Jolanda Neff is ready to race on the mountain bike World Cup again, just six weeks after breaking her arm and collarbone at the cyclocross World Cup in Hoogerheide.
After Neff crashed in the Netherlands, she thought she wouldn’t be able to compete until the Albstadt, Germany World Cup round in May, but she has recovered quicker than anyone expected and will start Saturday’s race in Stellenbosch, South Africa.
Just before the crash with Pauline Ferrand-Prevot, Neff was having a terrific race in Hoogerheide.
“I felt great,” said Neff. “As you can imagine you go all out in such a race and fight for every single second. I was riding in a group for third place together with Pauline and we just happened to touch.”
The two were side by side down a muddy, off-camber section when Ferrand-Prevot’s wheel slipped, sending her into Neff’s bike. Ferrand-Prevot left the course on a stretcher, visibly in pain, while Neff walked off the course.
One day after her wreck, Neff went into surgery to fix her collarbone. It was the 25-year-old’s first surgery ever, and she was bedridden for three days. With her right elbow also broken, the 2017 world mountain bike champion was a long ways from riding a bike, let alone training and racing.
“I was kind of completely handicapped. I could hardly leave the hospital bed or shower or do anything,” she added
Neff eased back into training since she left the hospital, letting her body fully recover from surgery.
“I took 10 days completely off after the surgery,” Neff said. “I didn’t even go on the rollers. I felt that my body needed to take some time to digest the surgery.”
She may be starting the 2018 World Cup season behind on form, but at least she is toeing the line Saturday in South Africa.
Neff has grown accustomed to racing on limited training, though. Last season was inconsistent for her in the World Cup. She finished 18th in Nove Mesto and 12th in Andorra to start. Then, she found her form and rode to fourth in Lenzerheide before bouncing back and winning Val Di Sole and worlds in Cairns to end the season.
“Honestly, I feel like I’ve been playing catch up for the last 18 months,” she said. “There’s no better way to describe my 2017 season. Sometimes I feel like I need a certain pressure to make it interesting for me to even tackle a challenge.”
Neff’s cyclocross crash has certainly presented a challenge. It might also end up being an unexpected advantage. Although Neff was off the bike longer than she wanted, it may have been good to have some rest.
“My body just felt like it was completely recovered,” said Neff.
She took time off from training and riding after the cyclocross World Cup season ended last year, but she didn’t necessarily slow down. She traveled, snorkeled, partied, caught up with her friends, and blew off steam after a stressful season.
“My head was completely ready to work hard again, but my body probably wasn’t.” After the surgery, she says, “I had to sit still for 10 days. Can you even imagine this? Probably, it was exactly what my body needed.”
Currently, Neff is feeling good back on the bike. So good, that she flew down to Spain with the rest of the Kross team and raced the Chelva Cross Country International on March 4.
“I don’t expect a grand result there, but looking at the overall World Cup, it can be crucial to at least take some [UCI] points from that race,” she said before putting her tires on the track.
Well, her result couldn’t have been better — she won the elite women’s race in Chelva.
Now, she’s surprising herself, and fans by showing up at the first World Cup round in Stellenbosch, South Africa on Sunday.
“Last year I missed one World Cup, but still finished fourth in the overall, so I just dream of racing all the rounds this year.”
There’s one more competition in the back of Neff’s head that she hasn’t forgotten about either — the 2020 summer Olympics in Tokyo.
“I have some unfinished business there,” she says.