Jolanda Neff: I’m not someone who hangs up their trophies! In fact I’m not sure where mine are
We had a chance to catch up with Jolanda Neff on her way to the Mountain Bike Marathon Championship race in France (she won it yesterday). As one last push for the legs, this would be her last big session before the Chez Republic XC World Cup race in Nove Mesto on the 2nd July. Jolanda is the defending World Cup Champion for Cross Country – winning both in 2014 and 2015.
I talk to her about racing life, the need for great coffee and the joys of retail therapy!
You’ve been racing since you were six year old – what is it that you love about bikes and what keeps you motivated to ride?
Well I never really thought about it, I just always loved and did it! My Dad was a professional road racer too, so we spent a lot of time on bikes because of that, but not only riding – we also spent time in nature, hiking and skiing too. There were plenty of other kids around me as well as I was growing up, which helps when you have a group of people to ride with all the time.
Cross-country racing is in my heart; I was made to do it! That’s what I’ll always do although I also ride on the road and take part in other disciplines like marathon distance. Luckily for me the XC is in the Olympics so I’ve the opportunity to go to Rio for the first time. I love XC as it’s demanding, fast, technical, interesting to watch and really fun - also the weather is great – mostly!
At only 23, you’ve accomplished an incredible amount – most recently winning the Swiss Cup as well as being the defending World Cup Champion from 2014 and 2015 – what’s been your best win so far?
The best moment for me for sure is winning the under 23 XC World Championships in 2012 – this was in Austria and was a really emotional win for me as I’d never won the Juniors before. I keep the memories of these moments in my head though; I’m not someone who hangs up their trophies! In fact I’m not sure where mine are, probably in a cardboard box in the basement somewhere! I like to keep them in my heart and head. It’s important to be able to keep a good balance in life and not be all about cycling – such as giving time to family, to meeting someone and for make time for relaxing and fun.
The Olympics are fast approaching – what are you most excited about ahead of Rio?
Well I have raced there before, but this will be my first Olympics so I’m really excited about that. I’ll be heading over there with 3 weeks before racing – so that’ll give me plenty time to prepare and hopefully it’s not too hot! I’m just really excited to be a part of it all and have a new experience.
The XC courses seem to be increasingly technical each year - do you always ride hardtail or do you ever switch to full suss?
As I’ll be riding hardtail in Rio, I decided to do my entire racing season on the same bike. I ride with 29-inch wheels, so this way I’m completely used to it and know how it rides on all kinds of courses before the Olympics. With the full suspension bikes, yes mostly this is the ridden by the men. The guys are often 30kg heavier than the women so this works better for some of them, but for most women who are very light, a full suss just adds extra weight to carry up the climbs. You want as little as possible.
You also race on the road – what do you love about being on the road versus mountain bike?
I did enjoy racing on the road, it was a great experience to have and it’s very different to XC of course! The organisation, the travel and the racing as well as the way you need to react are all very different to mountain biking, but I enjoyed getting to do it and learning from it. In my heart though is mountain biking and it’s this that I prefer - I’ll do all my life. I really like racing and training with my teammates and my manager at Stöckli pro team.
There’s been some incredible changes over the last decade on both road and mountain bikes – what do you consider to be the most significant game-changer for you?
Yes it’s amazing how much it changes! Only recently I was looking at a picture of me from Junior racing and I had 26 inch wheels on my hardtail with 50 cm handle bars and bar ends. Although that was actually only 5 years ago! On mountain bikes, it’s been so fast – with dropper posts and wheel sizes. For me, the biggest one is the wheel size and riding a 29-inch wheel. They did exist over 15 years ago but no one imagined that you would use them in racing and now it’s standard. I did ride for one season on the 27.5, but for me the 29ers work best. They make it so much easier and for beginners too, this gives more confidence and makes mountain biking more accessible as well. With a full suss, 29-inch bike you can ride anything!
Before the race starts, do you have a song that you play in your head or any words you like to tell yourself to get in focus?
No, not really. I actually don’t listen to music and ride at the same time. I love instead to have people around me to talk to! I really enjoy riding with other people than on my own and there is a mix of people around me – mostly I ride with my Dad as he is often in the same place as me - but my team mates, manager and also friends that are hobby riders.
Do you have a favourite XC racing track that you’d recommend we ride?
For the XC racing, Mont St Anne is amazing! Also the course we are going to be riding in the Chez Republic next weekend is one of my favourites. You should go ride the Le Bresse course in France – I loved it, as it’s really natural riding.
What would you choose – coffee and cake or protein shake?
Coffee for sure! Cake depends on the mood I’m in… but good coffee is really important to me! We have a Rocket Espresso machine that you can make great coffee with fresh ground beans – I really love this!
As a girl it’s important to keep a feminine side! As you spend a lot of time getting covered in mud and sweaty – what’s your girly treat?
Outside of racing it had to be shopping! That’s my favourite activity – just spending time with my friends and finding new shoes, clothes and handbags. It can be an expensive activity though – more than mountain biking at times!
About Catriona Sutherland
Catriona is an avid mountain biker from the UK, favouring endurance events. She has competed in various 24 hour, marathon and stage mountain bike races around the world including the Joberg2c, Epic Israel and the Strathpuffer. Currently working as freelance marketing consultant, mountain bike guide and serial adventurer, Catriona is happiest riding her bike, drinking coffee and planning her next trip!
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