Tough weekend for Team Spur at German World Cup

Albstadt in Germany played host to the 2nd round of the UCI XCO World Cup. The course that greeted Team Spur riders Ariane Lüthi and Alan Hatherly was dominated by two long, lung-busting climbs, with the corresponding steep descents the only recovery riders could hope for. In previous years the ascent was divided among five smaller climbs.

U23 star Hatherly was excited to build on his solid first round sixth place in the previous weekend’s World Cup in the Czech Republic. Things started out brilliantly for the 21-year-old on Saturday afternoon: “I had a front row position again, number six this time,” says Alan, who positioned himself on the prime left hand side of the start line. “I managed to holeshot off the front into the lead group – which formed quite quickly – and topped out on the first climb in second or third.”

During that first climb Alan looked around to gauge his opponents. “Surprisingly I saw that everyone was hurting quite a bit. As we entered the tech zone the guys sat up slightly to recover before the last climb and the drop down into the start-finish area,” he says.

Alan was still within his limits and rolled through the tech zone at a steady pace, rather than making a concerted break. “I got to the top of the climb with about an eight-second lead,” he says. “I bombed down the descent toward the start-finish and the guys didn’t close at all, I think it was about 10 seconds at that point.”

At the top of the next climb Alan further extended his lead to 15 seconds, but then disaster struck. “I came into a narrow left corner before a ski jump drop on the descent,” he says. “The corner was just littered with loose rocks from the lead motorbike which was obviously trying to get a gap from me.”

The rocks forced Alan off course and when he re-entered the bunting tape got caught in his rear wheel and melted onto the hot discs of his rear brakes without him knowing.

“JP (Jacobs) Team Spur’s Technical Manager, took the tape out in the tech zone and I was lying in about third at this point. We made our way up the climb and entered the off camber descent, when I was fully committed I grabbed the back brake and there was nothing at all,” Alan says. The result was a washed out front wheel which saw him skid down the rocks on his ribs. “I got up and rolled down slowly to the bottom using the front brake, only.”

JP changed the wheel in the tech zone and Alan got rolling again, however it took about two laps for the back brake to start working again. “We didn’t know what the problem was, it was as though there was no back brake. It was very frustrating for me trying to fight back as the track didn’t allow for any overtaking,” he says.

Alan pushed hard to cross the line in 34th place and can take some consolation from his strong finish. But it will be his electrifying start in Albstadt that Alan will draw on for motivation at the next event in Andorra in a month’s time. “At least I know the form is good. I lead for a while and at quite a comfortable pace. It’s a tough one to process because I had done a fast lap the day before (the race) and the time was much faster than the average lap time of the leaders, so it was a podium opportunity, I reckon.”

Our marathon specialist, Ariane Lüthi, made her 2017 UCI World Cup debut in Albstadt the following day, but it was a day on the bike she would rather forget. “I felt strong on the start and was confident of a good race, but unfortunately my legs didn’t deliver what was needed in a World Cup,” she says, explaining how she worked hard to overtake in the early laps and then paid for it later on. “I blew a little there and maybe ate too little or too late”. Ariane ended the day in 55th place.

Ariane now focuses on training in Switzerland, her country of birth, ahead of the UCI Mountain Bike Marathon World Championships on 25 June, back in Germany.

Alan opens his World Cup season with a 6th at Nové Město

The small town of Nové Město na Moravě in the Czech Republic on a UCI Mountain Bike World Cup weekend is a full-blown carnival! And Team Spur was there for the party.

This year 50,000 excited fans turned up for the opening round of the 2017 season and a weekend of red-hot racing. The events were split across the weekend, with the U23 Men and Elite Women racing on Saturday and the U23 Women and Elite Men racing on Sunday.

South Africa’s hope for a meaningful result rested on the shoulders of Team Spur’s Alan Hatherly in the Men’s U23 race. Seeded third after his recent Elite victory at the African Continental Champs, the 21-year-old was quietly confident and ready for battle.

“Practice in the week went really well,” Alan explains. “Then I was fortunate enough to have Susi (Christoph Sauser, multiple World Champion and Specialized global brand ambassador) take me on a lap on Friday to show me all his lines. He also gave me a few pointers for the race.”

The track in Nové Město is one of the most iconic on the circuit and has produced some epic battles over the years. It is characterised by several steep climbs and technical downhills rather than one main climb and descent. It also features a number of treacherous rock gardens.

