It’s been an difficult year for most athletes as the COVID-19 pandemic put a halt to racing for five months, but it was even more of a challenge for Lucinda Brand, who also struggled with illness and injuries during the late-season revised calendar between August and November.
"I’m happy that I have another year because there weren’t many races this year and I had a lot of other struggles, and so I hope to offer up a better season next year with Trek-Segafredo," Brand told Cyclingnews.
Brand signed a two-year contract with Trek-Segafredo for 2020 and 2021 seasons, where she was tasked with a leadership role. However, she crashed at the Giro dell’Emilia after the season restarted in August. Although she recovered from those injuries and competed at the Dutch National Championships, two rounds of sickness knocked her out of season targets at the Giro Rosa in September, and much of the season after that.
"It’s been a very crazy year and we had to make a lot of changes, and it was hard to predict how a season will happen," Brand said. "Missing the Giro Rosa was a big disappointment. After that, all the races that I was supposed to do were cancelled.
"You don’t really have control and you can’t change what happens. I’m not used to being sick so often and of course you go into a season wanting to deliver more for your team than what I could do. I’m very happy that I have another year and that I can deliver what they deserve."
Trek-Segafredo had a successful season and displayed world-class tactical skill during many of the Women’s WorldTour races. Lizzie Diegnan won GP de Plouay, La Course and Liège-Bastogne-Liège. At the Giro Rosa, the team won the opening team time trial and Elisa Longo Borghini won a stage and finished third overall. On many occasions, Deignan and Longo Borghini provided the team with a two-pronged attack at the races, and both riders have renewed with the team through 2022.
"I’m proud of how the team did because it’s not easy to have this kind of season," Brand said. "We needed to be at the races because sponsors were relying on us to keep going, and they kept paying our salaries, so we needed to be ready for the season re-start.
"When all of the riders are committed and end up delivering results, helping to make each other stronger, it was tough to not be able to join them. The strength of our team is that we have riders who can help each other and we don’t need to play just one card. They had the brains to race smart and that also made for attractive racing."
Brand is skeptical that next season will return to normal, partly because of the on-going COVID-19 pandemic, and many riders will have approached their off-season in a different way. It is also an Olympic year and that will ultimately change the calendar for many riders with hopes of participating in Tokyo.
Brand said she will be aiming for a strong start to the season next spring, although it depends on how far the cyclo-cross season extends into the winter months. She is also targeting the first-ever women’s Paris-Roubaix.
"It was such a pity that it was cancelled and I was really looking forward to it," Brand said about the inaugural women's Paris-Roubaix, which would have been October 25, 2020. "I would like to be well-prepared next year. We were so excited to race it. I hope that we can have a normal situation where everyone is healthy, and have our first edition. We still need to make a plan for next spring but I hope to be racing Paris-Roubaix."
Organisers announced the route for Paris-Roubaix as a 116km race from Denain to the Roubaix Velodrome. The route was going to include 17 pavé sectors with two sectors rated at the maximum difficulty level in the race – Mons-en-Pévèle and the Carrefour de l'Arbre. Cobbles are expected to make up 29.5km of the race route.
Brand said she previewed the pavé sectors with Trek-Segafredo and said it was a tough experience.
"I previewed the cobbles of Paris-Roubaix and have some knowledge of them, but racing them is totally different. It was a tough experience. You can’t compare it with any of the other races," Brand said.
"I think being a cyclo-cross racer might help because your bike skills, positioning, and they way that you sit on the bike to keep traction are all very important, and areas that we train for in cyclo-cross, so it will benefit."
Brand will now focus on cyclo-cross with her Telenet-Baloise team, which will change names to Baloise-Trek in January. Although six of the World Cup rounds have been cancelled, Brand will focus on the remaining rounds in Tabor, Namur, Dendermonde, Hulst and Overijse. She will also compete in the European Championships next weekend in the Netherlands.
"We will try to do all the World Cups where most of the races are in Belgium and we hope to keep them going," Brand said. "The COVID situation in Belgium is not great at the moment. We have the European Championships this weekend and have the green light to race in the Netherlands.
"Normally, we have a whole programme, but this year we don’t look too far ahead because we just don’t know."
Brand said that she feels safe competing at the cyclo-cross events because organisers have much more control over the COVID-19 protocols and the events are held on closed courses.
"There are no fans and the organisers are strict," Brand said. "It’s strange to not have fans at cyclo-cross because that’s part of the sport and they create the atmosphere.
"We are only allowed to have two mechanics and a soigneur, and a team manager, and the media are in their own area at a distance. It’s a small parcours that is closed off. If you aren’t working at the race, you cannot be there."
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