Lucinda Brand led home an all-Dutch podium at the UCI World Cyclocross Championships on Saturday.
The Dutchwoman capped a dominant season with her first world title after a thrilling three-way battle with compatriots Annemarie Worst and Denise Betsema.
The trio had gone into the final lap dead-level after a race had seen them almost inseparable from the very opening circuit of the coastal course in Ostende. Betsema was first to fall off the pace in the closing lap, having dominated the front-half of the race. Worst then twice slipped in the final minutes as she went toe-to-toe with Brand, leaving her to settle for second-place, with Betsema finishing third.
Brand, 32, went into the race as one of the top favorites having dominated the season along with defending world champion, Ceylin del Carmen Alvarado. Having twice placed third and once second in the last three world championships, Brand’s title had been long in the making.
“After so many times being so close, and now finally after such a great season is really great,” Brand said after the race, tears in her eyes.
“Denise [Betsema] had started very well and immediately hit a big gap,” Brand continued. “But actually I knew already after the U23 men’s race that you should never give up. It is a long process.”
U.S. national champion Clara Honsinger came back from a slow start to take a strong fourth place having found herself in 12th place in the opening lap. Alvarado finished sixth after sliding out in the opening corner of the race and spending the rest of the day trying to chase back.
Brand and Betsema were at the front of the action from the very opening lap having avoided Alvarado’s crash, which also bought down Sanne Cant (Belgium). Betsema was first to take the advantage and grab a strong lead in the first lap as Worst and Brand came together to form a chase duo behind her.
The Dutch trio came together in the third lap and remained almost inseparable from there as Alvarado and Honsinger led the chase group around 35 seconds behind them.
The third and fourth lap saw each of the three Dutchwomen yo-yo’ing on and off the front of the group, with each rider finding advantage in different sections of a course which included deep sand, technical grassy sections, and a huge bridge with steep ramps either side.
Brand piled on the pressure through lap 4 to distance Worst, only for the 26-year-old to slowly winch her way back. Betsema was next to try to gain the advantage heading into the fifth lap to no avail, setting up a nail-biting final lap as the trio remained locked together.
Having led for much of the race, Betsema finally fell off the tempo at the start of the lap to leave Brand and Worst to go clear. Having been near neck-and-neck through the lap, the two came together on a tight embankment midway through the circuit and Worst fell, giving Brand a few second’s advantage.
Brand explained after the race that the collision was accidental and slight. Nonetheless, it gave her just enough of a gap to ride clear.
“We crashed into each other and I just touched her elbow, so it was the weakest point to touch her, that was why she crashed,” Brand said. “Yes, it wasn’t very nice but it wasn’t easy to avoid the situation.”
Worst agreed that there was no malice in the crash.
“In that corner the bottom layer was very slippery,” she said. “I was a bit shocked when Brand came in, suddenly I was there. But it was all legal. ”
Brand motored away from Worst, who slipped again in the final minutes. The Baloise-Trek rider crossed the line solo with a scream of delight as she won by eight seconds, with Worst and Betsema following not far behind.
Honsinger took fourth, 52 seconds down. Katie Compton and Rebecca Fahringer took 21st and 23rd respectively, while Kaitie Keough took 35th.
- Lucinda Brand (Netherlands): 46:53
- Annemarie Worst (Netherlands): +08
- Denise Betsema (Netherlands): +19