Sebastian Neef: All-In on Off-Road

Sebastian Neef isn’t searching anymore. The German triathlete has bounced between road and off-road, short and long distance, winter and summer triathlon, but for 2024 he has just one singular focus: the XTERRA World Cup.

Written by
Sarah Bonner
min read
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Searching for Something 

Neef has been a professional triathlete for 11 years. The 35 year-old has held the title of being the German National Long Distance Champion while also amassing an impressive list of podiums and accolades in XTERRA, Winter Triathlon, Ironman and Challenge, just to name a few. Racing all the different disciplines within the sport, Neef found enjoyment in every style but was always searching for something. 

For a while, that “something” was Kona qualification. In 2017, Neef had a breakthrough on-road full distance performance finishing second at Challenge Regensburg. Neef led the majority of the race, putting in a spectacular bike performance, and only relinquished the lead in the final stages of the marathon. 

“That was really special for me, and that day I thought, 'Okay, I'm a long-distance guy.' In the upcoming years, I always tried to qualify for Hawaii but never quite made it because I had a lot of setbacks.”

Sebastian Neef (DEU) / 2023 XTERRA European Champs / Belgium

2020 turned into a welcome break from both setbacks and racing. Neef took the opportunity to finish his studies and started working as a sports teacher (a position he still holds). He started racing again in 2021, taking a fresh crack at on-road middle distance, adding a few XTERRA events when his calendar allowed. But after two years, Neef found himself in the same position as before: still searching.



Finally Found

After a particularly frustrating race where illegal drafting negatively influenced his result, Neef needed a change of scene and terrain so he headed to Belgium for the 2023 XTERRA European Championship.

“I was coming into the race after a bad race experience, but I actually had a super, super good race in Belgium. I even managed to outride Jens Emil [Sloth Nielson] on the bike. I was going really hard with Ruben Ruzafa and we were able to drop Jens Emil and catch all the leaders.”

Although missing the turn into transition cost Neef three minutes, he finished 8th overall. More importantly, he finally found what he was looking for. 

“It was actually a sign for me that I am definitely much better off at XTERRA racing. And that was also the first time that I heard of the XTERRA World Cup. After Belgium, it was pretty obvious for me that I’d try to do as many races of the World Cup series as I possibly could.”

"After Belgium, it was pretty obvious for me that I’d try to do as many races of the World Cup series as I possibly could.”

Neef completely shifted gears and finished the last three months of the 2023 season on dirt. He raced three more World Cup events: Germany, Oak Mountain, and the World Championship in Italy, posting two top ten finishes to rank 11th overall in the World Cup. 

Now, for the 2024 season, Neef says there is no doubt, no searching, and no going back to racing on the road: “Full focus on XTERRA.”

Sebastian Neef (DEU) / XTERRA Belgium Short Track / 2023


Flying Under the Radar in Taiwan

Neef’s decision paid off at the 2024 World Cup opener in Taiwan. With his best XTERRA finish since 2019, Neef finished 6th, just one minute behind Sebastien Carabin. 

“I think it was a very good start to this World Cup.”

“For me, it's actually a lot more chilled racing XTERRA than racing on the road because I can really do my own race. That was something I enjoyed a lot about Taiwan. It didn't take long on the bike course to find myself in a rhythm. I was able to get a gap to the other guys and make up time to the front guys and I was riding in fourth position pretty quickly.” 

Sebastian Neef (DEU) / 2024 XTERRA World Cup / Taiwan

“It's very different to road racing where you always have this change of positioning and then realise there’s a guy sitting at your wheel and there's a group forming.”

Riding up as high as fourth position, Neef laughs that his performance even caught the commentators off-guard. 

“I was shown on the bike and they thought I was Felix Forissier and then the other commentator said: ‘No, it's Sebastian Neef!’ So, I'm still flying under the radar. I'm kind of there but not really fully there. I need to have a podium in the next races–which is my goal.”



Sowing the Seeds

Taiwan was a great performance for Neef but he sees a lot of room for improvement. With a change of focus came a change in training and Neef says he is still adjusting and learning and is yet to see the full benefits.


Instead of his usual warm weather training camps during the off season, Neef stayed home in Germany to work on his trail skills. “I've been in the sport long enough that I know what I need.”

“I've been in the sport long enough that I know what I need.”

“This year I said I'm going to just train at home because for mountain biking, it's just perfect here and the weather wasn't too bad and that definitely paid off. Other than that, it's pretty much the running. I think I need to do really hard stuff on technical trails. That's something I really haven't done before. I do a lot of trail running, but more like easy cruising and not running really hard and that is definitely something I need to work on. And I don’t think it takes too much time to adapt to that.”

After seeing so much progress in Taiwan, Neef is very optimistic. “When I'm able to improve my running game, it shouldn't take too long until I get a podium in a World Cup race.” 



The Biggest Factor

Despite being hungry for the podium, Neef says this new chapter of his career isn’t just about performance. 

“The enjoyment factor plays the biggest role. Now I can really profit from all the training I’ve done in the past years. It was a lot of hard training and a lot of setbacks. Somehow, it all comes together that now I’m really able to lay down all the experience I’ve gathered in performances, but also in a way that I can combine racing with a lot of experiences that enrich my life.”

Sebastian Neef (DEU) / 2024 XTERRA World Cup / Taiwan

“The places you go to with XTERRA are just so much more special. The location in Taiwan was just superb. We spent some days after the race to know the culture and people better and it was really amazing.”

"It’s a big privilege to do the sport at this level and to be able to see the things to the left and right of the sport as well.”

“That's something I really didn’t do when I was still doing road races. It was just all about the competition. It is still very much about the competition but I’m not just going there as an athlete. It’s a big privilege to do the sport at this level and to be able to see the things to the left and right of the sport as well.”



Right Place, Right Time

Neef was satisfied with his race in Taiwan, but says Greece will be “even better.” He details all the areas he wants to improve but they are just that: details. In the bigger picture, Neef seems poised to make a mark this season. 

“The years before, I needed to find where I really belonged. I’ve earned all the experiences I made in the last couple years and now it’s just about putting the takeaways in the right direction.”

With his variety of experience, ambition, and his growing ability to perform with the top men, Neef might finally be in the right place at the right time. 

Sebastian Neef DEU) / 2024 XTERRA World Cup / Taiwan

Follow Sebastian Neef and all the action in Greece via the World Cup stop #2 page, and be sure to subscribe to the XTERRA YouTube channel for the extended highlights and analysis video dropping the week after the race.











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Author Bio

Sarah Bonner

Sarah Kim Bonner (MA, PGDip, BA Hons) is a Canadian freelance writer, graphic designer, and professional triathlete. She has worked as a creative for over 10 years, specializing in written storytelling within endurance sports. Emotionally allergic to an office 9-5, she has lived and raced all over the world from the Arctic to Africa and now calls the Canary Islands home. Find her at or @sarahkimbonner.

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