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Q&A: Lucinda Brand on balancing road and ‘cross

The world cyclocross champion talks of managing two cycling disciplines, gender parity between road and 'cross, and the pressures of the rainbow jersey.

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Lucinda Brand is the defending UCI world cyclocross champ. And she also races on the road for Trek-Segafredo Women. She’s a rider with successes in both arenas.

In 2021, Brand had a successful road season with Trek-Segafredo, winning the overall at the Lotto-Thuringen Ladies Tour with outright wins on stages 3 and 5. She also won the mountain classification at the 2021 Giro Rosa. And, of course, she also rides to support her teammates — Lizzie Deignan and Elisa Longo-Borghini — at various races.

Following her road season, Brand took several weeks away — unlike her compatriot Marianne Vos who raced back-to-back weekends of road and ‘cross — to regain fitness and stay sharp and focused.

Brand was second to Vos by just two seconds at the 2021-22 UCI Cyclocross season opener, in Waterloo, WI, where VeloNews caught up with the 32-year-old Dutchwoman.

VeloNews: Do you feel you missed out not racing the inaugural Paris-Roubaix Femmes?
Lucinda Brand: Of course, I would have loved to be there, but sometimes you need to use your mind instead of your heart. And I know in half a year is a new one, but also with these conditions which were there. I also realized it’s not very common that it will be in half a year again like that.

VN: How do you feel about your teammate Lizzie Deignan winning?
LB: Yeah, that was amazing. I had to pack the camper, but I let my boyfriend do it because I needed to watch the race.

VN: That was a pretty amazing solo by Deignan — an extremely long escapade in those conditions.
LB: Yeah and also our skills were just incredible. Yeah, it was really really strong.

VN: So there’s not much time to figure out how to adjust your schedule. How do know when to adjust your schedule?
LB: If a rest is really needed, then you just need to be honest to yourself and give yourself the time. And then, of course, probably all the classifications are gone.

You need to say, ‘Like OK, which races I really want to win? What are your goals? Which races do you really love?’ and they’re always still some races where you can. Yeah, you can put a circle around them [on the calendar] and go for that one. And I think that’s been very important, too. But, as a rider it’s maybe not always easy to make that call. So that’s why you ask the people around you.

Lucinda Brand (far right) warms up with teammates and other Trek-sponsored athletes before the start of the 2021 UCI Cyclocross World Cup Waterloo. (Photo: Greg Kaplan)

VN: What are your overall goals for this ’cross season? Defend the championship? What about the overall series title?
LB: Yeah, of course, always need to try that. It will be great if that’s possible again but it’s not easy — it’s much longer competition, and the chances of facing some problems in some races, especially in cyclocross is always a chance, of course. But besides that, I think I really have an eye on the Europeans—it’s in the Netherlands—and I never had the champions jersey there so yeah, it’s also something to go for.

VN: What races are you most looking forward to this year?
LB: It’s always a difficult question for me actually. There are also still a few courses [that] I never have ridden so that’s totally new, and that’s also something I always look forward to. I’m always really looking forward to Namur. It’s something special. I really like that course — it’s super difficult, but it really suits me.

VN: Is your preparation this year any different than previous years? Not because of the pandemic, but just anything different that you’ve done this year?
LB: If you compared this year with two years ago, there was also a proper road season, then I think I did less races.

I also started later in the spring, so I had a proper rest period there. So that’s a really big difference but besides that, I didn’t change that much. I do a little bit different type of training each year.

It’s very boring because it’s the same thing. Getting closer to Christmas time, we need to see how things going. How do I feel physically. And how are classifications going. World Cup starts are very important because of the points you can earn there for the UCI ranking, which is very important for the start order. And then we need to see the other classifications [for the Superprestive and X2O series] how the situation is. If I’m not fit enough to do everything, because it’s so full program, then I need to skip some and use my head.

Christmastime is such a busy period. It’s also the period you’re working towards the most important race—the world championship. So if you mess up yourself in this period, there’s too short time to get back [on form]. It’s a very thin line.

VN: Do mountain bike skills or road skills better transfer to cyclocross?
LB: I think the mountain bike is totally different. So if you look at the two bikes I think the road and the cyclocross bike are more similar to each other. But of course, like the intensities [and] style of racing [are closer between cross and MTB]. As for mountain bike and cross: They are way more close to each other and you’re way more busy with technical skills.

The biggest difference is actually from road cycling. You maybe say like, ‘oh, I’m not on the level I should be with it, we take out this race, and we go training, and we add another race.’ You do a block of racing maybe in spring, and then you will do a block of training and you go to one of the big stage races, for example. But in ‘cross season it’s different: you just race every weekend, and then this Christmastime I think it’s in 14 days and 10 races.

Dutch double: Marianne Vos lead Lucinda Brand at the 2021 UCI Cyclocross World Cup Waterloo. (Photo: Greg Kaplan)

VN: Are you seeing any parity in the advancement of women’s cyclocross and road racing? Is one more equitable than the other?
LB: Oh, difficult question — I think road [cycling] may be a little bit more ahead with the structure from the teams and stuff like that. But then, in cyclocross, we are way more ahead of equal payment and equal in the times. So I think in that way, cyclocross is more equal.

I think you will likely see new any more combinations — like road and track. Although track is getting more difficult now because it’s starting to be summer sports [the UCI has recently changed the calendar for track, –ed], but there are more combinations already. Some mountain bike riders are on the road, and mountain bike riders doing cyclocross as well. Marianne, for example, did it already for how many years? I think we are trend-setting for that.

VN: Do you feel any added pressure wearing the rainbow jersey?
LB: I feel comfortable, I really enjoy wearing it and I really want to just ride it with crowds and races with crowds and to show it. And, to be able to show it—it doesn’t have to be winning. Of course, it’s great if I’m winning. I mean, no doubt about that, but no, I’m just happy when I can have some good performances.