Neff's world championship win a dream come true

Jolanda Neff was delighted to win a world title after three years of trying and being a serious contender. She pedalled to victory in the under 23 women's cross country mountain bike world championship race in Saalfelden, Austria, on Friday afternoon.

"Until now, in every world champs that I've raced so far, after the first lap, I've been leading," said Neff. But then something always went wrong.

"Two years ago, the race was in Mont-Sainte-Anne in Canada, and I was in good shape there. In Canada, I probably went too fast because I got heat stroke and couldn't finish the race and had to go to the hospital. It was very bad and sad for me."

"Last year, I wanted to win it as a junior in Switzerland," she said. "It was a big event. I was already European champion and Swiss champion and had won the World Cup, and I just wanted to win. I was looking forward to the race so much, and then I got sick and couldn't do my best. I finished fourth."

Neff's U23 win comes as a first-year U23 racer, but to her, age is not important. It's simply about winning the rainbow stripes. "For me, it doesn't matter so much if I'm a first year or second year; of course, it's great to win it as a first year."

Neff called her success "a dream come true." She defeated her top rival Annie Last (Great Britain), who finished fourth, by outriding her on the technical sections.

Not having any pressure helped out the Swiss rider.

"I think probably it was an advantage to be an outsider. Last year, I was sick for the race and it was not just because I was nervous. This year, It was an advantage not to be the favorite. Annie Last had a strong season and everyone was looking at her as the big favorite. I knew I had a chance, and I just went for it. I felt good on the uphill and all the way through the race."

All the while she was off the front on her own, she did not want to jinx herself by thinking of winning. Past experience had taught her valuable lessons.

"I was thinking out there that I'd done this before, but I was never sure I would win it until I crossed the finish line. I knew something could always happen. This year at the World Cup in La Bresse for example, I was leading and then I had to stop the race on the last downhill."

Her downhill and technical riding skills paid off, though, today. "I think technical riding is my advantage. The difference today was the downhill and that's where I passed Annie Last and where I always opened up the gap again. I've always been one of the better downhillers, especially racing with the girls, not all of them have the courage to do the stuff."

When asked if she would continue to race with the U23 women at next year's World Cup or race up a category with the elite women, which is an option, she said, "I don't know yet. I haven't decided." First things first, Neff will have to finish celebrating her victory.

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Sue George is an editor at Cyclingnews.  She coordinates all of the site's mountain bike race coverage and assists with the road, 'cross and track coverage.