This article was originally published on Cyclingnews.com.
Jolanda Neff (Switzerland) successfully defended her U23 women's cross country title at the UCI Mountain Bike World Championships in Pietermaritzburg, South Africa on Friday afternoon. Pauline Ferrand-Prevot (France) rode in for second place while Yana Belomoyna (Ukraine) was third.
The Swiss racer was delighted with her win and said she didn't feel pressure to defend her title. "I didn't do much different to prepare for this race. This is the first time I came to a Worlds being sick just before it. I didn't know how strong all the other girls would be. I hadn't raced them all before."
"I felt the pressure earlier this year at the European championships, but I also had some difficulties in the week leading up to it. For this race, I just tried to do my best and not worry about the pressure. I wanted to show I could do a good race and win a second title. I didn't feel nervous or stressed out."
It was a cloudy afternoon, and rain seemed imminent, but it held off until after the women finished.
Neff dominated the race from start to finish. At the beginning, she was joined by Ferrand-Prevot, but on lap 2, the Swiss woman began to establish a gap on her French rival, and from then on, only extended her lead.
Ferrand-Prevot, who is also an accomplished road racer, surged around Neff heading toward the Treehouse Rock Garden, but Neff wasn't having any of that and popped back around her at the entrance to the steep, downhill, technical section.
"I didn't plan to do that, but I was surprised Pauline passed me before that section," said Neff. "I didn't expect it. I wanted to pass her again. I thought, 'when she goes left, I'll go right and take the other line'. I got a gap in that section and then tried to ride my rhythm for the rest of the race."
Ferrand-Prevot explained her strategy. "In my head, I felt good, and I thought I just had to follow Jolanda on the downhill and attack her on the climbs, but she was too strong for me."
For most of the race, the top three women rode alone, maintaining their places as the gaps stretched.
Neff would cross the line for her second consecutive U23 women's world title, stopping the clock at the end of five laps in a time of 1:25:44.
"Last year, it was an absolutely amazing day for me to win the Worlds because I had never won them before. I never won as a junior - twice it didn't work out. This year is all a bit different. I had already been riding the elite World Cups. It's a great feeling to win another world champion's title. I'm happy with the race today."
Ferrand-Prevot rolled in 2:26 later.
"I was good on the climb and on the technical sections. I was good but not enough for the win today," said Ferrand-Prevot. She did crash at one point in a rock garden section after her front wheel slipped, but she said it did not affect the outcome of the race.
Belomoyna claimed the remaining medal 3:45 after the winner.
"The race was good. The course was a strong one for me. I like a course with big uphills," said Belomoyna.
Helen Grobert (Germany) finished fourth while Andrea Waldis (Switzerland) outsprinted Jenny Rissveds (Sweden) for fifth.
The future looks bright for Swiss Cycling. Alessandra Keller won the junior women's title yesterday and in addition to Neff's gold today, Switzerland placed two other riders in the top 10 in the U23 race: Andrea Waldis in fifth and Linda Indergand, who was seventh, dropping a few places after a severe crash.
Australia's Rebecca Henderson, a pre-race favorite, had a rough day.
"It just wasn't my day today. I did get taken out by a rider when I was sitting comfortably in fourth place, and obviously, I'm pretty frustrated with that. It was far from ideal preparation this week," said Henderson to Cyclingnews. She fell during an official afternoon training session earlier this week, leaving her with a large cut above her eye and a severely bruised right wrist.
Henderson has not finished lower than second in any of the five 2013 UCI World Cups.
Crashes, crashes and more crashes
Several U23 women stacked it hard in the Treehouse Rock garden. Everyone got up except for Monika Zur (Poland), who was taken off the mountain on a backboard.
On that same lap that Zur crashed, Cyclingnews saw the following riders all go down in the tricky section: Kendall Ryan (United States of America), Nadezhda Antonova (Russian Federation), Laura Bietola (Canada) and Vera Adrian (Namibia). The Treehouse section of the course was in previous World Cups; however, this year the section seemed to be a bit more worn in, and racers were taking it faster. When it went wrong, spectacular crashes followed as spectators gasped each time and then waited to see if each rider would get up and resume racing.
Strauss impresses home crowd
South Africa's under 23 star Mariske Strauss also recovered from a nasty fall in the Treehouse section of the course to claim a career-defining eighth place whilst the South African number two, Candice Neethling, claimed a hard-fought 14th.
"I had a problem with my cleats early in the race and also got caught up in a big pile-up, so I had to get through quite a lot and really had to fight back to get myself in a good position." The crowds roared whenever South African riders passed.
"I took a tumble at the rock garden which put me back a bit but I just kept telling myself to ride constantly and to not freak out otherwise it could have gone wrong for me. This is my best World Champs result, and I was aiming for a top five but after what I went through, I am happy with eighth."
"I really learnt a lot about my riding out there and after my chain problem I just wanted to keep it steady to the end."
Editorial assistance provided by Gameplan Media.