weeks, especially around Christmas time, and the level in the women’s field is so high. But I just hope that I can keep competing for wins, making great finals, and, of course, working towards the championships later in the season.”