World champion Lucinda Brand (Baloise Trek Lions) recovered from an uncharacteristically poor opening lap to secure an incredible six wins in a row at round 13 of the World Cup in Hulst, attacking under-23 starlet Puck Pieterse (Alpecin-Fenix) on the fifth of six laps to take victory.
Having led from the first lap, the skilled Pieterse was denied her first elite victory when the world champion charged through an open inside line going into the final lap.
Speaking afterwards, the 32-year-old said of her rival: “[Pieterse] is technically so good, she had a great start so could do what she wanted, and I couldn’t be there straight away, so I had a little bit left for the end, so she made it really hard for me.”
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Hulst is quickly becoming a modern-day classic due to its challenging laps and banked parcours on the popular Westerchelde course around the city’s fortifications. Adorned in the redesigned Jumbo Visma Women’s kit, Marianne Vos tore off the start line so as to get the best line through the banked pinch points.
It was experience leading youth on lap one with under-23 stars Pieterse, Fem van Empel (Pauwels Sauzen Bingoal), Shirin van Anrooij (Baloise Trek Lions), Kata Blanka Vas (SD Worx) and Inge van der Heijden (777), all following the 3-time world champion, until a stumble gifted Pieterse the lead. The under-23 series leader has impressed all season and the Hulst course was another chance for the 19-year-old to use her extensive mountain bike skills, including the ability to stretch her lead over Vas by bunny hopping the barriers.
Both Brand and her general classification rival Denise Betsema (Pauwels Sauzen Bingoal) had poor starts compared to the explosive youngsters and would have to recover throughout the race to catch Pieterse.
Many of the chasing pack experienced difficulties on the tricky off-camber sections and steep banks, which gifted the smooth riding Pieterse the chance to extend her lead to 15-seconds at one point.
Behind, the chase would not go silent though, with Brand timing her efforts impeccably to gradually recover from her slow first lap and keep Vas and Pieterse within eyeshot.
The world champion, who had won five races in a row going into Hulst, made contact with the Hungarian champion at the beginning of lap five, encouraging a ding-dong battle between the duo that ate into Pieterse’s advantage.
With no junior men’s race due to Dutch COVID regulations and unseasonably warm weather, the course ran incredibly quickly and meant the powerful Brand was able to quickly catch and then pass Pieterse on the penultimate lap.
The series leader then rode a strong finale to beat Pieterse by five seconds and deny her a first elite victory that is sure to come soon.
“I didn’t anticipate beforehand that I would go so hard from the start, but I had a lead, so I thought now was the time to really make a gap,” Pieterse said of her race plan at the finish. “Every lap I heard that they were getting closer, so it was really difficult,” the 19-year-old added
Winner in Koksijde, Annemarie Worst (777) also had a strong second half of her race and was rewarded with a third-place finish ahead of Vas and van Empel.
With Betsema finishing in seventh and a place behind Vos, the result means that Brand has extended her lead to 59 points with two rounds to go.
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