Jolanda Neff raced without a bike computer, power meter or heart rate monitor on her way to winning the 2021 Tokyo Olympics last week unlike many of her competitors. Neff told us she relied on her "legs and...heart" rather than data to power herself to victory by more than a minute
over compatriots Sina Frei and Linda Indergand.
Bike computers are almost universal in endurance bike racing from the Tour de France through to World Cup cross country racing and they can provide riders with data such as their power output, speed, heart rate or lap times. In theory, the information allows riders to use data to measure their effort and theoretically pace themselves better throughout the race. Neff instead raced on intuition and relied on her body telling her how much effort to use as she completed 5 laps of the Izu Peninsula track.
In fact, this isn't unusual for Jolanda, who said she has almost never used a bike computer or power meter in competition and only started using it in training this year. She said: "I have never done any race in my life with a power meter or a heart rate belt or even a bike computer until 2021, with one exception, which was the Tokyo test event in 2019 where I did the race with all 3 and recorded every detail of the parcours. All the years before that, which is 21 years of racing to be fair, I always race on my intuition and my feeling... To me, skills and fun on the bike are the number one priority."
This is a philosophy that Neff wishes to pass onto younger riders who may rely too heavily on numbers over enjoying riding their bikes. She continues, "I would love to give this message to any bike rider in the world, and especially young riders. Please enjoy riding your bike to the fullest, have fun with your mates, admire nature and the animals you get to see and forget about the numbers. You will get fast by riding your bike not by producing some certain numbers. Yes, you need to train and you need to overcome challenges and setbacks but please do it with your heart. Ride your bike for one reason, because it is fun."
Neff accepts that this approach may not work for everyone but it has been incredibly successful for her with a palmares that includes 3 consecutive U23 World Championships, 3 overall World Cup wins, 12 World Cup wins and National Championships wins on and off road. She said, "I have been training like this all my life and it didn't stop me from having success. Yes, it was great fun but also a great success. Often people think when you have fun you're not working hard, which is not true. You can be having the most fun and working the hardest and have success at the same time. Everyone has their own style and I totally respect that and as long as you ride your bike, no matter what gadget, that's totally awesome. I'm just saying this is my style and I'm happy with it."