Jolanda Neff Raced on 'Legs & Heart' Without a Bike Computer or Power Meter at the Tokyo Olympics

Aug 2, 2021 at 7:45
by James Smurthwaite  

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."


122 Comments

  • 409 0
 '' Neff said''
  • 81 2
 focused on line choices and not a computer....that's how its done.
  • 20 11
 That is quite sad to read, bit it still good to remind you do not need that electronic crap to ride your f@@@g bike. Only to procrastinate on PB.

Nice race Jolanda!
  • 7 4
 @SATN-XC: Literally no one is looking at their computer while going down a hill. Come on.
  • 4 0
 Be cool, Jolanda
  • 180 0
 "Ride your bike for one reason, because it is fun."
She totally nailed it.
  • 74 1
 I am super poor, so I don't use power meters and crap either. I understand that they are helpful for optimizing performance, but I've never had any issues not using them. Granted, I'm not competing in WC races or the Olympics, but honestly, athletes at that high of a level should know their bodies well enough to know if they are on a pace that they can maintain. Neff demonstrated that perfectly.
  • 100 3
 same, although I am actually Cheap, not poor.
  • 45 2
 @Narro2: I have a manual power meter and heart rate monitor. When my legs fill with Lactic acid, my power meter says I'm nearing my limit (and I better stop pushing so hard before I cramp or pass out) and When I'm about to pass out on a climb, that's my heart rate monitor "literally", telling me I'm about to go black..
Works every time and they don't need batteries..
  • 24 115
flag HarryBalsagna (Aug 2, 2021 at 9:51) (Below Threshold)
 @Narro2: Cheap and poor are most certainly not the same. Don't try to equate your conscious choice with the harshness of another's reality.
  • 20 5
 @HarryBalsagna: Chill dude. You can also make a lot of money and have none left and feel poor.
  • 26 0
 @HarryBalsagna: what??!!! the joke went way over your head man.
  • 9 2
 @HarryBalsagna: ooh, that's deep man, very deep
  • 6 1
 Mo Money . Mo Problems
  • 4 0
 I think they're often used by top athletes to keep themselves in check during the excitement of racing. I'd be willing to bet many riders that have them haven't a clue how to use it properly and it's more for bragging rights. If I had one it would probably just constantly repeat "you're a wuss" across the display.
  • 14 4
 @HB208: “chill dude”? People in the Southern Hemisphere are suffer through winter right now.
  • 16 0
 @Three6ty: I had an old buddy who was one of the top masters XC racers in the country about 10 years ago. He swore on the "training by the stars method." The jist of the method was to go so hard you see stars, and then back off a little bit and hold for as long as possible.
  • 20 1
 @HarryBalsagna: well said, hairy lasagna
  • 3 0
 @sspiff: Unfortunately for me, This how everyone one of my rides go when steep hills are involved..
  • 4 0
 @suspended-flesh: I thought it was Mo Money, Mo Podiums. Damn marketing lies!!
  • 7 0
 Long slow rides will get you pretty far
  • 1 0
 @suspended-flesh: Only if you let it. Never blame inanimate objects for the folly of people.
  • 13 1
 There are two areas power meters are really useful:
A) Learning how to pace. As you note pro athletes have learned this skill, but the process of learning it can be difficult the power meter helps. Knowing your limits numerically, what it feels like at the start of the race and how hard to you need to not go to blow up etc.
B) Tracking long term fitness and trends. It's a lot easier to spot when you aren't getting better when the power goes down. Can catch overreaching before it becomes a bigger problem. It also makes it easier to analyze as a coach and figure out "hey this person numerically really responds well to this".
  • 1 0
 I had a power meter. I used it about 3 months. By then could easily tell without looking what my numbers were on any given ride, +/- 5%. Close enough for me. Sold the power meter on. As Three6ty says, I'm more than fine with my manual power meters.
  • 1 0
 i have a 5 dollar speed distance meter from walmart
  • 2 0
 @dkcove: mo power baby!!!

