Team Spur announces partnership with Kargo National

Kargo National, the specialist road freight distribution company, has been investing in South African cycling for over three years and will continue to do so in a new partnership with professional mountain bike team, Team Spur.

Team Spur consists of Swiss Marathon Champion and multiple Cape Epic winner Ariane Lüthi and Olympian and U23 African Champ Alan Hatherly.

“We are very excited to join Team Spur for the upcoming season,” commented Leigh Oliveira, Marketing Manager at Kargo National. “Kargo National has always had a passion for mountain biking and we believe that this new venture will be a prosperous one.”

“Alan has been such an outstanding ambassador. A great sportsman both on and off the track. We are proud to continue this journey with him,” Oliveira said.

“Ariane Luthi shows such passion and commitment for this sport which ultimately every athlete needs to have in order to succeed. Kargo National looks forward to sponsoring and supporting both these talented athletes during the season.”

“The relationship is fantastic continuity in their support for Alan Hatherly,” commented Nic Lamond of Podium Sports, which runs Team Spur. “It’s encouraging to see that they wanted to continue to support the country’s pre-eminent mountain bike racer and believe he has the character and talent to make a global impact.”

Exciting XCO season openers for Team Spur’s Hatherly and Lüthi

The first cross-country (XCO) round of the 2017 SA MTB Cup Series went down at the Hero Adventure Trails at Rhebokskloof Wine Estate on Saturday, 25 February. This, the first of four events in the country-wide series, boasted one of the most star-studded international fields ever seen at a local XCO race.

Team Spur’s 20-year-old XCO specialist Alan Hatherly faced stiff competition in the UCI Pro Elite Men’s field, which featured the reigning U23 XCO World Champion, Kiwi Sam Gaze and Danish former Junior Cyclocross and XCO World Champion Simon Andreassen. Not to mention UCI World Cup stalwarts Manual Fumic, Marcel Guerrini, Mathias Flückiger, Nicola Rohrbach, Simon Stiebjhan and Martin Gluth as well as all the top local contenders.

“The start was pretty narrow, tricky and risky,” Alan explains. “I managed to navigate through there safely and got onto the first climb in about fifth,” he says.

According to Alan he got to the first singletrack well within his limit and realised some of the other guys were already breathing pretty hard.

“I moved up into second there onto Sam (Gaze’s) wheel.” The two went under the start/finish banner together and it was here that Alan put the hammer down and went into the lead. He dictated the racing for the entire second lap and managed to string out the chasing field, but then disaster struck:

“I looked back to see how far Manny (Fumic) was to our group and went off the track and into some sticks. I collected one that went into the derailleur and jammed the gears up,” he says.

“I knew the tech zone was about 500m away, so I didn’t  bother stopping and just sprinted up and over the hill – it was dragging badly but it was enough to turn the pedals.” He soldiered into the tech zone where Team Spur mechanic, JP Jacobs managed to quickly diagnose and fix the problem.

“By then I had lost about 20 seconds, so I went out really hard to try catch up to the front group.”

Alan did manage to make contact again, but just as he did Fumic, Flückiger and Rohrbach started attacking each other to try split it up before a powder-dry loose descent on the second part of the course. “That threw me way over the limit after my effort to catch them. So, from there it took a good few laps to regroup, take a few gels and find some energy,” he says.

“I managed to hammer the last two laps again and finish off with fifth place.”

Sam Gaze crossed the line in first place followed by Flückiger and Rorhbach, with Fumic in fourth.

“On the whole I’m really happy with the first cross-country of the year. There is still a lot of work to do, ahead of my first peak in around April/May for Europe. But being the first South African home is really good for the National Series, and I take a lot of confidence from that.”

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Team Spur’s marathon queen, Ariane Lüthi also fired up the sprint legs on Saturday among a strong field of lap-racing specialists, including Swiss compatriot Katherin Stirnemann, Germany’s Helen Grobert, British Champ Annie Last, as well as South African XCO Champion Mariske Strauss and Cherie Redecker. After a brutal start and a few early setbacks Ariane charged home to a respectable fourth place after five laps of the Rhebokskloof circuit.

“The start was really fast,” she picks up the story. “Everyone around me went out really fast and left me behind on the start stretch. I had a good warm-up and tried to sprint as fast as I can. I went as hard as I possibly could off the grid, but Cherie (Redecker) was leading out, Mariske (Strauss) was in there and Kathrin Stirnemann.”

