Never off the podium: Lucinda Brand is dominating CX and eyeing Roubaix

by José Been


Lucinda Brand hasn’t finished lower than third in a cyclocross race this year, and she’s won the last three races she started. And all in a matter of eight days. It’s time to catch up with the former Dutch road race champion who now focuses on cyclocross full-time. Or does she?

“That is a bit of a misconception,” she says from her home in Rotterdam. “I will not stop riding road races at all. That got lost in translation a little bit. A reason to do more cyclocross races this season was that the points ranking changed and that UCI World Cups were becoming even more important to obtain a good starting position for the world championships.

“Also, I found myself struggling to find goals to train towards earlier this year because of the absence of races on the [road] calendar. I then made a calculated decision that the chance cyclocross would take place in these corona-times was bigger than road races. But I want to return to the road as well, most definitely!

“Cyclocross motivates me for the road season too. It works both ways! And I still have the dream to go to the Olympics.”

Brand rides Trek bikes on the road and on the cyclocross track.

Lucinda Brand is now 31 years young and has been on a race bike as long as she can remember. Growing up with bike-racing father and brother she was quickly drawn to the sport as well.

“My brother Giancarlo wanted to race because our father had been a competitive bike rider before we were born,” Brand says. “I had to tag along. I just wanted to do what my brother and dad did and loved it straight away. Whenever I rode with them, I had to keep up because they were definitely not waiting for me at every turn. That’s how I learned to take corners,” she adds with a smile.

“I didn’t like the training part that much though. My dad said I had to train because otherwise he wouldn’t let me race. To keep me busy, he bought me a little cross bike for the winter months.”

It’s in cyclocross that Brand has quickly become one of the best riders in the world. After her win in Tabór, Czech Republic last weekend, the first UCI World Cup of this season, Brand naturally leads that ranking. Brand is now second in the other main rankings in cyclocross: Superprestige and the X2O Badkamers Trofee.

Brand winning the 2020 Jaarmarktcross Niel in November.

It was a good weekend for the Telenet-Baloise Lions rider. Next to her win in Tabór she also rode to the win in Kortrijk, Belgium on Saturday.

“This weekend was our first double race weekend,” she says. “My boyfriend Lieven and I drove from Belgium to the Czech Republic overnight. I didn’t sleep in the car because I like keeping him company. He makes sure my weekend is as relaxed as possible and I am grateful for his company.

“Thankfully some of the team’s U23 riders had already travelled ahead because they were not doing the double. We could share the campervans which was a huge bonus.”

It’s a transfer many riders had to make. The top Belgian male riders and Belgian champion Sanne Cant chartered a private plane which took them to Prague in less than two hours but the majority of the riders didn’t have this luxury. Although Brand thinks more internationalization is important for the development of the sport, she wasn’t thrilled with last weekend, which involved 3,000 kilometres of driving from her home in Rotterdam to Kortrijk, near the Franco-Belgian border, to the Czech Republic and back to Rotterdam.

“My idea is to make the UCI World Cup smaller to, let’s say, six races in six countries,” she says. “Plan a weekend around the World Cup with a C1 [second-tier] race. Make that C1 a Superprestige race so we get those points as well. That way we don’t have to travel to Spain or France for one 40-minute race only. The Basque Country, for example, has some really great races we never get to race.”

Brand has many years of experience in road racing. She signed her first pro contract with Leontien van Moorsel’s team Leontien.nl back in 2009. She was part of the Rabobank team for four seasons and was captain of Team Sunweb for three seasons until joining Trek-Segafredo in January year.

With both her road and cyclocross teams sponsored by Trek Bikes it’s the perfect place for Brand to combine both disciplines. While the cyclocross season is in full swing, she already thinks ahead to next year’s road season and has one date set firmly in her head: April 11, 2021. The date of the first women’s Paris-Roubaix.

“The team has already sent me a draft schedule for next year’s Spring Classics campaign,” Brand explains. “It depends on whether I am going for the overall win in the rankings of Superprestige and X2O Badkamers Trofee. If I am still doing well in those rankings, I will continue racing cross longer into February because there are still many races then.

“I will probably do some of the Spring Classics like Strade Bianche before the Tour of Flanders and Paris-Roubaix but I need to have more discussions about that with the Trek-Segafredo team management.”

Paris-Roubaix has been on everyone’s mind since ASO announced there would be a women’s race for the first time. The COVID-19 schedule initially included a ‘Roubaix’ in October this year but that was ultimately cancelled by the French authorities. Brand, her teammate Ellen van Dijk, and sports directors Steven de Jongh and Ina Teutenberg had already travelled to northern France for an early recon and decided to keep the last recon before the October race date on the agenda too. Brand vividly remembers her first acquaintance with the infamous cobbles of the Foret d’Arenberg.

“They told us to just test bikes and tires there,” she recalls. “I remember thinking ‘yeah sure, we’ll see’. I didn’t even recognize we were at that world-famous place at first. My first thought on those cobbles was: how do these bikes not break? What you don’t see on TV is that Arenberg is downhill. The speed is insanely high and there were a few deep holes in the first few meters already.

“It’s a magical race with mud and sliding. You need luck but when you are good you also create your own luck. You need so many skills and you need so much more than just being strong.

“People will be looking at me that day, no doubt. I hope to take my skills from cyclocross to that race: the control of the bike, balancing your body weight, not be afraid because that makes you hit the brakes too soon, and positioning well. You need to have all these skills to save energy as much as you can in a race like Roubaix.”

Brand is honing a lot of these skills in the mud, grass and sand of the mainly Belgian and Dutch cyclocross courses. Being part of the Telenet-Baloise Lions means that multiple-time world champion Sven Nys is one of her coaches.

“We train together with the entire team and just by looking at each other you can learn a lot,” she says. “I also watch back all my races and those of the men as well. Taking a corner for example. When you are alone you feel that there might be something wrong in how you take a corner and how you balance your body weight but when someone like Sven is watching and lets you ride the corner again and again you learn it fast.

“We also train on automatic reactions, on reflexes so to say. As a road rider I have done things so often that they go without thinking but when it comes to cyclocross it’s a matter of doing it over again and again to get those reflexes on when to dismount, how far to run in a sand pit or how to approach stairs.

“You learn how to make the right decisions by doing it very often. I had to change my style in the sand pit for example. I ride a high cadence usually but have to bring that down in the sand and let the bike do the work.

“I lack the explosiveness you need for a start, especially since our starts are more and more aggressive. You simply can’t ease into a race like you would on the road because by then the cyclocross race is over. Not having fast muscle fibers is part genetic. I will never develop them now but you can train this. Also getting older doesn’t help but again, training helps delay the process.”

The World Championships are the biggest goal of Brand’s cyclocross season. In 2017, her first world championships, she was fourth. The year after in Valkenburg she took home a bronze medal. In Bogense, Denmark in 2019 she started as the top favorite but made too many mistakes and had to settle for silver. Earlier this year in Dübendorf, Switzerland, Brand took another bronze medal.

When the 2021 Cyclocross Worlds start in Oostende, Belgium in late January, Brand should start as one of the favourites. That comes with its own pressure.

“I never had thought it would play such an important role but it does,” Brand says. “In Denmark I also lacked some experience. Last season in Dübendorf there were other issues like a broken bike. For this year the World Championships in Oostende are my biggest goal.

“I have to keep this form I have now for another two months,” she says. “That’s not an easy task but our season now doesn’t have many double race weekends. That means less time needed for recovery and more for training. That can be the advantage of this funny year we are dealing with.”

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