ugh wrong hobby, sorry
  • 2 0
 @jordanaustino: Yep. Best use of HRM and power is to reign yourself in. A fitness test years ago was an eye opener. Toward the end, when I felt like I was drilling it, putting our everything I had, my power was dropping like a stone. Made me think back to all the races where I thought I was doing good by suffering like a dog.
  • 69 0
 I just checked my heart meter and it says I'm happy with this story.
  • 52 0
 Her statement is borderline a hot take on cycling in general. Good for her, and I'm glad at least one pro shares this mindset.
  • 1 1
 Guy won the Tour last year the say way. So there's at least two...
  • 8 0
 @ReformedRoadie: Pogacar still trains and races with a power meter. But he did indeed ditch it for that last TT that won him the Tour last year. But to suggest he's anti-power meter just isn't true.
  • 3 0
 @krka73: Article says Neff did this year, as well as at the test event. I don't think either can be described as anti-power meter. Neither are Chris Froome either.
  • 5 0
 @ReformedRoadie: what about the guy who won the Tour this year?
  • 8 1
 A lot of MTB pro's share her mindset. The fact Pinkbike makes an article out of her comments make it seem that they are special, but they are not. From what I read, most MTB pro's race with a powermeter to get data on what the track and race demands are, to be able to train those. They don't look at the numbers during racing, because you'll get nothing out of that, because MTB is so explosive and skill based. The numbers are all over the place and you cannot afford to get distracted by them. On a long steady climb a PM could be beneficial to dose your effort, but that's about it.
  • 1 0
 @Hayek: I doubt he had to look at anything with the lead he had.
  • 1 1
 @Hayek: The guy who won last year and this year are the same person...
  • 1 0
 @jeroenk: exactly. power meters aren't just for stem-staring
  • 2 0
 @LeDuke: yeah that was the joke we were implicitly making
  • 1 0
 @jeroenk: exactly this. PM on a road bike is way more useful than on an MTB.
  • 33 0
 1. As an American, I should probably be cheering for others, but Jolanda is just so hard not to like. Humble, rides hard, rips, list goes on. This lack of a power meter just adds to it...theres something to be said for the panache of racing without one. MVDP is famous for not looking at his during races and just doing unhuman things.

2. For those who care. The drop the power meter argument has been around for a bit...but has tempered a bit in recent years. That said, the Yellow Jersey riders are now so measured in the TDF because they know where they sit. This is a good summary article. www.velonews.com/news/road/the-power-meter-debate-rages-on
  • 62 0
 IMO it's a healthy sign when we're able to support foreign athletes based on our perception of their character rather than sharing a nationality
  • 12 0
 @tigerfish50: Exactly this. Nationality (*) should be near the end of the list of reasons to support an athlete. I think it's rad Jolanda trained in a state next to mine, and I'm stoked for the Swiss Sweep. I think it's silly for people to expect me to cheer for Gwin just because he's got the same flag next to his name as me.

(*) Granted, if you're from a smaller country this may be more important just based on getting to see your country represented on the world stage, not a problem for us.
  • 1 1
 @tigerfish50: @tigerfish50: Exactly!

Félicitations Canadian Womens Soccer (sic)

(note to our English second language friends: "sic" means spelled incorrectly, and is often used to indicate a mis-spelled word being used as part of a joke)
  • 1 2
 @tigerfish50: I think personality has always been more important. It helps when the athlete shares our first language, because the personality transmits more easily.
These days it’s not easy to see an athlete’s personality though, because they are either discouraged from showing it, or too scared to show it, knowing that a section of society is listening carefully for something offensive.
  • 4 0
 @jaame: what a load of shit! It costs zero dollars to just not say the n-word; if that’s what you consider personality, yikes!
  • 27 0
 This is a beautiful reminder at a time when more and more gadgets and gimmicks are seen as necessary. Ride what you got, have fun, don't sweat the rest. Or... as another famous cyclist put it... Ride up grades don't buy upgrades.
  • 1 0
 I'm pretty sure she trains with the gadgets though...
  • 15 0
 Power meter and heart rate monitor makes tons of sense when training where you are targeting metrics for tracking, and you set the pace.

In a race it is useless anyway. What if your opponent attacks on the second to last lap? Are you not going to match because you would exceed your targeted power output for that section? In a race the other people you are competing with has much more influence on when and where you have to increase effort. If you were to only race based on measurables, you would never win
  • 6 1
 Not entirely true for road racing. Everyone is relying on their computers over the duration of the course so they don’t go over their power limit and blow up. That’s why people talk about the ‘golden age’ of cycling before power meters and radios when it was all mind games and risk taking which made it way more exciting to watch. In the mtb side there are no pelotons and highly variable power outputs depending on terrain… having to process your power data just seems like an annoying distraction.
  • 3 0
 100% training effort and 100% racing effort are two different things IMO. I feel like trying to race based on data from a training baseline would only serve to hold you back. You don't want to know that you are above your normal tolerance.
  • 1 0
 In other words... this ^^^
  • 3 1
 the reason you want a power meter during the race isn't to stare at it, it's to record your power to look at later. in the heat of competition you might exceed numbers you weren't able to hit in training, which is super useful to know, and it helps to put the race in context regarding where you won/lost and what you can work on in the future.
  • 12 0
 I like gadgets and have a Garmin. I took my road bike out and did my first 100km ride yesterday. Relevant things I learned regarding this article:

