Hatherly, Strauss dominate at the spruit

Hatherly (Team Spur) commanded his race over six laps of the short and punchy four-kilometre track in a time of one hour 22 minutes and 54 seconds, winning the Elite Men race by less than a minute over Philip Buys (Team PYGA Eurosteel) in 01:23:38, with Matthys Beukes (Team PYGA Eurosteel) finishing third in 01:25:21.

Speaking about his race, Hatherly said: “When racing at altitude, you always have to play it smart tactically. If you start too hard, you will pay the price at the end.”
Mariske Strauss (OMX Pro Team) surged ahead in complete control, posting the fastest laps in each of her five laps and claiming her victory in a time of 01:27:15 at the second round of the 2017 SA National MTB Cup Series XCO at the Wolwespruit Bike Park in Tshwane on Saturday 15 April 2017

Hatherly completed the first lap in Buys’ wake. “I was sussing out the first lap and playing it safe. I felt good, but Phil seemed to play tactically and was trying to get Matthys to link with us. That wouldn’t have worked to my favour so I pushed off on the first main climb of the lap and rolled off and settled into my own pace.”

The Rio Olympian’s attack placed a suitable gap between himself and Buys, which he managed to maintain throughout the remaining laps. “I gapped it and kept the pace up, and kept the gap up, attacking every descent and finding the flow. On the whole it was a good race.”

Hatherly’s next race is the third round of the National Cup Series in Bloemfontein on 6 May, before he heads off to the island of Mauritius for the African Continental Championships. Thereafter he returns home briefly before jetting off to Europe on 14 May for the UCI MTB World Cups in the Czech Republic and Germany.

The Elite Women’s race saw a battle for podium positions between Ariane Luthi (Team Spur), Frankie du Toit (Absolute Motion) and Bianca Haw (Red Bull) as race winner Strauss (OMX Pro Team) surged ahead in complete control, posting the fastest laps in each of her five laps and claiming her victory in a time of 01:27:15. Luthi was the second rider home in 01:33:30, with Du Toit rounding out the podium in a time of 01:35:07.

The current National Champion said: “My race went smoothly – I have to admit I was a tiny bit nervous as I wasn’t sure how my legs would perform. My game plan was to gradually open the valves and that seemed to have worked for me.”
Ariane Luthi (Team Spur) navigates her way to second place at the second round of the 2017 SA National MTB Cup Series XCO at the Wolwespruit Bike Park in Tshwane on Saturday 15 April 2017

Strauss adopted the approach of trying to chase the men’s lap times, in a racing format where every category races on the exact same course (apart from the Nippers and Sprogs on a shortened course). It showed in her lap times, which were in the 17 and even 16 minute bracket.

“I am happy with how it went,” she said. “Now to pack again as I prepare to set off for the Swiss Cup next week.”

The Junior Men raced four laps, with Pieter du Toit claiming victory in a time of 01:00:36. Ryan Conradie and Mulder Oosthuizen’s tight battle ensued until the very end, with the former taking second place in 01:02:43 and Oosthuizen third, five seconds behind.

The Elite Men’s podium from left: Jan Withaar, Philip Buys (PYGA Eurosteel), Alan Hatherly (Team Spur), Matthys Beukes (PYGA Eurosteel), Stuart Marais at the second round of the 2017 SA National MTB Cup Series XCO at the Wolwespruit Bike Park in Tshwane on Saturday 15 April 2017

Fresh from her recent European campaign, Tiffany Keep kept a one-minute buffer between herself and second placed Danielle Strydom to take the victory in the Junior Women’s race in 00:56:35. Azulde Britz rounded out the podium in 01:00:28.
Philip Buys (PYGA Eurosteel) gets some air over the jump section at the second round of the 2017 SA National MTB Cup Series XCO at the Wolwespruit Bike Park in Tshwane on Saturday 15 April 2017

Luke Moir, who has also recently competed in Europe, managed to keep Jamie Penfold at bay to secure his victory in 00:48:54 in the Youth Men’s race, with Penfold taking second place five seconds behind in the three-lap battle. Daniel van der Walt finished in third place, only one second behind Penfold. Also competing over three laps, the Youth Women’s race saw Zandri Strydom take victory in 00:57:24. Christelle Coetzer finished in second place in a time of 01:05:55, while Andrea De Waal finished in third place (01:07:16).

