Nineteen-year-old Jolanda Neff (Switzerland) proved herself the strongest under 23 woman of the day by winning the cross country world championships in Saalfelden, Austria. Yana Belomoyna (Ukraine) rode a consistent race and moved up into second place in the last half of the final lap as she came out ahead in the battle with Paula Gorycka (Poland) for the silver medal.
"For me, it's unbelievable that I won today," said an emotional, but happy Neff. "It's a dream that came true. I wanted to win this title for the past two years, and always something was not right. It's unbelievable that everything went all right today."
From the start, Annie Last (Great Britain) was at the front with Neff. Behind them, Belomoyna, Monika Zur (Poland) and Gorycka chased.
"I thought Annie would go really fast from the start and so I tried to follower her," said Neff of the pre-race favorite. "I tried to hold onto Annie's wheel and maintain second place. I knew I wanted to be near the front for the downhill."
"I felt good on the uphill and all the way through the race. On the first downhill, Annie crashed three times," said Neff. "The first two times, I couldn't pass her, but the third time I went past her. From that point on, I had a gap."
Last was having a rough day technically and kept losing ground on Neff on the wet, steep, slippery and rooty downhills in the first few laps of the five-lap race. She expended significant energy chasing back up to Neff several times and the effort cost her later in the race.
"Jolanda is a great rider all around. I expected her to be there at the front," said Last. "I was riding technically really badly, and I lost lots of time in technical sections. It was greasy in the woods. From what I could see, no one was riding completely cleanly. It was about who rode the technical sections with the least mistakes. Jolanda was technically amazing, and it showed in the result."
Last caught back up to Neff, but the same thing would happen on the next lap - Neff would get away again.
"After she caught me on the third lap again, I knew that I had to stay in front of her on the downhills," said Neff. "I managed to get in front on a downhill again, and I got a gap again. I think technical riding is my advantage. The difference today was the downhill. 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."
For a time, the race seemed to be for third place - between Belomoyna, Gorycka and Zur. Then Zur got a flat and had to stop at the pits. She lost several places before working her way back up to an eventual fifth place.
"It was a very hard race," said Zur. "I dropped five places when I had to change my wheel, but it's my first time in the U23 Worlds race, so I think next year I will do better."
On lap four, Last crashed on the downhill and was off the pace of Neff for good. Belomoyna also crashed on the downhill and lost some time, but was able to chase back up to Last on the final lap.
"You are aware that there are people behind you," said Last. "I didn't think I was clear off by myself. I rode as fast as I could and I got fourth. That's all I could do today."
Gorycka looked strong all race and steadily reeled in both Last and Belomoyna until all three were united halfway through the last lap.
Up the final climb, Gorycka surged and Last dropped off her pace. Belomoyna hung tough onto Gorycka and showed herself to be a more skilled descender when she took an "A" line on the final downhill and got around Gorycka, who took the "B" line.
Belomoyna held off the chasing Gorycka for the final 1.5km and earned the silver medal.
"I'm very happy with second place today. The last lap was a tough one," said Belamoyna. "In the last technical section was where I won the silver medal. The one drop down was a problem every lap."
Gorycka said, "It was the last half of the last lap and we were all there. I know I do my best on the uphills and that's what I did. I was second at the end of the last uphill. But I didn't do the drop off, Jana did it, so I got bronze. I'm happy to sit up here with these incredibly good girls."
Last, who was the runner-up at the past two U23 Worlds, rode in to finish a disappointing fourth place ahead of Monika Zur (Poland).
The British star, who has been racing among the elite women all season, was philosophical about her race. "It's only three weeks after the Olympics, so it's not like I lost form. It was a matter of staying focused. It wasn't easy to do, but I managed it fine. Today, however, my legs just didn't go quite as fast. Normally, I'm pretty good technically, but today I wasn't quite right."
Deidre York finished as the top North American in 19th place. After the race, the American said, "As usual the start was brutal. Everyone took off like a rocket. It's sketchy and I wanted to stay on top of things. There were two crashes in the first mile. I tried to stay steady and not blow myself up in the beginning and not to let everything else freak me out. I absolutely loved the course."
|#||Rider Name (Country) Team||Result|
|1||Jolanda Neff (Switzerland)||1:23:57|
|2||Yana Belomoyna (Ukraine)||0:00:18|
|3||Paula Gorycka (Poland)||0:00:27|
|4||Annie Last (Great Britain)||0:00:47|
|5||Monika Zur (Poland)||0:01:54|
|6||Helen Grobert (Germany)||0:03:10|
|7||Anne Terpstra (Netherlands)||0:03:58|
|8||Ekaterina Anoshina (Russian Federation)||0:04:32|
|9||Serena Calvetti (Italy)||0:04:40|
|10||Michelle Hediger (Switzerland)||0:04:54|
|11||Linda Indergand (Switzerland)||0:06:30|
|12||Samara Sheppard (New-Zealand)||0:06:40|
|13||Barbara Benko (Hungary)||0:07:22|
|14||Jovana Crnogorac (Serbia)||0:07:55|
|15||Vivienne Meyer (Switzerland)||0:08:31|
|16||Kajsa Snihs (Sweden)|
|17||Iryna Popova (Ukraine)||0:09:12|
|18||Candice Neethling (South Africa)||0:09:22|
|19||Diedre York (United States Of America)||0:10:18|
|20||Karla Stepanova (Czech Republic)||0:11:05|
|21||Ingrid Sofie Jacobsen (Norway)||0:11:34|
|22||Jitka Skarnitzlova (Czech Republic)||0:11:49|
|23||Andréanne Pichette (Canada)||0:11:51|
|24||Andreane Lanthier-Nadeau (Canada)||0:11:55|
|25||Lisa Mitterbauer (Austria)||0:11:59|
|26||Raiza Goulao-Henrique (Brazil)||0:12:44|
|27||Alessia Bulleri (Italy)||0:12:49|
|28||Anna Oberparleiter (Italy)||0:13:17|
|29||Noga Korem (Israel)|
|30||Ines Carolina Gutierrez (Argentina)||0:13:38|
|31||Anna Konovalova (Russian Federation)||0:14:09|
|32||Cayley Brooks (Canada)||0:14:32|
|-1lap||Tina Kindlhofer (Austria)|
|-1lap||Marta Tereshchuk (Ukraine)|
|-1lap||Marta Turobos (Poland)|
|-2laps||Viktoria Zeller (Austria)|
|-2laps||Lauren Catlin (United States Of America)|
|-2laps||Daniela Rojas (Chile)|
|-2laps||Michaela Malarikova (Slovakia)|
|-2laps||Haley Smith (Canada)|
|-2laps||Mariske Strauss (South Africa)|
|-3laps||Zsofia Keri (Hungary)|
|#||Rider Name (Country) Team||Result|
|14||United States Of America||30|
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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.
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