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Lucinda Brand dominates in the mud and chills of Besançon World Cup

Pan-American champion Maghalie Rochette takes second, American champ Clara Honsinger finishes seventh.

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Lucinda Brand (Trek Baloise-Lions) demonstrated her blend of power and technical skill to win the eighth round of the World Cup in Besançon, France on a wet and cold day.

Maghalie Rochette (Specialized Feedback) took second-place and Denise Betsema (Pauwels Sauzen-Bingoal) third.

While Rochette has previously won a World Cup (in Iowa, 2019) this result, in a European race in late November with all the main protagonists present, was a breakthrough performance.

Brand now leads the World Cup rankings with 252 points, ahead of Betsema with 223 points and Puck Pieterse with 182 points.

“It was a very tough course,” Brand said after the race. “I made sure I was leading in the first part of the race so I could choose my own lines and push the power where I needed. It’s really nice to have a bigger gap in the rankings. I will not be there in Val Di Sole but now I have a bigger gap it’s not such a big deal.”

Earlier in the week, the weather forecast for Besançon promised heavy snow but ‘cross fans will have to wait a little longer for the first snowy race of the season. The snowfall failed to materialize and instead several hours of sleet and rain made the course heavy-going. The race started in freezing temperatures, with a bitter wind and light rain.

The Besançon course was designed by French cyclocross legend Francis Mourey.

Based on a broad grassy meadow, there were many short sharp climbs, two staircases, and some off-camber descents. On a dry day, the course could have been fast, but the weather made the track very slow and muddy. Riders chose their mud tires such as Challenge Limus, running at pressures around 15 psi (one bar).

In front of a vociferous and enthusiastic local crowd the Clauzel sisters, Perrine and Hélene (A.S Bike Crossteam), led the race away from the start. Behind them, Anna Kay crashed on the starting grid.

Brand and Betsema quickly assumed their usual positions at the front, though Brand faltered on a tricky off-camber descent when she took a wide line and nearly slid off. Annemarie Worst (777), winner in Koksijde last week, followed Brand’s line and did fall off. Though the crash wasn’t serious, she never fully recovered and eventually finished in 16th place.

Brand’s strong pace on the first lap established a gap and she never looked threatened after that. It was a bold tactic reminiscent of her coach Sven Nys. Having a gap that ranged between 20 and 30 seconds meant that small mistakes wouldn’t be as critical as they would if she had other riders around her.

On the second lap a chasing group of five formed, including Betsema, Rochette, Fem Van Empel (Pauwels Sauzen Bingoal), Puck Pieterse (Alpecin Fenix) and Inge Van Der Heijden (777). Behind them, American riders Katie Clouse and Clara Honsinger (both Cannondale were making good progress through the field.

The combination of heavy mud and cold, wet weather made for challenging conditions. Some riders changed bikes every lap, and many could be seen trying to shake the mud off their gloves and stamp it out of their cleats.

Everyone made mistakes, including Brand, but in the end, it was power and running ability that made the difference. Rochette’s running fitness helped her to escape Betsema. Van Empel and Pieterse, both U23 riders, had an intense battle for fourth place, while Van Der Heijden slipped off the back of the group.

On the penultimate lap, it seemed that Rochette might have a chance to close the gap to Brand, but the World Champion still had some fuel in the tank. On the last lap, she put in a faultless technical performance and extended her gap to over 30 seconds. Rochette, however, wasn’t too worried. Second place was a significant result and worth celebrating.

Honsinger finished seventh while Clouse finished in ninth just behind Shirin Van Anrooij, also a breakthrough performance for the young American. Of the French riders, Line Burquier (A.S Bike Crossteam) was best in 10th, just ahead of Helene Clauzel.

Candian rider Rochette relished what was her top European result of the season.

“For me it’s always been a dream to win a World Cup or be on a podium of a World Cup in Europe. The field is just as strong in America but I’ve always had trouble doing well in Europe so I’m very happy. I was just trying to stay calm,” Rochette said.

“Sometimes I get too excited and nervous and I make mistakes. I kept telling myself to stay calm and stay in the moment, and it worked. Now I’m staying until January in Europe so hopefully, I can keep doing well. Thank you to all the French fans who were cheering for me because they know I speak French, that made a big difference.”

UCI Cyclocross World Cup Besançon Women’s Elite Results

1. Lucinda Brand (Trek Baloise Lions): 51:09
2. Maghalie Rochette (Specialized Feedback): +:26
2. Denise Betsema (Pauwels Sauzen-Bingoal): +:34
4. Fem Van Empel (Pauwels Sauzen-Bingoal): +:37
5. Puck Pieterse (Alpecin-Fenix): +:44