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Lucinda Brand masters the mud with another win at World Cup Namur

World champion takes 10th victory of season after riding off the front in opening lap and fending off late charge from Denise Betsema.

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The cyclocross World Cup paid its traditional pre-holiday visit to Namur, the capital city of Wallonia, and it was Lucinda Brand (Trek Baloise Lions) who took home an early Christmas present with another solo win.

Denise Betsema (Pauwels Sauzen-Bingoal) pressured the world champion in a late surge, but was left to settle for second-best.

Sunday was Brand’s fourth consecutive victory at Namur on a course that ranks as one of her favorites. The win strengthens her overall position in the World Cup. With only four races remaining in the series, she now has 322 points overall, 23 ahead of Betsema, whose chances of overall victory seem to be slipping away.

Contrasting with Saturday’s flat and boggy course in Rucphen, Namur’s track boasts a wide range of challenges for the riders.

There are steep climbs and drop-offs, cobbles, tarmac and an infamous off-camber section that often sends the over-confident down into the barriers. The course at Namur loops around the ancient Citadel, perched on a hill overlooking the city. The race is something of a modern classic, having been on the calendar since 2009. Before that, the track was used for motocross racing.

A huge field of 73 riders entered today’s race, including ten riders from the USA. Raylyn Nuss lined up in her new Pan-American champion’s jersey, but it was American champ Clara Honsinger (Cannondale Cyclocrossworld) who was expected to challenge for a podium spot.

Honsinger had a phenomenal race last year, finding the testing course to her liking and finishing second behind Brand. The race also saw the return of Kata Blanka Vas (SD Worx), although yesterday’s winner Marianne Vos (Jumbo Visma) chose to stay at home.

Brand, riding Dugast Rhino mud tires with very low pressures, got away cleanly from the congested starting climb.

Betsema chased her down on the horribly rutted famous off-camber sections but was unable to hold the Trek rider for very long. With the ground very churned up the riders were forced to run sections that might have been rideable in different conditions. The added running made an already brutal course even more demanding.

Betsema worked hard to keep Brand within sight, with Puck Pieterse (Alpecin-Fenix) a few seconds further back. Behind the leading trio there was a group including Fem van Empel (Pauwels Sauzen-Bingoal), Annemarie Worst (777), Ceylin del carmen Alvarado (Alpecin Fenix), Inge van der Heijden (777) and Maghalie Rochette (Feedback Specialized).

Brand’s ride was not trouble-free.

She slid out on the fourth time across the off-camber, and frequently struggled to get her feet back into the pedals. With every small slip Betsema inched a little closer to her rival. With one lap to go the gap between them was only 16 seconds. Brand, however, has learned how to deal with pressure.

Behind the leaders, Pieterse was trying to fend off a late charge from Alvarado and van Empel. On the final long run-up Alvarado and van Empel sprinted to the top, bikes on their shoulders, and it was van Empel who got a small gap to take into the finishing straight. Alvarado, however, will be content with 5th place after such a tough race. She will be hoping it is a sign of better form ahead of the busy Christmas period.

After a slow start, Honsinger gradually picked her way through the field. Her efforts came too late for her to connect with the top ten group and she finished in 11th spot. Next week the riders are back in the Flandrian fields, with the Dendermonde World Cup on December 26th.

UCI Cyclocross World Cup Namur elite women’s results

1. Lucinda Brand (Trek Baloise Lions): +53:07
2. Denise Betsema (Pauwels Sauzen-Bingoal): +:20
3. Puck Pieterse (Alpecin Fenix): +1:16
4. Fem van Empel (Pauwels Sauzen-Bingoal): +1:31
5. Ceylin del Carmen Alvarado (Alpecin Fenix): +1:34