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Lucinda Brand back on course after injury-blighted cyclocross season

A broken hand hampered Brand's cyclocross season but she's still hopeful of hitting form for the worlds in Hoogerheide.

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After a 2021-22 cyclocross season that saw her blitz every race she started, Lucinda Brand has had to fight back against multiple setbacks this year.

The Baloise-Trek Lions rider looked to be hitting her stride in the early part of her season, but she has lost considerable ground following a crash during training in preparation for the Tábor World Cup in late October.

Brand had to undergo an operation after breaking her hand in the incident and post-operation complications have further hampered her since. She traveled to Spain earlier this month to meet with her Trek-Segafredo road team, where she could take stock and plan her next steps.

“I’m not really used to facing these kinds of issues. It wasn’t easy, but we also knew that there would come a moment that it’s not all glitter and glamour,” Brand told VeloNews. “It’s tough and it’s hard to focus on the right things to just stay calm and find my moment to come back and find my level back.”

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Brand was reconning the course at Tábor when she had the incident. She was trying out a different line around a corner that descended toward the apex and rose up again when her bike slid out.

As she tried to correct herself, her handlebars caught on a pole that was marking out the course and her right hand smacked into the pole. She freed herself and tried to get going again, but her front wheel twisted in the mud and she crashed to the ground. It’s not clear which fall actually did the real damage, but the result was a broken metacarpal bone.

“It was super slow, and I didn’t take any risks. It was a stupid thing,” she said of the incident.

Fortunately for Brand, her bones healed up quite quickly but she continued to suffer with a swelling in the area where the incision was made for the operation. A course of antibiotics did help somewhat, but it wasn’t until a stitch came out of the wound that she figured out what was going on.

Some of the subcuticular stitches she’d been given had not dissolved completely and were irritating her hand. Things have vastly improved since that stitch came free last week, but there is still a small swelling visible in her hand.

“Some pieces had not thoroughly gone, so my body just pulled them out,” Brand said. “Since I pulled out there, it’s much better. Before that, it was like I need to wake [the hand] up kind of thing. But since then, I can properly keep on my drops again.”

Getting up to speed

Since coming back to racing following her crash, Brand has been in the top five of all but one of the races she’s finished — she was sevenths in Beeekse Bergen, her first race back, and she didn’t finish Boom at the start of this month after falling ill.

Despite the solid results this winter, she has been far from her all-dominating self from last season. Brand believes she has the pace to race with the best but that it’s cagey starts that are preventing her from getting back onto the podium.

“It wasn’t so bad, to be honest,” Brand said of her recent races. “I analyzed the races I did and basically all the race World Cups I did the last laps were the fastest and were with the fastest in the whole race. If my level would be really bad, then I could not do that in the final of a race.

“Somehow, I always missed out my start or let myself get pushed away or something. So, I think the main thing is being more confident again in the start part and technique and stuff like that. It’s not that I am thinking about crazy it knowingly, but it’s more in the subconscious. I think this is the main thing and here I just can work on my fitness and then I’ll be fine, I guess.”

With the injury woes hopefully now behind Brand, she can fully focus on her preparation for the world championships at the beginning of February. Once she leaves the Trek camp, she has a busy period of racing right up to the Dutch nations to get her up to speed.

After so many disruptions, it is still going to be hard to hit peak performance in the race for the rainbow jersey.

“I know for myself always already that like I need time in the field for my technique and it’s going better every time. But it’s also with being in a flow it always goes better than not in the flow. It’s combining a bit and then sometimes you want too much maybe also and then it turns out the other way.

“[The worlds] is still where we aim for. But we also know now that if you follow the normal kind of physical rules, it’s maybe that I would not be able to say that I will be at my top level. But, of course, we’re going to do what we can to make myself the best rider possible.”

Roubaix dreaming

Though the cyclocross season is still very much going on, Brand will have the road season to consider in the back of her mind as winter progresses. She had a strong year that saw her win the overall title at the Tour de Suisse, but her primary goal during the year will be to help her teammates and see what else falls her way.

“With the team, we are planning the calendar. I never have really a lot of big goals because, for me, I have like maybe one real goal in season on the road and the rest is more like seeing what comes with my level. The main goal then is more than helping my teammates by being a super good rider in the final.

“For me in spring Roubaix is standing on top. It is one of the races that is really cool for me. There are other races, like Gent-Wevelgem for example, I would not jump around if they put me on it but then I’m like ‘okay, I just need to do it.’ But then other races I like more. In general, the harder course I like it.”

Brand made her Roubaix debut this year after missing the first edition, which took place in October 2021, while she prepared for the cyclocross season. Despite it being her first time, she was a favorite for the win and she would go on to finish on the podium.

Her teammate Elisa Longo Borghini — who was third in 2021 — won the race with a solo attack, keeping Trek-Segafredo’s 100 percent record at the race after Lizzie Deignan soloed to victory in the first edition.

Brand doesn’t feel the pressure too much to maintain the record but her following in the footsteps of Longo Borghini hasn’t been missed by those around her.

“People say ‘oh, you became third so it’s your turn this year like you know what happened with Elisa being third and winning.’ So, it feels more like putting pressure on me. It’s crazy and yeah, but it’s also a big compliment because the whole team we really looking to this race,” Brand said.