Easter XCO cheer for Team Spur’s Hatherly and Lüthi

Team Spur headed up-country to Tshwane for an Easter-egg hunt with a difference – chasing sweet victory at the end of some tough laps around the Wolwespruit XCO course at the second event in the 2017 SA XCO Cup Series.

Alan Hatherly wasn’t there to play around and, despite the race being very much a ‘B’ priority for him coming at the end of a big training week, he lead from lap one to claim the Elite title in fine style ahead of Philip Buys and Matthys Beukes.

“We flew in on Friday,” the 21-year-old picks up the story, “for the main reason to not have the altitude affect us too much, but at least have one day to acclimatise.”

“Practice on Friday went quite well. There had been a fair amount of rain in the preceding week leading and the course was muddy, so it was a bit tricky trying to do a couple of sighting laps with everything being so slick,” he says, adding that he did get a good overall impression of what to expect for the following day’s race and had put together one true hot lap to open up his legs and lungs a bit.

Race day started with a luxurious breakfast at The Maslow hotel, where the team was hosted, and then it was off to do the business.

“The start is open road and quite fast, with swooping corners,” Alan says. “Julian Jessop decided to go wide open right from the start. Both Phil (Buys of Pyga-Euro Steel) and I got good starts so we sat on his wheel for the first kilometre or so because we thought he had gone too hard and was going to pay the price a bit later.”

Alan moved to the front and put in a big effort to split the field up even further. “Phil sort of countered and went ahead of me on the second hill of the course and I noticed he was riding different to normal,” Alan says. “It took me a few minutes to figure out that he was doing a yo-yo effect of sorts to try allow Matthys (Phil’s teammate, who was about 15 seconds back) to join our group.”

Tactically this would’ve been a blow for Alan as he would have had two team riders to work against. “As we got near the end of lap one I rolled through and went hard again to try and make it as difficult as possible for Matthys to bridge. I sort of kept that pace up the first climb and by the time I got the top I saw I’d actually managed to open up a gap on Phil.”

“I felt really good out there and it is a positive sign that I could get a gap that early on, so I kept the pressure on just to see what would happen.” That gap stretched from 20 seconds to 44 by the finish and that is how it ended. “Obviously, racing at altitude you can’t go too deep into the red because it’s tough to get out of it. You have to stay just below your threshold. That was a rhythm I was very lucky to find early on and managed to extend the gap lap by lap to finish off with a good gap to win,” he says.

“The win was really awesome for me. It’s been quite a while since I’ve won a national, and gathering some points so I can improve my ranking before I head off to Europe in the middle of May was also great. A big thanks to Team Spur’s Tim (Bassingthwaighte) for driving all the way to Joburg for us and being so organised and to JP (Jacobs, Team Spur mechanic) for making our Specialized S-Works Epics fast, as always. It was also amazing to be hosted in style by Sun International at The Maslow.”

In her first race since her fourth place at the 2017 Absa Cape Epic, Ariane Lüthi also had a very successful outing at the second stop in the SA XCO Cup series, finishing second behind Mariske Strauss after the four laps of the Elite Women’s race.

Like Alan, Ariane took no time out to rest and taper from the week’s training load for the Wolwespruit event, opting to use the race as part of her training.

“Mariske was up the front all the way,” she says. “There was no way to catch her and I can see that I definitely have some work to do for the UCI World Cups in Europe.”

“I lost some time on the jumps, but otherwise it was a really good day out. It was quite slippery in the corners so you had to ride really well to not slip out. That was really good practice and good technical training. I really enjoyed the rock gardens and technical downhills.”

Ariane rode team sponsors Rotor’s oval Q-rings for the first time at the event and puts much of the enjoyment of the climbs down to that. “On one technical climb I felt that I was pedalling very smoothly, so I believe it made a positive difference to my pedal stroke.”

“I’m looking forward to fiddling around with the chainring settings with JP (Jacobs) and to tweak them to make the stroke even more efficient.”

Both riders go straight back into a training block  ahead of the next SA XCO Cup in Bloemfontein before Alan tackles the African Continental Championships in Mauritius and then the team jets off to Europe and the UCI XCO World Cup series.