Lucinda Brand disappoints Puck Pieterse with World Cup return to Hulst

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Lucinda Brand (Trek Baloise Lions) continued her winning streak in the World Cup with a hard-fought victory at Hulst on Sunday.

On a technical and physically demanding track with terribly steep descents, Brand had to go deep to catch up with the first leader Puck Pieterse (Alpecin Fenix). Pieterse finished second, extending his lead in the Under-23 competition. Annemarie Worst (777) completes the podium.

After the race, Brand was full of praise for 19-year-old Pieterse.

“She drove wonderfully,” Brand said. “She had a great start so she was able to do whatever she wanted and maybe I was a little lucky that I couldn’t be there at the start so I had a little bit left for the end. But she made it really difficult.

This victory places Brand at 402 points in total in the World Cup, 59 points ahead of Denise Betsema (Pauwels Sauzen-Bingoal), who could only finish seventh.

With just two rounds remaining – at Flamanville and Hoogerheide – Brand looks confident of overall victory and his attention will turn to his rainbow jersey defense in Fayetteville, Arkansas, on the last weekend of January. Without a doubt, his rivals are hoping his form drops, but Brand’s will to win weighs in his favor.

The race in Hulst is relatively new, having only been on the calendar since 2016. This quaint little town can be found just across the Belgian border, north-west of Antwerp. Last year, due to COVID-related restrictions, the World Cup was forced to leave the city for the nearby coast. This year, the organizers were able to bring the race back to town, minus the spectators. The route traverses the steep ramparts around the 12th century old town, creating spectacular features for daredevils.

Conditions were dry and warm as the riders lined up and the ground was mostly firm, leading some riders to choose intermediate tires over full mud tires.

Marianne Vos (Jumbo Visma) was the fastest at the start and took with her a group of young riders – Pieterse, Fem van Empel (Pauwels Sauzen Bingoal), Kata Blanka Vas (SD Worx) and Shirin van Anrooij (Trek Baloise Lions ). As the riders tried to dial in on the course there were frequent errors, especially on the short steep banks. Pieterse took advantage of this and took a solid lead early in the match, followed by Van Anrooij and Vas.

At the end of the second lap, Pieterse was 14 seconds ahead. Being away from traffic allowed it to cover all the steep banks and avoid stalling at the top.

While the younger ones enjoyed the technical challenges of the course, Brand, Betsema and Vos seemed to be under pressure. In the middle of the race, Brand struggled to stay in the chase group, while Betsema and Vos were seconds behind the back.

But Brand’s fighting spirit shone. Together with Vas, she used the power sections of the course to close the gap with Pieterse.

Then at the end of the penultimate lap Brand makes her move.

Approaching a technical section, the world champion sprinted in the lead, crossed two steep slopes and then was able to lower the power in the finish straight. Once she was in the lead, Brand wasn’t going to give up. Despite a small slip on the last lap, she finished three seconds behind Pieterse. The worst finished strong to take third place.

Next weekend, the UCI World Cup will take a break for the National Championships, before returning to French soil. Flamanville, on the north coast near the Channel Islands of Guernsey and Jersey, hosted the 2020 France National Championships and is now taking another step towards World Cup status.

Hulst, top-5

1 Lucinda Mark (Trek Baloise Lions): 49.14
2 Puck Pieterse (Alpecin Fenix): +0.05
3 Annemarie Pire (777): +0.11
4 Kata Blanka Vas (SD Worx): +0.14
5 Fem van Empel (Pauwels Sauzen Bingoal): +0.26

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