World champion Lucinda Brand (Baloise Trek Lions) led from start to finish on her way to winning round eleven of the UCI World Cup in Namur. The victory is the Dutch rider’s tenth of the season and fourth in a row on the famous Wallonia parcours.
The 32-year-old went into the race as the favourite and quickly got into her groove, riding solo from the second lap. Overall challenger Denise Betsema (Pauwels Sauzen Bingoal) had Brand in her sights for much of the race but was unable to challenge her compatriot who made the most of the muddy, tough-going conditions.
“I really love this course. Conditions are always difficult and it’s so cool to win,” Brand said afterwards. “It was not easy, the off-camber really wasn’t my thing today and you also come there every time a bit more tired, so it was really challenging.”
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Now in its tenth year as a World Cup venue, the course around the Citadel of Namur has become one of the calendar’s classics thanks to its oft wintery conditions, steep embankments, ramped start straight, cobbled climb and famously tricky off-camber stretch.
Under cloudy skies, the stage was set for another epic, albeit without the previous day’s winner in Ruchpen, Marianne Vos (Team Jumbo-Visma).
The climbing talents immediately took advantage of the punishing hill start with Brand leading from the off and immediately taking the race to Betsema and French ex-mountain biker Hélene Clauzel (A.S. Bike Crossteam).
Namur’s parcours tests every skill needed to be a successful cyclocross racer with many of the sections, including the redesigned off-camber descent, forcing the riders off their bikes. Brand and Betsema proved to be the best runners and quickly distanced the field.
19-year-old Puck Pieterse (Alpecin-Fenix) had the engine to deal with the challenging course as she chased the leading duo, making the most of her considerable skillset.
On the second of five laps, Brand slowly edged clear of Betsema, and opened up a gap that she would hold until the finish.
Betsema would not go down without a fight though and rode strongly to keep the rainbow jersey in her sights, ready to take advantage of any potential issue.
It proved not be plain sailing for Brand with the Dutch rider slipping on a muddy bank and then sliding onto her side on the off-camber to give her chaser a ray of hope.
Brand wins round eleven of World Cup in Namur
The world champion made the most of the conditions though and although Betsema was finishing strongly, held on by 20 seconds to raise her arms in victory.
Although she hasn’t taken a win since racing’s return to Europe in Zonhoven, Betsema has shown remarkable consistency in recent months and hasn’t finished outside the top five in 21 races.
“In the beginning I got a little gap, and it constantly stayed the same, but then she came a little closer and I took a few seconds, but then made a mistake, so the pressure was high,” Brand said of their battle at the finish.
Pieterse held off a late surge from Val di Sole winner Fem van Empel (Pauwels Sauzen Bingoal) and Dutch champion Ceylin del Carmen Alvarado (Alpecin-Fenix) to finish third.
Clauzel was the first non-Dutch finisher in sixth with Inge van der Heijden (777), Shirin van Anrooij (Baloise Trek Lions), Italian Silvia Persico (Valcar – Travel & Service) and Canadian Maghalie Rochette, rounding out the top ten.
The result mirrored the top three of the overall classification with Brand’s points tally growing to 322 points, Betsema in second on 299 and Pieterse in third on 245.
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