- Your gadget does not help with poor planning. Spontaneously deciding to ride 100km as simply an older enthusiast is you not listening to anything smart at all.
- Gadgets can be an incomplete picture. My HR felt under control but without a power meter and unfamiliar with every climb I had no idea I was going to crack by wasting my legs to fast.
- Your gadget doesn't feed you or tell you when to eat in the 2 days preceding your ride(s), or during it.
- When you're cracked and cramped at the side of the road and can't stand properly and still have 30km to go with no ability to get vehicular help...your gadget won't help you. It's all you to get there, no matter how fast or slow.
- When you are in that last 30km you are utterly by yourself. The only number I wanted with 5 left to go was time...even through the pain I was trying to hit my target. Got it, but holy shit did I pay for it.

TL/DR...in the end your ride is all on you. Plan, prep, ride, finish...only you can do that. I will still ride with my Garmin but valuable lessons learned yesterday and from this article.
  • 6 0
 Garmin does have hydration and nutrition reminder options that can help remind you to eat.

For someone with high fitness goals who doesn’t have a full support team of coaches the HR and Power Meters can be awesome tools to help in ride planning, getting through rides while hitting training goals, and can help you understand what went wrong if you end up cracked on the side of the road.
  • 1 0
 @bruvar: I will look into those options, it's my first Garmin, new to me, and I kind of just plugged and played. I do want to try a power meter on the bike (I have a smart trainer I haven't really tested yet). However, I do know enough about what I didn't plan and about my diet that the side-of-the-road debacle was all on my lack of any planning...I saw 2 points on the map and tried to 'Neff it and since I'm not her it didn't go well, haha. But fine-tuning that stuff would be nice. Appreciate the tips, cheers!
  • 14 0
 "Luke, you've switched off your targeting computer. Is everything OK?"

Go Jolanda!
  • 14 1
 I as well ride every time with only my leg and heart
  • 3 0
 And for the one reason that it is fun with mates, as well as animals being a priority.
  • 9 0
 "Ride your bike for one reason, because it is fun."
Can't argue with that philosophy. What's more, she seems to embody this attitude - her default start-line expression is pretty unique among top pro athletes - she seems to radiate joyous anticipation
  • 5 1
 I'm not at all surprised that she didn't look at any numbers during the race - on such a punchy, technical course it makes sense not to look down at your numbers. I am surprised she isn't interested in recording the data and looking back at it later and that she didn't use the data during training prior to 2021. She is my favorite rider and it is awesome that she emphasizes riding by feel and just having fun but at the same time, this could explain why her racing has been inconsistent at times and why she sometimes has blown up partway through a race.
  • 2 0
 edit - it's also probably why every race where she's near the front is so fun to watch compared to most other bike races.
  • 1 0
 I think both you and Neff are right.
  • 3 0
 Came here to said say exactly what you said: she has a tendency to blow up early in races and then rely on pure talent to come back from it. So not surprised at all that she doesn't look at HR and Power. But I think she succeeds despite it, not because of it.
  • 5 1
 Flutters on his heart rate monitor helped my buddy realize he might have a bad valve in his heart. Turns out he needed a new valve, and would have likely died on the bike (or something) at some point. Instead, he’s still a great dad, good life partner to the mom, and a great friend to many.

I might start wearing one when I pass 50…
  • 4 0
 I like all the data and stuff for afterwards, for the analysis, it's interesting.

