Switzerland’s Jolanda Neff (Trek Factory Racing CX) has gotten the nickname “Sendy-Poof” thanks to her ability to send it on the bike and her iconic blond curls.
On Friday at the Trek CX Cup C2, Neff lived up to her nickname in a big way.
With most fans expecting her to only race Sunday’s World Cup, Neff took the start line in the second row on a warm Friday afternoon in Waterloo. Within the first few corners, Neff was already up in second place behind a hard-charging Caroline Mani (Pactimo – Colorado Proud).
Mani’s early aggression forced an early split of four, and midway through the race, the lead group grew to Neff, Mani, Ellen Van Loy (Telenet Baloise Lions), Lucia Gonzalez (NESTA – Skoda Alecar), Clara Honsinger (Team S&M CX) and Jenn Jackson (Easton – Giant p/b Transitions LifeCare).
A mountain biker by trade, Neff has quickly become popular for bringing some air to the cyclocross scene. Each lap, she sent it over the barriers, and in Lap 4 of 7, the lead group went poof when she hopped the planks and sped away from the others, leaving them battling for second.
Neff would not be challenged the rest of the way, as she got a C2 win and a strong ride ahead of Sunday’s World Cup Waterloo.
“It was hard. Racing is always hard,” Neff said about her win. “It was great racing with the girls. We had a really big group until the middle of the race, and then at the barriers I got a bit of a gap because I jumped. That was cool, and then I just went for it.”
Frenchie Flies Early
One of the lowkey stories of the first month of the cyclocross season is the return to form of Caroline Mani. The French rider adopted as an American has had a few tough years since finishing 2nd at the 2016 World Championships.
The Elite Women’s C2 started with Kaitie Keough (Cannondale p/b CyclocrossWorld) taking the holeshot and driving the pace up to the barn flyover. Neff, who gave the fans assembled at Trek a TGIF treat by taking the start line, accelerated forward from her second-row start to slot in second position by the time the field crested the first flyover.
After Keough’s big start, Mani celebrated her strong feeling by taking over the lead and driving a strong pace at the front. With Mani pushing hard, riders were forced to match her pace or get left behind on the warm afternoon.
Toward the end of Lap 1, Ruby West (Pivot – Maxxis p/b Stan’s NoTubes) joined the aggression at the front, leading into the barriers before a hopping Neff sped past her on the uphill exit from the planks. One lap into the seven-lap race, the lead selection was Mani, Neff, West and Van Loy, with a big group scrambling to keep pace.
“I looked at the lap times from last weekend, and I realized I am going faster almost every lap. I’m finishing faster than I’m starting. I’m like, ‘This should not happen. I have to work on that,'” Mani said about her good start.
“Today I had a really good start for me, and I decided to really put the tempo on. I think in the U.S. people don’t think about resting and not doing too much. We usually race aggressively. When you put a mix of Europeans in with the Americans, I wanted to explode the race. I didn’t want to be 10 people.”
Mani kept the pressure on at the start of Lap 2, and Neff was the only rider to follow her pace. Behind them, the typically hard-starting Van Loy recovered and bridged up to the two leaders by the time they reached the barriers. After briefly popping off the lead pace, Van Loy pressed forward and made contact with the leaders again at the flyover in Lap 3. Jackson also bridged up to make it a group of four.
“I was like, ‘I feel good, let’s play.’ I had nothing to lose,” Mani said. “I just wanted to play and not be the victim and get the race on. I think that’s what got the race going.”
Friday’s heat was reminiscent of the conditions that greeted riders on Sunday afternoon in Iowa City, so the leaders chose to dial it back a bit in the third lap. The brief lull in the pace allowed chasers Gonzalez and Honsinger to close the gap and slowly work toward making it a group of six. Gonzalez bridged first, and then Honsinger closed the last few meters at the start of Lap 4 of 7.
“That was a very slow start for me,” Honsinger said. “I’m not usually not the first there, but it was like, ‘Wow.’ It went off, and I was like, ‘Shoot, I’m all the way back here.’ But I was just riding patiently. I saw the front group sit up and put in my efforts to get up there with them and made it.”
The leaders were now six with a little over half the race remaining.
With four laps still remaining, the lull at the front did not last long. Mani stayed on the move, with Neff and Van Loy again following her fast pace. Honsinger and Gonzalez recovered on the sections in the woods, but Jackson fell off the fast pace.
“They would sit up and I would be able to sit in. But then when they’d go again, I was on the gas again and again,” Honsinger said about the fast pace. “I was hoping today would be a little bit softer with the World Cup coming up, but it’s hard to sit up.”
The barriers on the course at Trek are set at the base of a small incline, creating an additional advantage on the exit for any rider who can get aerial and stay on their bike. Each of the first three laps, Neff got a small advantage on her breakmates by hopping the planks and accelerating away, but she chose not to exploit the advantage.
In Lap 4, Neff decided to send it. She hopped the planks and attacked, quickly emerging with a sizeable advantage on the four riders remaining in the lead selection. Her advantage was quickly up near 10 seconds and then only grew from there.
Smooth and composed, Neff cruised the rest of the way to kick off her cyclocross season in a winning fashion on the home turf of her team’s sponsor.
“I’m just coming off the whole World Cup season. I think that was helpful here,” Neff said about her win. “I still have some legs left from that whole season. It was good to get back on the cyclocross bike.”
Behind Neff, the four chasers had an intense battle worthy of the day’s heat. Mani again attacked in Lap 6 and appeared on the verge of dropping the other three riders, but they again recovered. Honsinger was chasing a few when Mani attacked, but once back with the others, she poured in her first big attack of the afternoon, drawing out Mani.
At the end of Lap 6, Honsinger and Mani held a slight advantage on their two Euro counterparts. Then, in the seventh and final lap, Honsinger made another move, this time dropping Mani and grabbing a second-place finish.
After putting in several attacks, Mani was satisfied with her third-place finish on the afternoon.
“For the people who are here, it’s better to show you can race aggressively,” Mani said about her afternoon. “Last weekend, Waldek from Clif was like, ‘Frenchie, your head isn’t even shaking. You can try harder. You have to be more aggressive.’ I kept thinking about that. Maybe it’s set me for the season after we talked last weekend. I was like, ‘Well, I have to shake my head and put my tongue out. That’s how I have to race. You have to play and take some risks if you want to win. I don’t want to be just sitting in wheels and waiting.”
For more from Waterloo, see the photo gallery and results below.
Photo Gallery: 2019 Elite Women’s Trek CX Cup