World Champion Lucinda Brand (Baloise Trek Lions) put out a dominant display on the Namur Technical Stadium to win Round 11 of the cyclo-cross World Cup.
The Dutch rider drove from start to finish, and was chased by Denis Betsima (Bowles Suzen Bingwal) as both riders made mistakes on the treacherous track. Betsima managed to see her opponent on the last lap but had to take second place by just 20 seconds.
The U-23 World Cup leader, Puck Pieterse (Alpecin-Fenix), was a lone third-place chaser throughout the entire race, but had to take on a late challenge from teammate Celine del Carmen Alvarado and Wim van Impel (Pauls-Suzin Bingoal).
The Namur course matches the strength of the brand with the 32-year-old making him four wins in as many years on the Belgium track.
“It’s really amazing, I really like this course,” Brand said.
“The conditions are always tough and I have confidence too. It’s great to win here for the fourth time. It wasn’t easy and it wasn’t really out of reach today, and every time I came there I feel a little bit more tired.”
“I knew I needed to do it (the off-camber section) well again but then things actually got worse. Then I needed to ride somewhere else faster again so it was really hard.
“At the start of the race I had a little gap but it was always the same and (Bitsima) was getting a little bit closer.
“I took a few seconds again and then screwed up. The pressure was high.”
Brand leads the overall World Cup series by 23 points over Bitsima with four races remaining. The World Cup Series resumes at Dendermonde on Boxing Day.
How did you unfold
After winning the Rucphen fast course the day before, Marianne Voss (Team Jumbo-Visma) was absent in Namur as part of her training plan.
Starting with a challenging cobbled climb, the course featured a combination of long climbs combined with technical descents and a challenging off-camber section with the finish line next to the castle.
The fans were banned from the Netherlands the day before but returned to the steep-lined Belgium track and were four in the infamous decent section outside the Camber.
Running straight from the start, and uphill climb, World Cup leader Brand got off to a perfect start with French rider Helen Cluzel (AS Bike Crossteam).
Having narrowly lost her World Cup win at Rucphen the day before, Brand led the opening section of the prologue to pick her streaks through the technical section.
Soon, fellow Dutch rider Denis Betsima (Powles Suzen-Bingual) responded and used her skills to ride a Brand-managed section to drag her competition back.
Under-23 World Cup leader Puck Pieterse (Alpecin – Fenix) has already shown her technical skills this season and has used her ability on the steep slopes to chase down the leading duo.
Up front, Brand was determined to maintain a high pace that was too strong for Betsima to enter the first full lap.
Betsima, Brand’s only competitor in the overall series, was also plagued by downside technical conditions on several occasions.
Third-placed Pieterse and the mountain bike specialist managed to ride some tough sections but landed on a steep incline at the track netting as he dropped to 32secs behind Brand.
By the end of the long opening lap, Brand had a 14sec gap on Betsima while Peters was 30sec behind the leader and a big chase group at 53sec.
Up front, the brand wasn’t risking technical descents but had problems with mud stuck to its pedals as the Betsema chase gap was reduced to eight seconds.
Teenage Peters was struggling on the tough track and wasting time and sitting 43 seconds behind Brand after the second full gap with a group of eight riders closing in in the battle for third place.
After changing bikes, Brand seemed to extend her gaps again and took a 14sec lead over Betsema by halfway despite getting slipped while entering a very steep climb.
Dutch rider Brande extended her lead on the penultimate lap before hitting a technical boat, allowing her opponent to drag time back.
On the last lap, Brand took a 21sec advantage over Bitsima while Peters was battling her rivals for third.
Having had crashes earlier in the race, Wim van Impel (Pauls Souzine-Pengual) was leading the chase for fourth along with Clausel and Céline del Carmen Alvarado (Alpecin-Phoenix) and sat 20sec behind Peters on the last lap.
At the helm of the race, Betsema kept putting pressure on Brand as she sat in the back for 12secs and could see her opponent but was unable to close the gap.
The brand retained control for its 10th cyclocross win of the season, finishing 20 seconds ahead of the brand.
In the fight for third place, Pieterse saw the gap cut back to 15 seconds by Van Empel who beat Alvarado for fourth.