Fairytale start to Neff’s elite MTB career
Swiss star Jolanda Neff claimed her maiden elite Cross Country World Cup win at the same Cascades MTB Park where she won her Under 23 World Championship title last year, as she held off the experienced Gunn-Rita Dahle and team mate Maja Wloszczowska in harsh conditions on Sunday afternoon.
Having made the leap from age group racing to the elite section the Liv Pro XC Team rider never looked under pressure after she went into the lead early on in the first lap. Having gained the lead she never relinquished it – even after a crash during her second of four laps.
“I had a crash on the second lap after I had a lead of over a minute and when I crashed I lost a lot of time and hurt myself and my saddle was out of place so I had to get off and fix it,” a relieved Neff said. “It is not the best thing that can happen but I was happy that I could find the rhythm again in the next lap and keep the lead until the finish line.”
Making the step up to the elite level has not been difficult for the 21 year old who now boasts a record of two wins from two outings in Pietermaritzburg. She was elated to have held off the challenge from the other riders and felt that she had the ability to win but needed to execute well – which she did.
“It is such an amazing feeling; I knew that I was in good shape after I had a really good winter where I could do a lot of good training so I knew my shape was good and it is always really special when you can put it together when it counts and it is amazing that I could do it today.
“I like the course here, I was here last year for the first time and I immediately loved the track and I really feel at home here. The new sections are really fun to ride and I have started to really love racing here,” an ecstatic Neff added.
Eight World Championship titles as well as the second most wins in Women’s cross country World Cup history, experience was on the side of Multivan Merida Biking Team rider Gunn-Rita Dhale Flesjaa and she used every ounce of street wisdom to make her way through the field to end in second place having started in 10th.
“I had a lot of fun out there, it is extremely hard but we have worked a lot on the technical skills and the sport has changed a lot in the last five, six years and I think I proved to everyone else and especially myself that I can still be up there fighting.
“The courses are not going to stop changing and I am just really happy with what I did out there today,” a satisfied Dahle said.
Having been on the second row at the start of the race the chance of getting caught up in other riders and that is what happened to the 41 year old off the start line after she was in an altercation with the rider in front of her.
“I was a little bit unlucky at the start, I was on the second line at the start and Alexandra was in front of me and her foot slipped somehow on the peddle and then my bars went into her saddle which meant that I had a really bad start.
“I was just repeating to myself that in the last few days I have been telling myself that if something happens that I must not panic and stress because that is the most stupid thing you can do on a course like this so I tried to just keep calm and focus on what I am good at and it turned out well and I am really happy about that,” she concluded joyfully.
South African hopeful and Orange Monkey Pro Team rider Mariske Strauss produced a dream ride in her maiden women’s elite race after she ended in 19th place overall and that followed a crash along the course from the Western Cape resident.
SUMMARY OF RESULTS – 2014 UCI MTB WORLD CUP PIETERMARITZBURG, PRESENTED BY SHIMANO
1. Jolanda Neff (Liv Pro XC Team) 1:38.00
2. Gunn-Rita Dahle Flesjaa (Multivan Merida Biking Team) 1:38.25
3. Maja Wloszczowska (Liv Pro XC Team) 1:39.00
4. Annika Langvad (Specialized Racing XC) 1:39.37
5. Alexandra Engen (Ghost Factory Team) 1:39.55
6. Sabine Spitz (Sabine Spitz Haibike Pro Team) 1:40.04
7. Irina Kalentieva 1:40.08
8. Julie Bresset (BH-Suntour-KMC) 1:40.48
9. Emily Batty (Trek Factory Racing) 1:41.05
10. Tereza Hurikova (Specialized Racing Team) 1:41.27
The UCI MTB World Cup, presented by Shimano, takes place at the Cascades MTB Park in Pietermaritzburg from 11-13 April 2014.