“JP (Jacobs, Team Spur’s Technical Manager) and I also had a discussion on how to make bikes fast and we ended up playing with the bearings on the bike and got everything spinning faster. That really helped a lot on Saturday, so big ups to JP for being a guru.”

His recent form and good seeding led Alan to employ a different tactic during the early part of the race: “In the past I always looked to keep something in the tank for later. This year I went hard right from the start and focussed on staying right at the front,” he says. “I entered the first singletrack in about fifth and then on the way up the first climb managed to pass a rider.”

However, his race almost fell apart after the climb: “I had gone a little too hard catching that guy and then I hit a rock on the way down. When you’re on the limit your arms become weaker than normal and my hand blew right off the bars, sending me off the course.”

According to Alan he hit his chest fairly hard on his stem and then had to battle to get back onto the racing line. “I lost a few places but motivation was still quite high at that point because I was still riding inside the top 10.” Alan refocussed and worked at getting his rhythm back.

“On the last three laps of the race I managed to find a really good rhythm and push hard on all the climbs and attack all the descents which gave me fast overall lap times,” he says. “Then with one lap to go I saw the chase group was just in front of me so I pushed really hard to catch them because I had heard Susi out on course say that it was just 10 seconds to podium.”

Alan managed to pass two more riders on the last lap and narrowly missed out on a top five, finishing in sixth spot.

“I’m very stoked on how smooth everything ran out there – aside from the mishap in the first lap – but I’m feeling really good and I was strong on the climbs so I’m looking forward to Germany next week.”

Alan and JP now travel to Round 2 of the UCI XCO World Cup at Albstadt in Germany, where they join teammate Ariane Lüthi. Alan will race on Saturday, 27 May, with Ariane racing on Sunday, 28 May.

Emphatic win for Alan Hatherly at African Continental Champs

(Mauritius) Alan Hatherly won the men’s Elite XCO title at the African Continental Champs on Friday, 12 May. Hatherly outclassed fellow countryman Stuart Marais and Mauritian, Yannick Lincoln to claim the title in a time of 1h20:18 over five laps.

“Solid points in the bag ahead of Europe next week,” commented the 21-year-old after the race. “I’m really happy how it all played out,” he said.

Earlier in the week Hatherly put in a request to race in the Elite category, instead of U23, in which he was the defending champion. His decision was based on the additional UCI points available for an Elite win (200) – U23 carries just 60 UCI points. Hatherly’s goal was always the title, additional points for his up-coming European UCI XCO World Cup campaign was the real reason behind the mission to race in Mauritius.

As expected the weather played a big role on the day. It had been raining all week on the Indian Ocean Island making track conditions challenging. “There was a huge rain squall early on Friday morning,” Hatherly picks up the story. “Even though the course wasn’t technical at all – mainly dirt roads with maybe 100m of singletrack – I knew it (the rain) would create a lot of tactics for the race. I was expecting a lot of cat-and-mouse on the flats…”

Hatherly managed to get the hole shot into the first corner after the downhill start and entered the singletrack in the lead. “That singletrack section was complete chaos. It was similar to Cascades (a notoriously slippery national round of the 2016 SA XCO Cup in Pietermaritzburg) in the clay-type mud!”

Hatherly lead out of the singletrack and onto the first road section, where he was overtaken by Arno du Toit. “The road was completely waterlogged,” Hatherly explains. “Arno had changed to mud tyres just before the race so he overtook me there because he wasn’t slipping as much.”

“Then as we hit the first climb it was myself, Stuart and Arno,” he says. The climb kicked up and Hatherly put in an attack near the top of the climb, ‘to test the waters’. This effort allowed Alan to gap his two chasers.

“At the top I had about 10 seconds and from there it was pretty much just controlling the gap, making sure that it wasn’t closing.”

According to Hatherly the course rode better and better with each lap as it dried out. “There was the odd flash rain section which made things quite tricky because you’d go from hot, to cold (with the rain) back to hot with the humidity,” he says, explaining how he struggled to settle into a rhythm, but managed to extend his lead over the course to finish up front with a buffer of nearly three minutes.

Hatherly, Strauss hold top form at third XCO Cup

The third round of the 2017 SA National MTB Cup Series XCO took place in Bloemfontein at Happy Valley Conservancy on Saturday 6 May, where Team Spur’s Alan Hatherly took the top honours in the Elite Men’s race and OMX Pro Team’s Mariske Strauss took the Elite Women’s title. The penultimate race of the National series attracted a fair amount of international riders as well, with eight nations represented during the highly competitive event.

