Lucinda Brand had it all to lose in the cyclocross world championships last Saturday.
After dominating the winter of ‘cross and winning the World Cup just the week before, the Dutch rider was a red-hot favorite to overthrow defending champ Ceylin del Carmen Alvarado at Ostende. Following a run of worlds near-misses, the pressure was on for Brand to finally deliver.
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Only she wasn’t seeing it that way.
The 31-year-old tapped into her deepest zen through a scintillating duel with Annemarie Worst and Denise Betsema last Saturday before uncaging her inner tiger when the time was right to score a redemptive rainbow jersey.
“It gave me confidence to have had such a great season. But I also tried to realize that I already had a lot of great victories which the others didn’t have,” Brand told VeloNews. “Although I really wanted to become the world champion – and have for years – I told myself it didn’t happen, I wouldn’t have had a shit season.”
With 11 season victories and having only once failed to hit the podium in 23 races, Brand was on a tear heading into the championship race. However, the nagging presence of a fourth-place finish at the X2O Trofee the weekend before and the tarnish of not winning the final round of the World Cup showed that rock-solid Brand did have chinks in her armor.
Brand knew the counter would effectively be set back to zero when she lined up with a swathe of close contenders looking to disrupt some four months of dominance.
“I had a great season, so I had every reason to be very confident. But I still wasn’t so confident – the last weekend before I didn’t win and the others were definitely better,” she said. “I’ve had moments, like, especially two years ago, where I thought I had a big chance of winning. So I learned also from that. Every single race is a new start and it doesn’t matter what happened in races before. It’s all about how good you are at that moment.”
There was a very big monkey on Brand’s back heading into the sand and surf of Ostende.
Four close-calls in four consecutive world championship races had left Brand crossing the line fourth, second, and twice third. In 2019, the Rotterdam resident was a red-hot favorite for the rainbow jersey only to see a botched bike change and final lap stumble leave her in tears as she stood on the second step of the Bogense podium, looking up at winner Sanne Cant and wondering what could have been.
Brand duly cranked up the chill as she looked to displace the expectation in the week ahead of Saturday’s worlds.
“I tried to convince myself that the pressure was not that high to win the worlds,” she said. “Of course, I really wanted to win the race, I’ve already been so close and you also know that there are loads of young talented riders coming up, so you never know how next season will be – so when the chance is there, you really need to try to take it. But I always was trying to not be too strict, because if you put a lot of pressure on your own shoulders you might be blocked.”
As expected, the race came down to an all-Duch affair that sat on a knife-edge all the way through to the final moments. Brand held her nerve through the yo-yoing three-way race with Betsema and Worst, and after trading haymakers and turns in the lead through the opening four laps, it was still all-square between the trio heading into the final circuit.
For Brand, that was the time to unleash the raw emotion she’d kept in check through the week building to the race.
“At that moment, when we came towards a final, I was really like, ‘Okay, this time, I’m gonna make it, it’s not gonna let it happen again,'” she said. “I was really hungry to take the race my way and take the chance my way, instead of in the last moment, letting it slip away. I didn’t really feel nervous. I wasn’t thinking about negative outcomes from anything – I was in a really good focus.”
With just minutes to go, cool-as-a-cucumber Brand could have seen it all go up in smoke to live out a repeat of 2019. With Betsema despatched earlier in the lap, Worst and Brand rubbed shoulders at the head of the race. Worst slid out but Brand stayed upright, and the door was left open. The 31-year-old wasted no time in stepping through it to take her long-sought-after world title.
“In the final meters the weight was off my shoulders,” Brand said after the race. “It finally worked out. I felt so proud.”
Brand will be straight into her new rainbow jersey this weekend and has business to attend to.
Currently leading both the X2O Trofee and Superprestige competitions with just three weeks of racing remaining, Brand will be once again dialing up the zen as she looks to seal an unprecedented season sweep.