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Lucinda Brand disappoints Puck Pieterse with World Cup Hulst comeback

World champion pulls back Pieterse after young talent led the majority of the 'cross.

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Lucinda Brand (Trek Baloise Lions) continued her winning streak in the World Cup with a hard-fought victory in Hulst on Sunday.

On a technical and physically demanding track with some terrifyingly steep descents, Brand had to go deep to catch early leader Puck Pieterse (Alpecin Fenix). Pieterse took second, extending her lead in the U23 competition. Annemarie Worst (777) completed the podium.

After the race Brand was full of praise for 19-year-old Pieterse.

“She was riding amazingly,” Brand said. “She had a great start so she could do what she wanted and maybe I had a bit of luck that I couldn’t be there at the start so I had a bit left for the end. But she made it really hard.”

The win puts Brand on 402 points overall in the World Cup, 59 points ahead of Denise Betsema (Pauwels Sauzen-Bingoal), who could only finish seventh.

With only two rounds remaining – in Flamanville and Hoogerheide – Brand looks assured of overall victory and her attention will be turning to the defense of her rainbow jersey in Fayetteville, Arkansas on the last weekend of January. Undoubtedly her rivals will be hoping for her form to dip, but Brand’s will to win weighs in her favor.

The race in Hulst is a relatively new one, having only been on the calendar since 2016. This small picturesque town lies just over the border from Belgium, northwest of Antwerp. Last year, due to COVID restrictions, the World Cup was forced out of town to the nearby coast. This year the organizers were able to bring the race back into town, minus spectators. The course traverses the steep ramparts around the 12th-century old town, making for some spectacular daredevil features.

Conditions were dry and warm as the riders lined up and the ground was mainly firm, leading some riders to pick intermediate tyres over full mud tyres.

Marianne Vos (Jumbo Visma) was quickest away from the start line and took a group of young riders with her – Pieterse, Fem van Empel (Pauwels Sauzen Bingoal), Kata Blanka Vas (SD Worx) and Shirin van Anrooij (Trek Baloise Lions). As the riders tried to dial in the course there were frequent mistakes, particularly on the short steep banks. Pieterse took advantage, taking a solid early lead, chased by Van Anrooij and Vas.

By the end of lap two Pieterse had a lead of 14 seconds. Being clear of traffic gave her the opportunity to ride all of the steep banks and avoid stalling at the top.

While the younger riders were enjoying the technical challenges of the course, Brand, Betsema and Vos looked to be under pressure. In the middle of the race, Brand was struggling to stay with the chase group, while Betsema and Vos were a handful of seconds off the back.

But Brand’s fighting spirit shone through. Working with Vas she used the power sections of the course to close the gap to Pieterse.

Then at the end of the penultimate lap Brand made her move.

On the approach to a technical section, the world champion sprinted into the lead, cleared two steep banks then was able to put down the power on the finishing straight. Once she had the lead of the race Brand wasn’t going to give it up. Despite a small slip on the last lap she finished three seconds clear of Pieterse. Worst finished strongly to take third place.

Next weekend the UCI World Cup takes a break for the National Championships, before moving back to French soil. Flamanville, on the northern coast close to the Channel Islands of Guernsey and Jersey, hosted the 2020 French national championships and now takes another step up to World Cup status.

Hulst, top-5

1 Lucinda Brand (Trek Baloise Lions): 49.14
2 Puck Pieterse (Alpecin Fenix): +0.05
3 Annemarie Worst (777): +0.11
4 Kata Blanka Vas (SD Worx): +0.14
5 Fem van Empel (Pauwels Sauzen Bingoal): +0.26