Van Empel without pressure and full of confidence to Tábor, challenger Brand knows the Brabantine is beatable Cycling

Van Empel without pressure and full of confidence to Tábor, challenger Brand knows the Brabantine is beatable

Van Empel without pressure and full of confidence to Tábor, challenger Brand knows the Brabantine is beatable

On Saturday, Feb. 3, the elite women's cyclocross World Cup will take place. The Dutch women are once again well-represented on the favorites list, with Fem van Empel appearing to stand head and shoulders above the rest. However, Lucinda Brand should not be underestimated. She wore the Leader's Jersey in Hamme and Hoogerheide last weekend – a dress rehearsal for the world championships – and provided some interesting quotes from both events.

Let's begin with Van Empel, the rider who has had an impressive cyclocross season. Around the Christmas period, she briefly faced competition from Puck Pieterse (and occasionally Brand), but she quickly reestablished her dominance. In both Hamme and Hoogerheide, the Visma | Lease a Bike champion indicated that she wasn't overly concerned with the Czech race at that moment. "Somehow, you are already preoccupied with it throughout the season, given the hard work you put in every week. But these were different races where I wanted to go all out for victory. Next week will come after that," she stated clearly.

Van Empel gives cross country year a 10 and feels no pressure toward World Cup

So, the week leading up to the battle for the rainbow jersey will be one of rest for the North Brabant native. 'Staying healthy and not doing too much is the most important thing. The world championship is and remains a special day. Everything has to fall into place then. I am really looking forward to it. Of course, I am going to the Czech Republic with a lot of confidence. I don't really have any doubts, not even about the course. In recent seasons, I think I have shown that I can perform well on all terrains," she said ambitiously. "I see the World Championships as a different race. There is a jersey attached, but I will not prepare differently than usual. I myself feel no pressure, and I think that's the most important thing."

With so many unbelievable victories, Van Empel cannot help but speak of an extremely successful cyclocross season. "It couldn't have gone any better," she tells herself. "I am very satisfied. So, I would give this winter a 10. Of course, you always have to stay critical. But if I can't enjoy myself in a season like this, then you never have to."

Brand knows Van Empel is beatable

As briefly mentioned in the introduction, the most significant threat appears to come from the Baloise Trek Lions camp. The 34-year-old Brand crowned herself Dutch champion in mid-January—in the absence of Van Empel but with a broken nose—and consistently lands on the podium. So, how does she view the upcoming world championship? "I get to cycle around in the Dutch jersey for the next while. That's very nice. In that respect, it's obviously a very successful season. I don't care much about the results in Hamme (second, ed.) and Hoogerheide (third, ed.). Firstly, these are different courses. Moreover, the past has often shown that the weekend before the World Championships does not reveal much about the Championships themselves."

lucinda brand
Brand in her jersey of Dutch champion

When this website 'confronts' Brand with the fact that she has already managed to win three times in Tábor, she cannot suppress a smile. "You know that better than I do," she laughs. "It's always nice to know in the back of your mind that you can perform well on a particular course and leverage your strengths there. But, on the other hand, I think you also have to be honest. Aspects that previously gave me an edge over the competition in those rounds, for example, are areas where Fem has also made significant strides. So, in that sense, the difference is not necessarily very pronounced. But it is and remains a race in itself, so we will see what happens there again."

But is Van Empel beatable in Brand's view? The answer seems affirmative. "We have seen a few times before this year that she is beatable. Just doing your own thing and relying on your own strength is, I think, the most important thing."

According to Brand, her Dutch title does not increase the pressure in Tábor

Brand goes on to say that being the Dutch champion does not bring any additional pressure towards Tábor. "On the contrary: maybe the pressure actually decreases. After all, I already have a beautiful jersey. Of course, there is another one that's even nicer, but in any case, I have this one in my pocket, and they won't take it away from me anymore," said the always cheerful lady from Dordrecht. In Hamme, the difference with Van Empel was more than one minute, in Hoogerheide only ten seconds. Brand finds it hard to pinpoint that difference, although she does see that her gap to Van Empel—compared to the beginning of her cyclocross campaign—has clearly narrowed. "It's true that at the beginning of this season, the difference was consistently one minute or more, and now I can often compete."

Is there possibly still an option that Van Empel, Brand, and the other outsiders will look at each other too much, and the proverbial third dog will run off with the prize? Brand certainly suspects so. "If we can't make the difference, it will all be close. Then it's just a small moment that can make the difference. It almost sounds unsportsmanlike, but then you hope for a mistake from the others," said Brand, who believes the course in the Czech Republic is similar to that in Hoogerheide. "When it is dry, the speed there is high. There are also quite a few uphill sections, something we also see in Hoogerheide."

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