Jolanda Neff racked up her third elite XCO World Championship medal on Sunday
After taking fourth in Friday’s short track race at World Championships, Jolanda Neff said that she felt like she had “no energy.” She had been struggling with stomach issues in Les Gets, an extension of a season in which small health issues have kept cropping up.
The start of Sunday’s Olympic-distance event suggested that Neff might not have the legs she hoped for. She was in the back half of the top 10 on Lap 2, the gaps growing larger in front of her.
But then something happened: She recovered. Never mind that she had emptied her tank early to try to stay with Pauline Ferrand-Prevot, who was untouchable on the day. Neff found her rhythm, and that was more than enough to blow through the rest of the field through two big climbs and loads of roots and rock gardens.
Neff took silver by 38 seconds over third-place Haley Batten, securing her third-ever elite XCO World Championship medal to go with a silver in 2019 and a win in 2017.
“I’m really happy, really stoked about this result,” Neff said after the race. “It’s definitely a big step for me this year to get back on the podium at World Championships, to win a World Cup, to win two short track World Cups. It’s been a great season for me even though I’ve had a lot of difficult times.
“This silver medal means everything to me.”
Like every race, Neff’s priority was the win. She made a valiant attempt at sticking to Ferrand-Prevot, whole went off the front from the start and blew open a nearly 50-second lead early in the second lap with an attack. Neff fell back in the field at the same time, but the chaos and emotion of the first two laps eventually leveled out. From there, Neff simply did what she does best.
“In the beginning, when Pauline tried to go away, I went with her for a little bit because I didn’t want to let her go, but then that was too fast for me,” Neff said. “And then a couple people passed me, I dropped back a bit. But then I really really found my rhythm and it was so good. I just kept catching people and I felt great.”
Neff will take an excellent run of form into the World Cup series finale in Val di Sole next weekend. Going into Les Gets she was coming off a perfect weekend in Mont-Sainte-Anne, where she won both the short track and XCO events. With solid rest, she’ll be one of the favorites to close out the season with a win.
“This year has been a huge step for me towards the right direction and towards the very top again,” Neff said. “I already can’t wait for next year and to see what we can do, and how we can keep progressing and keep getting better. Today was simply great.”
Evie Richards, the 2021 World Champion, took 11th in her first World-level race after battling back issues for much of the year. She wore the rainbow stripes well, winning World Cup races in Lenzerheide and Snowshoe last year while she had the kit. She’ll have a chance to close the season strong in Val di Sole, the site of her incredible World Championship performance a year ago.
In the elite men’s race, Vlad Dascalu and Anton Cooper took 16th and 33rd, respectively. It was a tough race for two riders who have been battling physical issues the last few weeks. Dascalu was forced to miss the World Cup race in Mont-Sainte-Anne due to knee pain stemming from a crash in Snowshoe. Cooper has struggled to find his usual form late in the season due to illness. The two-time winners of the Best Men’s Team award this season will certainly be emptying their tanks next weekend.
Trek's U23 riders impress on big stage
Four U23 Trek riders finished top 10 across the Trek Factory Racing and Trek | Vaude squads on Sunday. In the women’s race, Trek | Vaude’s Luisa Daubermann finished seventh after setting a fast early pace, and TFR’s Maddie Munro took ninth with a steady ride. In the men’s race, Bjorn Riley took fifth, climbing up from 11th at the end of Lap 1, and Riley Amos finished eighth after recently recovering from a broken collarbone.
The day was yet another glimpse into a promising future for the young riders. Munro and Riley both won U23 U.S. national championships this year. Amos, the 2021 U23 U.S. national champion, proved he’s one of the toughest riders in his field, once again battling his hardest despite a setback. Daubermann, the youngest of the three riders at 19 years old, continued a strong summer that included a fifth place finish in Leogang and a second place finish in Snowshoe.
The future is very, very bright for Trek’s youngest mountain bikers.