Neff dominates U23 women’s race

2013-08-31 00:00

IT was an action-packed day at Cascades MTB Park as the U23 men and women cross- country riders and junior downhillers were out on the track.

In the three races, the most dominant performance was by Switzerland’s Jolanda Neff, who left all of the U23 women in her dust as she blitzed through the five-lap race.

Neff stayed in front from start to finish. Around the second lap, first place was starting to look more and more inevitable for the Swiss, who won her second world championship in a row. She is ranked the fifth best female cross-country cyclist in the world.

Second-placed Pauline Prevot of France crossed the line almost two-and-a-half minutes behind Neff. About a minute behind the Frenchwoman was Yana Belomonya from Ukraine.

There were also strong performances from the South African women. Mariske Strauss crossed the line in eighth place despite taking a tumble at a rock garden.

Candice Neethling also finished well, placing 14th overall.

However, Tayla Odendaal was forced to quit after falling and requiring medical attention.

Speaking at the post-race press conference, Neff said her training for this year’s race was the same as last year’s preparation for the race in Leongang-Saalfelden in Austria.

“It [the race] was hard, but I’m happy with how it worked out,” Neff said.

Asked if she, as the reigning world champion, felt any pressure ahead of the race, she said: “I didn’t feel any pressure. I just came here and I wanted to do my best.

“It’s a great feeling to win another world championship,” she said.

The men’s race was also full of drama with a number of accidents caused by wet rocks as it started to drizzle.

Twins Luca and Daniele Braidot were looking well placed to join eventual leader Gerhard Kerschbaumer in an all-Italian podium.

Luca was in second but with just two laps to race, had a bad rock garden fall that allowed his brother to pass him. He did manage to get up, but he was eventually passed by runner-up Julian Schelb from Germany, and Dutchman Michiel van der Heijden in third place.

His brother Daniele also seemed to fall away as his legs gave in, and he could only finish in ninth spot.

Kerschbaumer said after the race that being a world champion hadn’t yet sunk in, and would only do so once he returned home to Italy.

He also said his team-mate Luca had been pushing him as they worked together and exchanged the lead for a while, and he was disappointed when he fell. “When I saw him fall, I decided to take advantage of that,” he said.

For the local crowds gathered, the race started on a sad note as South Africa’s highest-ranked rider, Rourke Croeser, suffered a broken chain at the start of the race and had to run the entire first lap carrying his bike.

Brendon Davis was South Africa’s best finisher in 19th place out of a field of 65 cyclists.

American teenager Richie Rude won the downhill junior men’s World Championships, while Tahnee Seagrave from Great Britain won the junior women’s race.

“It was good. I felt really good on the course and everything started coming together,” Rude told Weekend Witness.

“I did really well, but the field was really competitive.

“I came here looking for the win and nothing else,” he said, adding that he was still not sure how he would celebrate his win.

JP du Plessis was South Africa’s highest finisher in 19th, while a snapped chain meant that Pietermaritzburg’s Gregg Brown — also known as “Special Gregg” — could only finish 45th.

Today sees the Elite women and men’s cross-country cyclists take to the track at 12.30 pm and 3 pm respectively.

Nino Schurter of Switzerland and France’s Julien Absalon are the names to watch out for, while Philip Buys should lead the South African challenge.

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