Jolanda Neff dominated Sunday on one of her favorite World Cup courses
Jolanda Neff hadn’t won a World Cup Olympic-distance race since 2018. She broke that streak in stunning fashion Sunday, going solo on the second of five laps in Mont-Sainte-Anne and creating a one-minute gap that no one could challenge. Neff won by 56 seconds over second place Mona Mitterwallner.
“It’s basically four years almost to the day [since my last XCO win]. I think two more weeks and it’s four years,” Neff told Red Bull after the race. “It’s incredible, it’s unreal, it’s amazing.”
The win completed the first ever perfect World Cup weekend for the reigning Olympic Champion. She also had a textbook short track win Thursday, when she made a premeditated attack late in the race to leave her rivals behind.
After the short track race, Neff called Mont-Sainte-Anne “a course that I love.” She thrived on the ultra-technical ascents and descents Sunday, gaining precious seconds every lap simply by staying on her bike while so many of her competitors were forced to hop off their saddles and run to get through the narrow lines around large roots, logs and boulders.
“I just knew that there were so many parts on this course, basically every meter, where I could take milliseconds of advantage because every part is so technical,” Neff said. “All the uphills are very technical. You need a lot of finesse to get up the hills. And then especially when the rain came in, it changed everything again.”
Just like last week in Snowshoe, rain was an X-factor. Late in the second lap, the skies opened up and intermittently dumped rain on the field. The extra slipperiness made a difficult course even tougher to navigate, and gave Neff an even bigger boost as she comfortably held off all threats.
As the rain poured, Neff had a tactical decision to make: Pull into the technical zone and change wheels so she could ride a grippier tire, or avoid the time loss of a pit stop and stay on her dry tires. She decided to keep her momentum and risk riding a slicker tire.
“I enjoyed myself so much on the bike. It got really slippery on the course,” Neff said. “I actually was considering [changing wheels], but then I did one lap and I had a couple moments where it got pretty slippery, but then I thought, ‘If I change tires I’ll lose 30 seconds.’ Then I thought, ‘I’ll just ride a bit slower and safer and hopefully I can make it.'”
Neff made it, and then some. Despite an all-out dog fight between Mitterwallner and Haley Batten behind her, Neff maintained a healthy lead at all times.
The win was especially impressive given the pressure on Neff to win. All of her competitors had her marked as a favorite, thanks to her short track win and a course layout that suited her.
“I was telling myself this morning that I’m not more of a favorite now than I was a week ago [in Snowshoe,]” Neff said. “My XCO result from last week was fifth, and I gave absolutely everything for that. So I just wanted to get to the finish line giving everything I can and riding the best race, and whatever will happen, will happen. And it was the best possible outcome.”
Now Neff has a signature season win and lots of wind in her sails with European Championships and World Championships just around the corner, followed shortly by the final World Cup race of the year.
“I really, really enjoyed myself and I had amazing support from the team all week,” Neff said. “I felt just really good coming into this race. And it’s one of my favorite places ever anyway. I’m just, I’m over the moon.”
Neff has struggled to find a rhythm this season, thanks to near-constant bouts of illness. After a trip to one of her favorite places in the world, it’s safe to say she’s found her stride. Watch out, because Neff isn’t done yet.
“The confidence is definitely here now, and I know how to win races again,” Neff said.
Maddie Munro takes career best finish
One week after taking a career-best third place in Snowshoe, Maddie Munro one-upped herself and took second in Mont-Sainte-Anne, riding solo to finish 47 seconds behind winner Noëlle Buri and 58 seconds ahead of third place Sara Cortinovis.
Once again, Munro thrived on a technical track, showing off skill beyond her 20 years of age.
“I think I had a really good start, which was definitely one of my biggest goals today. And then I felt really strong and comfortable the first two laps,” Munro said. “I made a couple mistakes, like on this one section of the course where there was a bit of a tricky uphill. And I think that’s where Noëlle got away from me. But then I just focused on riding my own race, going as steady as I could and riding smooth, and I stayed upright the whole race.”
Like Neff, Munro is a big fan of the course — the devious climbs and descents, all laid over gnarly natural features. Munro has been focused on becoming a more technically sound rider this year, and her hard work is clearly paying off.
“I love this course. I’ve only raced it once before, but I think it’s super hard. The climbs are really challenging, you really have to push yourself. And then all the descents take a lot of mental energy and focus,” Munro said. “I feel really fortunate I got to do some skills work a couple of weeks ago, because I think I felt really confident on my bike this time around, and just really smooth on the downhills.”
Munro raced in her Stars and Stripes kit for the first time as the American U23 national champion. She is also looking forward to making noise at World Championships in Les Gets at the end of August. There’s no question she’s doing some of the best riding of her young career.
“I think that’s definitely some extra watts right there, wearing the Stars and Stripes,” Munro laughed. “I’ve been working a lot with my coach, and we’ve been peaking for Worlds. The form is really coming around now.”