Jolanda Neff's 5th place in Nals on Saturday wasn't what she hoped, but there's always a silver lining
Until Saturday, the only person to best Jolanda Neff this season was Trek Factory Racing teammate Evie Richards. Neff took second in her season debut in Banyoles as part of a 1-2 TFR finish, then she won the opening round of the Internazionali d’Italia Series by picking her way through a crowded field, solidifying her return to form.
Saturday’s Internazionali d’Italia race in Nals was her first race in five weeks, however. And if the considerable rust on her legs wasn’t enough, she entered the race jet lagged from overseas travel and having just done a vigorous performance test that had sapped some of her power. Needless to say, her fifth place finish was disappointing, but not entirely unsurprising.
“It turned out that I did not race in five weeks, and I could definitely feel that today, that I was missing some race pace,” Neff said. “But I’m stoked that I raced today. That’s exactly what I needed, and that’s the best way to get into it. It’s always painful the first one back into racing.”
This XC season is odd for many reasons. The ongoing Covid-19 pandemic is still disrupting racing calendars, despite riders’ overwhelming appetite to compete like normal. And that leaves riders often uncertain of their form in the midst of long layoffs and sporadic competition.
For Neff, being able to put race pressure back in her legs was a relief, even if she couldn’t coax out her usual output.
“I’m stoked that I raced today,” Neff said. “I surely hope to improve, but the result was not terrible looking at all this. I think I will improve a lot once I’m recovered.”
Neff won’t wait long for her next start. Next Saturday, she’ll race in Haiming, Austria, for the Ötztaler Mountainbike Festival, then again a week later in Heubach, Germany, as part of the International MTB Bundesliga series.
That’s the plan, anyway. The last year has taught Neff to anticipate unexpected challenges and to appreciate every opportunity to line up and race.
“In the end, it was a pretty packed week, but taking all that into account, it is what it is,” Neff said. “The next two weekends in Haiming and Heubach, I can’t wait to go and find my race legs again.”