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Cyclocross

Lucinda Brand wins a muddy Fayetteville World Cup in the rain

Denise Betsema is second and Clara Honsinger battles to third, passing Marianna Vos at the end of the final lap.

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In muddy conditions that resembled Belgium in November, world champion Lucinda Brand (Trek-Baloise Lions) triumphed in the inaugural Fayetteville World Cup, in Centennial Park. After a near race-long battle with Marianne Vos (Jumbo-Visma) it seemed we were going to be treated to a sprint finish similar to that of Sunday’s Waterloo World Cup. But the Fayetteville race turned out very differently, with Vos crashing on the last lap and missing out on a podium spot to Denise Betsema (Pauwels-Sauzen Bingoal) and Clara Honsinger (Cannondale-Cyclocrossworld.com).

After the race, winner Lucinda Brand said, “I am definitely happy. It was a tough race. I’ll definitely be back for the World Championships and I’ll also bring some wet weather with me!”

Tuesday’s practice sessions had been run off in favorable weather and the course was running fast. Heavy rain showers throughout race day transformed the track, which has been purpose-built for this race and January’s world championships. With the ground baked solid, the fresh rain sat on top in a layer of saturated grass and mud. The riders chose mud tires and prepared themselves for a traction fight over the 2.89km lap.

The rain was still falling heavily as the 53-rider field sprinted away from the start. Jolanda Neff (Trek Factory Racing CX) took advantage of her front -row position to lead into the first corner. The course was expected to suit Neff’s climbing abilities but by the middle of the first lap, she had fallen back. It was the two leaders of the World Cup for Elite and Under 23 classifications, Vos and Kata Blanka Vas (SD Worx) respectively, each wearing the white and red leader’s jersey, who came to the front.

Betsema, Brand, and Honsinger. (Photo: Eddie Clark)

One of the Fayetteville course’s most testing features is a 34 step staircase, perhaps modeled on the infamous stairs at Hoogerheide, in The Netherlands, and it was here that Brand and Betsema closed down the gap to Vos and Blanka Vas. Coming into the finishing straight the leading quartet eased up, allowing Maghalie Rochette (Specialized/Feedback Sports), Annemarie Worst and Inge Van Der Heijden (both 777), Puck Pieterse (Alpecin-Fenix), and Yara Kastelijn (IKO Crelan) to form a leading group.

As in Waterloo, however, as soon as the leading group formed it splintered again under the pressure of Vos and Brand. The duo quickly pulled out a 20-second gap. At first, Vos rode on the front, testing Brand on the climbs and technical sections. Brand knew she had to drop Vos to avoid a repeat of Sunday’s sprint finish. On a tight muddy turn Brand’s front wheel slid out. Vos took advantage and pushed on, forcing Brand into a hard chase over the following lap.

Behind the two leaders, the chasing group comprised Betsema, Pieterse, Rochette, and Blanka Vas. But it was the U.S. national champion Honsinger who had the momentum, closing on making contact at the bottom of the long climb on the penultimate lap. Honsinger’s breakthrough World Cup performance of the 2020-21 season was at Namur, another hilly and muddy race. She comes good at the end of tough races.

On the fast descent at the start of the final lap, Vos slid to the ground and Brand didn’t need another invitation. Taking risks, sliding around the bends with her foot out, Brand knew this was her moment. Vos was unable to give chase and looked increasingly fatigued. Her shoulders rocking, Vos was caught first by Betsema, and then Honsinger.

Brand seals the deal in the rain in Fayetteville. (Photo: Eddie Clark)

UCI Cyclocross World Cup Fayetteville elite women’s results

  1. Lucinda Brand (Trek-Baloise Lions), 51:46
  2. Denise Betsema (Pauwels Sauzen-Bingoal), at :09
  3. Clara Honsinger (Cannondale-Cyclocrossworld.com), at :16
  4. Marianne Vos (Jumbo-Visma), at :26
  5. Puck Pieterse (Alpecin-Fenix), at :28