Balancing cyclocross and road: Q&A with Lucinda Brand

After finishing her cyclocross season with another Worlds podium, Lucinda is looking forward to her debut with Trek-Segafredo

For many, change brings fear and uncertainty. For others, it’s the fuel needed to keep the stimuli high and, consequently, helps reap the fruits of their passion. Lucinda Brand is one of them. Thirty years old, and ten of those years spent fighting in the upper echelons of both cyclocross and road cycling, the Dutch rider is ready to take on a new challenge with a new team.

The debut with Trek-Segafredo is set for the end of the month, in the opening weekend of the Belgium classics, and arrives after months of intense activity in the mud of cyclocross. It was a highly successful cyclocross season for Lucinda that ended with winning a bronze medal in the Elite Women’s race at the World Championships. An umpteenth proof of her capacity in cyclocross this year that we are certain will be replicated on the road.

Lucinda Brand crosses the finish line at the women's elite race at the World Championships cyclocross. BELGA PHOTO DAVID STOCKMAN

For the third consecutive year, you stood on the podium at the World Championships. Were you happy with your race?

Honestly, I can’t put too much blame on myself for the bronze medal, but I admit with all serenity that wasn’t the outcome I was aiming for. I had prepared myself for winning this world championship title, and I fought hard to succeed, but ahead of me, I found two athletes who had something more. It was a very hard-fought challenge where I tried to play all my chances. Simply, there were parts of the race in which I could have done better, but I have no recriminations. They will be the spring to push me into working harder to improve next year.

You have had a busy winter and a very successful cyclocross season. How are you feeling?

I’m absolutely happy with what I was able to do. For the whole season, the level of competition has been very high, tighter than last year. In every race I was able to be competitive, finishing on the podium almost every weekend. I was able to maintain a high standard of performance, as I wanted. It wasn’t just a question of physical condition, which I was able to manage in the best way, but also of technique which is a decisive factor for a discipline like cyclocross. Trying to make a breakthrough in this was one of my goals at the beginning of this season. I’m very happy to have succeeded.

In a few weeks, you’re going to debut on the road with Trek-Segafredo. Your schedule, between cyclocross and road, is non-stop. How hard is it to manage such a demanding program?

It is not always easy to coordinate the two activities, but thanks to the experience gained over the years, I found a good balance between races, training, and rest. The watchword is flexibility. You can’t be afraid to review your plans and, perhaps, your targets. You need to be able to seize the opportunities that change offers you.

Between the two, I collect about 60 race days in a season, which are certainly not a few! Many of these are important competitions that I do not want to face without the right motivation. The physical preparation is a very delicate area because you have to be ready when you need to be, but the mental aspect is equally important. You need freshness and a continuous desire to get the most out of it, race after race.

To do this, I always try to be honest with myself about what I wanted at the beginning of the season, cyclocross or road, and what I feel I can achieve. The hunger for victory, the fire of the competition, must be primary. If I feel something is missing, better to take a break and recover.

Last summer, for example, I was struggling to keep my concentration high to get important results on the road. I decided to stop, recover my mental and physical strength, and focus on the upcoming winter cyclocross season. That choice turned out to be a happy one!

Lucinda Brand celebrates as she crosses the finish line to win the women's elite race of the World Cup cyclocross in Hoogerheide. BELGA PHOTO DAVID STOCKMAN

I had prepared myself for winning this world championship title, and I fought hard to succeed, but ahead of me, I found two athletes who had something more.

Lucinda Brand pictured in action during the women's elite race at the World Championships. BELGA PHOTO DAVID STOCKMAN

How difficult is it to combine the preparation to be competitive in cyclocross and road?

The preparation for the cyclocross season and the winter training are an excellent way to face the road activity and be immediately competitive, but not vice versa. Cyclocross has a very relevant technical component that, in many races, is crucial. Specific training and targeted work are necessary, which is impossible to do when I’m in the middle of the road season.