Hatherly crossed the line after six laps of racing in a time of one hour 34 minutes and 50 seconds. The most impressive rider on the day however was second placed Jan Withaar who rode fast and hard to finish in 01:38:42, with Stuart Marais crossing the line in third place (01:39:16).

For Withaar, the first two laps were a struggle to find a constant rhythm. “It was more of a matter of finding the concentration than it was physical,” he said. “I hadn’t cleated in properly either at the beginning which also isn’t too helpful,” he added.

When chatting about the course, Withaar said: “It’s a very natural track, and it was a little bit blown out – which by no means detracted for the quality of it. It’s an excellent track, we just all had to be very careful and concentrate hard to not hit too many obstacles that could lead us to punctures.”

Withaar was very happy with his second place and has said that this result has only given him even more of a confidence boost. “Seeing the repeatability after Pretoria means so much to me, and it’s very reassuring,” he added.

Strauss crossed the finish line first in the five-lap Elite Women’s race in a time of 01:38:55. Second place went to Swiss Team Spur rider Ariane Luthi in a time of 01:42:20 and third place to Namibian Michelle Vorster (1:45:55).

“Today went really well for me. It was dry and dusty out there but it was a great race – there were lots of obstacles to keep us alert and on our toes,” Strauss said.

Strauss heads off to KwaZulu-Natal soon to take part in the 2017 Sani2c next week with Robyn de Groot for Team Ascendis Health. “I’ve have wanted to do ’Sani for a long time and I am really looking forward to it,” she added.

 

Attached Image: SA National MTB Cup Series XCO Bloemfontein 1.jpg
Mariske Strauss was the fastest Elite Women at the third round of the SA National MTB Series XCO at the Happy Valley Conservancy in Bloemfontein on Saturday 6 May. Photo: Reblex Photography.

The following week Strauss heads off to kick off her UCI MTB World Cup campaign, with the Nove Mesto (CZE) and Albstadt (GER) races on 20/21 and 27/28 May respectively. “I’m excited to get the World Cup season going, and I am going to take it one race at a time,” she said.

All the top riders from all of the race categories were present to solidify their standings on the series log, with one remaining event to be held in Pietermaritzburg mid-June. Solid racing was seen especially in the Junior and Youth categories. The countries that were represented were South Africa, USA, Switzerland, Lesotho, Zambia, Zimbabwe, Namibia and Botswana.

In the Junior race, which formed part of the UCI Junior World Series, the Men’s title went to Pieter du Toit after four laps in a time of 01:08:53. Johann Trotzky and Namibian Alex Miller diced for the second and third places with both riders recording the same finish time of 01:10:55, but Trotzky’s wheel was inches ahead of Miller’s to take the second place.

Tiffany Keep won the three-lap Junior Women’s race in a time of 01:04:13 against second-placed rider Danielle Strydom (01:05:19), who finished just over a minute off the winning time. Azulde Britz finished in third place in a time of 01:11:03.

“Today went really well,” said Keep. Although looking as though she had breezed through the course, she assured that it wasn’t an easy one. “It was very tough, but mostly the conditions that made it so. There was also a lot climbing as well. There hasn’t been rain here either so it was very sandy and dusty. The races before us also then made the track quite blown out by the time that we raced.

“A few of the lines had changed on the climbs and there were a lot of loose rocks. The downhill sections were really fun. There were quite a few spectators watching that as well. The climbs took a lot out of me because they were very hard. I am happy with my win.

The fourth and final round of the 2017 SA National MTB Cup Series XCO takes place at Cascades MTB Park in Pietermaritzburg on Saturday 17 June.

The event also carries a UCI Category 1 rating and also forms part of the UCI Junior World Series. For more information about the Series, visit: https://www.cyclingsa.com/2017-sa- mtb-cup- series/.

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Team Spur’s XCO wizard talks us through his steed.

Alan Hatherly recently took out the second round of the 2017 SA National MTB Cup Series XCO at the Wolwespruit Bike Park in Tshwane in fine style.

On the eve of round three – which takes place in Bloemfontein on 6 May – we quizzed Alan and Team Spur’s technical manager, JP Jacobs, on the S-Works Epic 29 World Cup.

Suspension setup

“Suspension would be the key factor for me with regards to bike setup,” explains Alan. “I run my fork harder than my rear shock with the rebounds being fast upfront and slow at the rear,” he says.

