Jolanda Neff's third place finish in Friday's short track race was her first World Cup podium since 2019
Jolanda Neff fought Rebecca McConnell to the line and came in third during the short track event at the third round of the XC World Cup in Leogang on Friday. The result completed a long journey back to a World Cup podium.
Neff took second in the Olympic-distance event at Val di Sole in August, 2019. Roughly four months later, she was injured in a serious crash, beginning a long recovery process in the midst of a Covid-disrupted 2020 season.
Neff struggled at the first World Cup race of 2021 in Albstadt, finishing 13th after battling with hay fever. She steadily improved from there, however. At the second World Cup race in Nove Mesto, she raced brilliantly to finish eighth in the XCO event after starting in the fourth row. Two weeks later, she won the Swiss national championship against a loaded field.
Neff started in the second row Friday. Ahead of her, McConnell and defending world champion Pauline Ferrand-Prevot formed a chasing duo behind Loana Lecomte, who led from the first lap to win the race. Neff caught McConnell and Ferrand-Prevot on the fourth lap, then set a ferocious pace in front of the newly-formed trio to push Ferrand-Prevot out the back.
Neff crossed the line seven seconds behind McConnell, who charged hard in the last lap to finish just four seconds behind Lecomte.
After the race, Neff said she was very happy about her performance, but also anxious to see how she performs in the Olympic distance Sunday. She’ll start in the front row, giving her a chance to assert herself from the gun. Whatever happens, the former world champion has firmly put herself back among XC’s elite.
Anton Cooper takes best World Cup finish since 2018
Anton Cooper was already off to a good start this season, with three top 8 finishes in the first two rounds of the World Cup. But on Friday, he had perhaps his best race yet, finishing fifth in the short track event and coming within a shout — two seconds behind third place Milan Vader — of landing on a World Cup podium once again.
As is, Cooper earned his best finish since taking second in the XCO event in Nove Mesto in 2018. He did it by asserting his place at the front of the field from the start. He was the first rider off the line, removing himself from the chaos of the bunch.
As the race settled into a rhythm, Cooper fell into the second group of riders on the course behind two leaders — Ondrej Cink and winner Mathias Flückiger — who went clear and battled for the top of the podium. Cooper outlasted all but four riders in an attritional race, and very nearly took fourth after sprinting from behind to catch Jordan Sarrou at the line.
The New Zealand national champ will once again start Sunday’s XCO race from the front row, where he’ll have another chance to shake up the field and vie for a podium spot.