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Commentary: Lucinda Brand wins one for the domestiques

Lucinda Brand is a dedicated worker bee on the road, and her cyclocross world title is a triumph for the domestiques out there.

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All hail Lucinda Brand, the new queen of cyclocross.

On Saturday Brand capped off a season of domination by winning the 2021 cyclocross world championships, just days after she was crowned World Cup champion. Both accolades are career high marks for Brand, and they come after Brand spent years landing oh-so-close to the top step at worlds and in the final World Cup standings.

To win worlds and the World Cup in the same season is a mark of supreme consistency and peak performance. Brand now joins Sanne Cant as the only woman to ever do so.

And we cannot overlook a significant element of Brand’s win. Cyclocross is merely half of her gig as a professional cyclist — she spends most of the year racing on the road, now with Trek-Segafredo. We’ve seen plenty of riders balance pro road and cyclocross racing, most notably Marianne Vos, Wout van Aert, and Mathieu van der Poel.

And that’s where Lucinda Brand stands apart.

“I think I’m a good all-around rider and sometimes that means it is really hard to be really good in that one thing,” Brand told me earlier this year. “I’m a rider who you can always use if there is a gap that needs to be closed, and I try to ride in the final so I can be of good help. I think I’m a very tactical rider so I want to have my input for the team leader.”

That’s right: Lucinda Brand isn’t a star rider in road cycling like Vos or van der Poel. She’s a dedicated worker bee who usually sacrifices her own ambitions for that of her team leader. She’s a domestique.

Brand (far left) is one of many top riders at Trek-Segafredo. Photo: Luc Claessen/Getty Images

Brand has 17 wins in her road pro career, including a pair of Dutch national titles and the 2017 edition of Omloop Het Nieuwsblad. But Brand’s day-in day-out job often occurs when the TV cameras aren’t even switched on yet. She’s the one pulling back early breakaways, grabbing water bottles, and ramping up the pace before a crucial sector of road. Whenever Lizzie Deignan or Elisa Longo Borghini attacks, they do so after Lucinda Brand has done her job.

And since she’s from The Netherlands — the nation that singlehandedly dominates women’s road cycling — Brand is often overlooked in the landscape of top female road riders. If she were from any other nation, Lucinda Brand would be a shoo-in to qualify for the Olympic games. But since she’s Dutch, Brand might enjoy a long and fruitful career in road cycling and never make it to the Olympics.

Brand is the first one to admit this. She laughed as she recounted an anecdote from the 2018 UCI road world championships that illustrated this point. That year she had made her debut in the individual time trial at worlds. Brand had the time trial of her life and landed in sixth place overall. As it turns out, however, sixth made her the last-placed Dutch rider, behind Annemiek van Vleuten, Anna van der Breggen, and Ellen van Dijk, who swept the podium.

“It was something to be proud of, and I really was — but still I was just the fourth Dutch rider. It’s ridiculous,” Brand said. “I think it has made me who I am as a rider. I’m that strong because you need to fight to be there and to be one of the best riders from my country.”

During a normal year Brand shows up for the cyclocross season running on fumes after a long campaign on the road. In 2020 that wasn’t the case, as she battled a knee injury and multiple illnesses, which kept her out of the Giro Rosa and the big classics. The time off allowed Brand to rest and cool her jets for the cyclocross season, and she showed up ready to rumble.

“It meant I didn’t have so many races before cyclocross started and I didn’t really need an offseason or a re-start to my season,” she said. “I could just jump into racing. I wasn’t on the perfect level but I could improve during the season.”

Improve she did, until there was no question that she was the best rider — Dutch and otherwise — on the course.

And that’s why I couldn’t be happier for Lucinda Brand to have won cyclocross worlds. She was the first placed Dutch rider, and the first placed rider overall. She crushed it for the little guys and gals out there.