Alan runs the bike’s Brain platform in the fork and shock fully activated. According to Specialized the Brain suspension differentiates between rider input and trail bumps, ensuring that pedalling forces aren’t being wasted in compressing the suspension. “This combo gives me the ability as a complete package to smash everything full tilt both up and down without feeling like I’m going to go OTB (over the bars).”

Tyres

“Next big factor for me would be tyres – I’m running the new Renegade Gripton series tyres which have a really soft compound meaning I can run slightly harder tyre pressures without loosing traction which equates to lower chances of punctures.”

Rotor crank

Drivetrain

Alan runs 12-speed SRAM Eagle with Rotor cranks. “I’m able to run a Rotor 36t front ring with this drivetrain, whichs allows for major top end speed without comprising the easier gears for steep climbs.”

Race ready

JP Jacobs is the man who spins the wrenches to make sure Alan transfers every Watt of power into bike speed. For an XCO race he has a few tricks up his sleeve to get the bike running as light and smooth as possible.

“We start by removing all the moving components off the bike – I’m talking wheels, pulley wheels, anything that has a bearing in would get taken out,” JP explains. “These get cleaned out completely. We then might even remove one or two seals depending on the weather.”

JP also applies a special lube to the bearings that will either make them spin super fast or run at a lower resistance.

SRAM Eagle

To shave weight, he removes, the second bottle cage, the multitool under the rear shock as well as the chain breaker gets taken out of the fork. “Fork service gets done to make them run as smooth and efficient as possible so every bit of energy is transferred to the pedals,” he says.

“We are  running Rotor cranks this year, which gives us very nice feedback from the computer and we can see exactly where he peaks in his pedal strokes and we can fit the correct size chainring for the particular course and terrain.”I also add some jewelry in the form of Titanium bolts on the rotors, stem and calipers just for race days” JP Jacobs

After the third round of the National Cup Series in Bloemfontein, Alan and JP head off to the island of Mauritius for the African Continental Championships. Thereafter they will jet off to Europe  for the UCI MTB World Cups in the Czech Republic and Germany.

Hatherly jets off for international campaign brimming with confidence after big win

Team Spur’s Alan Hatherly and Ariane Lüthi were in Bloemfontein over the weekend for the third round of the Cycling SA MTB Cup Series.

The race would be Alan’s last before heading off to Mauritius to defend his U23 title at the African Continental Champs on Friday. Then Alan dots down back in Cape Town for a day before heading to Europe to start his U23 UCI XCO World Cup campaign. The race could not have gone better for him, as he eased through the technical course and managed to win by nearly four minutes.

“We did the same thing we did for Joburg [the previous round of the XCO series],” he explains. “By arriving on the Friday, you have 48 hours at altitude, so you tend not to be affected as much by the higher altitude.”

According to Alan the course – which features various tricky rock gardens, gap jumps and a technical climb – was very similar to last year, so he felt comfortable from early on.

“I managed to get the hole-shot off the front and settled into a good pace,” he says. Alan and about seven other riders quickly got a gap on the rest of the field. “I saw that everyone had latched on with no-one else wanting to do any work, so I ramped it up to race pace from the start. At the end of the first lap I had about a 15-second lead and then it just grew from there,” he says.

“For the last race on home soil before leaving for Mauritius, I’m really happy with how it played out and I take a lot of confidence from that.”

“A big thanks to Tim [Bassingthwaighte, team manager] and JP [Jacobs, team mechanic] for driving all the way out, looking after us and making sure the bike was running so well.”

Ariane Lüthi also had a successful day out in the lap racing format in Bloemfontein, with her second place finish.

“The course was rather technical with quite a few rock gardens and gaps jumps,” she says, “and also the climb was quite tricky.”

“I decided to play it a little bit safe and for a few gap jumps I took the B-lines in which I didn’t lose too much time.”

Ariane came into the race with tired legs after a big block of volume training as she prepares for UCI Marathon World Champs in June. “The fast first lap wasn’t my best. But I knew from the last few races I just need to stay patient and not get negative.”

Ariane rode her own pace and fought her way back from fourth to second by the end of the first lap. “I settled into my rhythm as Mariske was way off the front from the gun. I was happy to keep third and fourth at bay for a second place.”

Ariane was racing with the dropper seat post for the first time and believes it aided her speed on the rocky descents. “I think I chose the right race in which to debut it, as the descent was quite steep and in the rock gardens I really appreciated the extra ‘space’.” Ariane says she will take the dropper post to Europe next week, where she will accompany Alan, and depending on terrain make use of it in some of the World Cups.