Ariane did manage to make up a few places on the first climb, but by that time the front bunch was away. Into the first technical descent a small hiccup saw her dismount her Specialized S-Works Epic, but she quickly recomposed and started the chase.

“From there I was just playing a catch-up game,” she says. “I did start reeling them in and the longer I rode the better I felt and the more I got into the rhythm, which meant I was smoother through the technical sections.”

“When I got to the support zone I heard the time split and knew I was close to Mariske, which was really motivating and then I managed to catch her there.”

The race was eventually won by Kathrin Stirnemann, followed by Annie Last and Cherie Redecker.

“I will take any position in a cross-country race to gather some points,” Ariane says. “It was good to go flat out and to get back into cross country riding – it’s just a completely different mindset to marathon racing; a different rhythm and speed.”

“My diesel engine got going a little bit late but I take a good session from that.”

Ariane, an ambassador for the popular Spur Schools Mountain Bike League also commented on how encouraging it was to see so many young racers at the event. “Marathon racing is more an ‘old people’s game’ and it was just nice to have so many young racers around, and having fun on their bikes. It’s quite inspiring.”

European stars to ride back-up for Team Spur’s Lüthi and Morath

In her quest for a fourth Absa Cape Epic women’s title, Ariane Lüthi has put together the first-ever women’s back-up team for the 2017 edition of the mountain bike race. Alice Pirard and Sabrina Enaux will make up Team Spur Foundation and ride in support of Lüthi and her new partner, German Adelheid Morath.

Pirard raced the Absa Cape Epic in 2015, finishing fifth alongside another Swiss mountain bike legend, Esther Süss, but for Enaux it will be her debut on African soil. Both riders however, come with sterling marathon and stage race pedigrees.

Hailing from Belgium, Pirard has four back-to-back Belgian National Marathon titles (2013-2016) under her belt and won the 2016 women’s category at the gruelling Crocodile Trophy stage race in Australia. She is also a past winner of the Cape Pioneer Trek stage race held in South Africa. “It’s a big honour for me to ride in support of Ariane and Adelheid,” says the 28-year-old. “Ariane makes lots of effort to improve women’s mountain biking, she’s an inspiring athlete. Because I respect her so much, I want to help her in the best possible way to reach her goal.”

“I have some idea of what to expect after my 2015 experience. But back then, there was no separate start for the women. I think this changed the women’s racing and raises the importance of a back-up team,” she said.

While Enaux is more of a XCO specialist, the French rider took bronze at the 2016 UCI Mountain Bike Marathon World Champs in Laissac in her home country. “From everything I’ve seen and read I know it’s a very difficult race, both physically and mentally,” she says.

“The idea of riding as a support team is a very good idea,” she says. “Not only will this bring more women into this race, but ultimately give Ariane and Adelheid even more chance at victory.”

A professional women’s back-up team has been a project of Lüthi’s for some time. Team Spur Foundation will simultaneously raise awareness for an important charity and provide an insurance policy against a race-threatening mechanical. Lüthi also sees it as a way of bringing more elite women to South Africa to compete in the Absa Cape Epic. The successful model has been employed by multiple men’s winner Christoph Sauser and his global Specialized Racing team for the past few years. A number of top pro men’s teams now do the same and the depth in the men’s racing field at the event in March each year is the result.

“I am very pleased to have found two riders of such pedigree to ride in support of Adelheid and me,” Lüthi says. “Although Annika [Langvad] and I didn’t puncture once at the Absa Cape Epic since riding with Specialized Fast Trak tyres with Grid casing, the increasingly tight racing in the women’s category will rise the chances of getting mechanicals because we will have to take more risks.”

According to Lüthi, the back-up team format also gives Absa Cape Epic newbie, Enaux, a great chance to draw from her experience and tackle the daunting race under less pressure at her first attempt. “I hope my competitors will follow suit and look for support for themselves in the future as to grow the women’s field,” she says.

Pirard and Enaux will race in aid of the Full Tummy Fund, which is an initiative of the Spur Foundation. The Spur Foundation, through its Full Tummy Fund, focuses on initiatives that primarily target children from birth to six-years-of-age, which are aimed at improving early childhood development (ECD), not only by investing in educational programmes but also in programmes that ensure these vulnerable children are nourished and safe.

