Podiums and breakout performances at the best party in cyclocross, bar none
A sunny day greeted Trek’s cyclocross squads in Waterloo. A fast course and rowdy fans created the perfect conditions for thrilling racing. And the results signaled a strong season to come. Trek CX Cup weekend and the first Cyclocross World Cup race of the year could not have kicked off ‘cross season much better.
“This is one of my favorite races, just because of the crowds. Everyone is cheering for you,” Trek Factory Racing’s Maddie Munro said after the race. “And I hear so many Americans, and you get to hang out with all the Trek people. It’s a home race. You really can’t ask for much more than that. The atmosphere is incredible.”
The Baloise Trek Lions placed two riders on elite podiums, with Lucinda Brand and Lars van der Haar both taking third in the women’s and men’s races, respectively.
Brand is coming off a dominant 2021-22 season in which she swept the World Cup, X20 Trofee and Superprestige series overalls, and won a European Championship among 20 total victories. By her own impossibly high standards, her result in Waterloo was somewhat disappointing. A bad start then crash on the first lap forced her to chase back to the front of the race on the first two laps. No easy feat on a fast course.
Fortunately for Brand, not being at the front also meant a lack of cohesion among the leaders. Normally, riders would be content to let a powerful rider like Brand drive the tempo, but in her absence, no one took control, and the pace was relatively easy.
“I tried to stay calm because it could also be to my advantage that they’re kind of forgetting about me,” Brand said. “They weren’t really looking to me to close gaps or anything. But also they never tried for a long time if they attacked.”
Entering the last lap, Brand was in a leading group of five riders, along with Ceylin del Carmen Alvarado, Fem van Empel, Annemarie Worst and Denise Betsema. Brand attacked at the first flyover feature and strained the group, but Van Empel was game and kept Brand within her sights, while also dragging back her competitors.
Brand knew she wanted to be the first rider at the final turn of the race, a sharp 180-degree turn to the left just before a short finishing straight. Unfortunately, a missed pedal late in the lap allowed Alvarado and Van Empel to pass and contest the win while Brand took third. Van Empel beat out Alvarado in a sprint.
“Of course you still need to be happy to come in third behind those super young, talented riders,” Brand said after the race. “I wanted to do better, so right now I’m a bit disappointed. But I think tomorrow I will be happy with it.”
In the men’s race, Van der Haar won a battle for the final podium spot, after riding in a chase group with Michael Vanthourenhout and teammate Thibau Nys for most of the ride. Van der Haar accelerated over the final flyover and beat both riders to the final bend, giving him a clear path to the line and his 22nd career World Cup podium. Eli Iserbyt won the race with an impressive solo ride. Laurens Sweeck took second.
Nys took fifth, and was the fastest U23 rider by six seconds over teammate Pim Ronhaar, who finished sixth. After the race, Nys said that he felt that he had the legs for an even better result, and potentially the podium, but his confidence failed him in the closing meters of the race.
“It was the first time I was in that situation, fighting for a podium spot at a World Cup, and then I just did the wrong thing,” Nys said. “I was already so happy with my fifth place, and I didn’t dare just go full gas in the last couple of meters. … If I could do it all over again, I would shoot my shot.”
Though he may have missed out on a better result, Nys is very pleased with his start to the season. He raced two Exact Cross races in Belgium prior to flying to Wisconsin, taking sixth in Beringen.
“Last week, I got what I expected. And then this weekend, it was perfect,” Nys said. “I felt that I was strong. I think I’m on the right path to a very nice cyclocross season.”
Munro also impressed as a U23, taking second in the classification behind only Van Empel, who won the race. Munro took ninth overall, clearing the benchmark she set for herself, and securing one of the best cyclocross results of her career.
“I told myself going into the race that a top 10 would be an amazing day overall, and then I really wanted to be on that U23 podium,” Munro said. “I knew after Friday, I felt really strong. And I felt great on this course. So if I really had confidence and just believed in myself, I was hoping I could do that.”
Munro particularly enjoyed the course — a windy, technical, full-gas track with fans packed at every corner. She felt that the course suited her, though like a lot of hardcore cyclocross riders, she would have liked a bit of rain.
“I really love this World Cup course, the technical features that they added — the steep run up and the off-camber descent. I think it’s super fun,” Munro said. “It is a really fast course, which for me is not generally the best course. I really like muddy, slow and technical. But I think I’m getting a lot stronger this year, so now I’m able to hang on to some of those girls a bit better.”
Munro will race at the 2022 USA Cycling Collegiate Mountain Bike National Championships next weekend as part of the Colorado Mesa University cycling team. As the reigning women’s XC champion, she’ll be going all out to defend her title, but then she’ll take a well-earned break from racing. She only just recently completed a successful XC World Cup season with TFR this past September.
Munro will still be hard at work, however, just in a different capacity.
“I’ll be trying to catch up on all my schoolwork that I’ve missed and stay on top of things,” Munro said. With midterms in two weeks, her biggest tests of the year are arguably yet to come.