But at the same time, wouldn't dropping a power meter, heart rate monitor, and bike computer save a lot of weight too?
  • 3 0
 Last year when red bull did the past race commentaries with guest racers, the question came up. Nino and Cooper both said they don’t use them in the race. Some said it is in their jersey for post race review. Some only use it for timing.
  • 7 0
 God bless this woman!
  • 2 0
 I love tracking my stats and time on strava, but I miss the world where I would just meet some friends and ride without worrying about miles, time, or if my heart was going to explode. Good for her, bringing it back to a time where all that mattered was being faster and first.
  • 2 0
 The Dutch women in the road race didn't have radios and couldn't figure out there was still a rider up the road. Racing without technology... Don't feel bad for them at all. Congrats Jolanda!! Don't need that #@$! to win
  • 6 0
 applause. I love this.
  • 4 0
 Clearly she had more than enough of each to get the job done, stellar performance.
  • 1 0
 They are the best in the world, they know pretty much where their heart rates and legs are at by feel when pacing, pushing, and trying to recover. I think it is much better to not use all the electronic metrics. Paralysis over analysis. Also, it saves some weight.
  • 1 0
 I bet these athletes have a really good idea of their own fatigue and pace. Getting into a flow state seems harder when you are all worried about the data. I get why it matters on the TOF, but seems less important in shorter races.
  • 1 0
 I'm up the middle on this one. I have a simple, Speed, Distance, Time computer on my XC bikes. Like the little Cat Eye Strada. Which I seldom even look at when riding. Afterwards I do track my training rides on an old school spreadsheet. Mostly for fitness and to see where I've been, where I'm at and where I want to go to next. I've never looked at it during a race, not that I can remember anyway. On my Trail bike, nothing, nada, just out for fun or working on trails.
  • 2 0
 I absolutely love Jolanda Neff, she's so skilled on the bike, I love seeing her surfing down muddy slippery trails, such skill but her spirit is so inspiring, always positive and smiling, such an inspiration Smile
  • 2 0
 Much respect to Neff for recognizing that her approach works for her but not necessarily everyone. Ironically, the wisdom of this makes me want to hear more of her thoughts on riding and life.
  • 1 0
 Love this. If you want to use gadgets for training fine, but you shouldn't need them for racing. Riders should manage their own body without relying on stuff like that. I've been in Professional and Semi-Professional sport since a young age and steer well clear, listen to your body!
  • 1 0
 Still, from a training/coaching perspective. Even a simple interval session I can't remember how much I've done and how much to go. Therefore alone I need a computer. I wonder what "plan" she has....I can't believe it's just go out and ride whatever, whenever...If so, I need to make some life changes, right away.
  • 2 1
 Training with Power is far more logical on a road bike or stationary. Although having power references on a specific MTB course can help figure out if something is wrong physically if you're having problems.
  • 4 0
 You could say that she never needs to ramp down her training.
  • 2 0
 This made me smile! With everyone glued to trailforks, Strava, and other gadgets it seems like the soul of MTB is slowly being sucked out.
  • 1 0
 Pretty sure she had a whole team looking her numbers after years and years of traning. I think it's logical that you don't use a computer when racing, because who has time for that, just pedal hard.
  • 1 0
 Wait but what about the valuable training stress data so she can accurately track her form going into the next olympics 4 years from now! Truly putting herself at a disadvantage.
  • 1 0
 interesting....
  • 4 0
 Much respect.
  • 2 0
 Awesome! Ride for fun and let the outcome be the result of enjoying what your doing!
  • 1 0
 Unless I'm mistaken, this is the first year where she HAS started training with a bike computer and it brought her great results.
  • 2 0
 unless you don't count the previous 54 wins before that.
  • 1 0
 surprised people race on data for a short race? XC or cross you have enough fuel in tank and the whole race is about leading or holding a wheel not data
  • 3 0
 Sh!t yeah
  • 2 0
 She probably can win a race without a bike
  • 3 0
 That's just crazy talk!
  • 6 5
 Every road biker on this site just had a heart attack. Good thing they were wearing heart rate monitors.
  • 3 1
 Just ride your f$&@ing bike!!
  • 1 0
 I think bike computers and power meters shouldn't be allowed in races at the highest level.
  • 1 0
 Useless electronic components like computers and ebikes are no longer in fashion then.
  • 1 0
 Good to know legs and heart are enough, I was worried my lack of brain would be an issue
  • 1 0
 Someone who almost never uses something, doesn't use something.
  • 1 0
 It’s worth being a weight weenie.
  • 2 0
 The real deal
  • 1 0
 Diehard masters racers: “wait, what…?”
  • 1 0
 We all need this queen in our bike lives
  • 2 0
 Absolute legend
  • 1 0
 Kinda missed out on a massive Strava flex though.
  • 1 0
 Best shit I've heard in a long time
  • 1 0
 Thank you Jolanda!!! At last some sense.
  • 1 0
 this is much more common than you enduro bros think it is.
  • 1 0
 It would be great if they'd just ban that crap for races anyway.
  • 1 0
 Well said!!! What a LEGEND!!
  • 1 0
 But those ridiculous shades....
  • 1 0
 All time great photo.
  • 1 0
 RESPECT!
  • 1 4
 Wish she did downhill,she’s too good technically for XC
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