“The best part of it all is that this is not just about getting but also giving support. Adelheid, Sabrina, Alice and I are very motivated to raise funds and awareness for the Full Tummy Fund, a charity which is doing an amazing job helping underprivileged children, during this epic journey.” Lüthi says.

Ronel van Dijk, Chief Financial Officer at Spur Corporation and Chair of the Spur Foundation Trust, says: “We are thrilled that Ariane has selected the Full Tummy Fund as her charity of choice for this year’s Absa Cape Epic. We value her efforts to generate awareness around this vehicle for investing in educational development and nutritional programmes. Through the funds that she and her teammates will be raising from her followers and from the auction of her race jerseys we can continue our quest to fill the tummies and feed the minds of children from disadvantaged communities around the country. We wish Ariane the best of luck and hope that 2017 will mark her sixth Cape Epic win.”

Team Spur will be piloting the latest Specialized S-Works Epic race machines, while the back-up team combines two athletes not supported by the same bike manufacturer. The creation of the charity team allows Pirard and Enaux to wear the same team jersey and ride different bikes: Sabrina Enaux is a Specialized ambassador in France, while Pirard rides for Merida in Belgium. However, a number of critical parts, such as wheels, are interchangeable across the bikes. As has been the norm in the men’s field for some time, the idea is that should Lüthi and Morath suffer a mechanical setback, they will be able to swap damaged parts out quickly with the back-up team’s help.

Fighting it out for marathon kudos

“Stoked! Very stoked with third-overall today.” Those were the sentiments of Team Spur’s 20-year-old XCO specialist Alan Hatherly immediately after the opening round of the Ashburton Investments National MTB series in Grabouw on Saturday, 28 January.

Hatherly rode a smart tactical race to finish a close third to defending National MTB Series Champion Max Knox and Swiss racing legend, Christoph Sauser. The 2017 series has seen the culling of the ultra marathon distance for a more traditional marathon distance and it played right to Alan’s strengths on the day.

“The plan for the Grabouw national today was to use it for training, so in the week leading up to race-day I trained as per normal and even did quite a lot of strength work on Wednesday,” he says.

Alan wasn’t too sure what effect that kind of training load would have on race day, but was determined to give it a full go and test form and fitness, especially with the all-star field assembled.

“The start was crazy,” he explains. “It was 30 guys going flat box through the twisty roads and was quite scary, to be honest. Obviously the risk of crashing was really high.”

With the start safely negotiated it was out into the famed mountains above Grabouw where Alan found himself at the sharp end of the race. “We arrived at the bottom of the KOM quite quickly and in the approach I saw Philip [Buys] and Matthys [Beukes] set up a one-two to try and slingshot each other to get a head start.”

“I managed to go with them and from there we started a really hard effort to see who was actually good for the day.”

Alan reached the top first to claim the KOM and from there dictated the race for a while. “I had a 20-second gap on Matthys and there was another 20 seconds back to Max and then another big gap to Sauser and the rest of the guys,” he says.

“I was hoping Matthys and Max would bridge across and that we would work together from there and keep the group smaller.” After about 5km of riding solo and the field being strung out, Alan made the wise move of sitting up and waiting for the regroup. “There was about 40km still to go and it didn’t make sense to leave it all out there by myself in the wind,” he says.

A group of five rode together testing each other on each climb until the final steep challenge.

“Here it all fell apart,” Alan explains. “By the top of that last climb it was myself, Sauser and Max and the three of us were sort of sussing each other out, still hammering it trying to get rid of one-another.”

At the top of the concrete section Alan unfortunately lost touch. “I hit my limit there and watched Sauser go full risk on the muddy descent to pull away. I could see him and Max all the way to the line – they were around 30 seconds ahead of me.”

“All-in-all a very good day out and I’m stoked with the form so far. The pre-season training has gone really well and Saturday – with the racing style being so similar to cross country – suited me. I’m looking forward to the first (XCO) National of the year at the end of Feb. I think it’s going to be a good one.” We do too!

Our three-time Absa Cape Epic winner and current Swiss Marathon Champion, Ariane Lüthi chose not to race on Saturday. She was protesting the elite women’s prize money not being equal to the men’s. We support Ariane in her stance and are happy that race organisers and sponsors recently committed to changing the prize money structure. On Monday afternoon Ashburton Investments and Advendurance announced that men and women would enjoy equal prize money. You can read the announcement here.