The real added value that I get from the road is the workloads over long distances, which improve my engine. And then, there is the tactical component to learn how to manage energies in competition, which is important for winning races. Road, in this case, is an excellent test bench, and compared to many young cyclocross talents, who may have more physical freshness, I feel I have a great advantage.

Change always brings excitement. You decided to leave team Sunweb for Trek-Segafredo. What drove this choice?

I am a person who needs continuous stimulation, and sometimes change is necessary to prevent this from getting lost. After three years with Team Sunweb, I felt it was time to try a new challenge. Last year I missed a bit of freedom of action in races, and that was the main lever that pushed me to look for a new environment.

Talking with Luca (Guercilena), Ina, and Giorgia, who I’ve known for a long time, and I know their way of approaching racing, I thought Trek-Segafredo was the best option to conciliate my ambitions.

In the end, there was also the evaluation of cyclocross. Trek is an institution in this discipline, exactly what I wanted and needed to make another leap forward, and with the road team, we found a great balance. I am very happy with my choice.

 And now a new adventure awaits you with Trek-Segafredo. Have you already set your objectives with your new team?

 The cyclocross season has been very demanding, and honestly, there was no time to focus on the road season. But if the feeling will be as good as the approach, I’m sure both the team and I will get a lot of satisfaction this season. In October, I got the chance to know the team for the first time, and the experience was super. It was a very positive atmosphere and a tight-knit group.

You can’t take these elements for granted and given how much time we will have to spend together during the season, they can make a big difference in the races. Right now, I look forward to joining my teammates for the last training camp ahead of the race debut in Belgium. It’s important to get the good feeling I had off-bike also on-bike. Because in races, the real strength of a single rider is only fulfilled thanks to the strength of the team.

Lucinda Brand and Elisa Longo Borghini at the Trek-Segafredo October team camp in Wisconisn. PHOTO: JOJO HARPER

Because in races, the real strength of a single rider is only fulfilled thanks to the strength of the team.

Bauke Mollema, Lizzie Deignan and Lucinda Brand at the October team camp. PHOTO: JOJO HARPER

You showed you’re able to be competitive in a very diverse range of specialties in cycling. How do you define yourself as a cyclist?

If I have to choose a clear-cut definition, then no doubt an all-rounder. Being able to look at so many different types of races with the ambition of a result, it’s super cool. And it’s challenging and exciting. The downside, if we really want to find it, is that sometimes it’s not easy to choose which targets to really aim for… I like too many races!

Joking aside, being an all-rounder allows me to have a range of skills compared to my colleagues, and it’s a joker card to play in certain situations. One thing is sure: the harder the race, the more conviction, and motivation grows in me.

You are part of an incredible generation of riders that have made the Netherlands the leading nation in women’s cycling. What’s the secret? Has the Dutch cycling culture influenced this?

It is well known that the bike is sacred to the Dutch, and it is the mean of transport chosen by many people for their daily activities. Over the years, there have been big investments in bike infrastructure that have made riding cool and exciting in the city. So, yes, culture has influenced, but the love for a bike does not necessarily mean a passion for cycling as a competitive sport.

The real strength of the Netherlands, in this, is the presence of many local clubs that allow you to ride from a very young age. There are dedicated and protected spaces where children can start cycling and riding together in a group. There are activities for every age group that allows them to experience racing as a game and, as a result, to pass down the basic techniques of cycling. In short, there is a very fertile ground where young people can grow their talents, and this is a key fact to explain the excellent results obtained.

The other, of course, is generational and perhaps more related to chance. The support given to cycling from national politics will help in continuing to keep the level high. We will have to see if the generation that comes after ours will have the same concentration of talent. Maybe it will be even superior!


Quickfire questions:

The best quality of your character?

I am not giving up easily on my goals.

If you could improve one thing about your character, what would it be?

My straightforwardness. If I have an opinion, I say it, and I don’t ‘go around.’ I risk appearing rough, and luckily my friends know that, and I appreciate that they point it out to me.

What will make you satisfied at the end of the season?

Winning. And being part of great team success.