Hatherly Reigns at SA Champs

(Mankele, Mbombela) Team Spur’s Alan Hatherly is the 2017 South African Elite men’s cross country champion. Racing with the #1 board from his consistent season at the SA XCO Cup series, Hatherly lead from start to finish over the 7-lap course at Mankele Bike Park in Mpumalanga to take the title ahead of Philip Buys in second and Matthys Beukes in third.

“I’m super stoked with the win, for myself and Team Spur” said the 21-year-old after the race. “I’ve been trying to win this for the past three years…”

Hatherly – who won the Elite African Continental title in May – returned from a successful European World Cup racing stint two weeks ago to prepare for SA Champs, but was forced to adjust his planned training schedule due to a bug he picked up during his return travels to South Africa.

“I was forced into a bit of an easier week of training, which timing-wise, I was a bit stressed about, but I think it eventually played into my favour because I got in some really good intensity this week and I managed to time everything perfectly.”

According to Hatherly, the Mankele course was super rough and technical, with a lot of sharp, loose rocks which forced some caution in various sections. “Playing it ‘safe’ tactically – to save the equipment – was super important today,” he said.

Hatherly still went full gas out of the gates – racing on a game plan whereby Alan would go 100% until halfway through the race and then reassess his game plan. “I knew Phil and Matthys as teammates were going to try play a tactical game, so I wanted to go all-in from the beginning until midway and then take it from there, to see where I was, and who was still around.”

“I went out super hard on the first two laps and by the end of the second lap I had a gap on Phil so I knew the pace I was setting was good enough,” he said. “I then tapped off to settle down into a good consistent rhythm and then I pretty much held that through to the end.”

“It was quite hot out there and the last half of the race was just about managing the conditions. I took ice socks from the guys and drank a bit more than usual just to try not to fade in the last lap,” Hatherly said, adding that his Specialized S-Works Epic was running super sweet thanks to the expertise of Team Spur’s Technical Manager and wrench wizard JP Jacobs.

Hatherly now heads off to Mont Sainte-Anne in Canada to continue his campaign on the UCI U23 World Cup circuit, where he is ranked sixth. “It’s been a good year so far and I’m looking forward to another hard week before I leave. The form is good and I’m hoping to do some damage there.”

Tough day out for Team Spur at Round 4 of the 2017 XCO World Cup

(Lenzerheide, Switzerland) Alan Hatherly held on for a valiant 11th overall after a big mechanical halfway through, while Ariane Lüthi crossed the line in 47th place.

In sharp contrast to the dry, dusty practice sessions during the lead-up, race-day saw a muddy, slippery Lenzerheide course, thanks to overnight rain.

Alan Hatherly was up first in the U23 men’s race. With a front row start (sixth) thanks to his superb second place in Andorra the previous weekend, he was in the mix from the first climb – a tough tow-minute effort to the top. He managed to drop into the singletrack descent in fourth and through the first tech zone had moved into third.

“I locked onto Simon (Simon Andreassen’s) wheel and by the end of the first lap we were riding pretty fast had a good gap to the rest of the field,” Hatherly said, explaining how the pace got super hot up front into the second lap. “The guys went very hard up the tar climb and I remembered the feeling from last weekend to stay just below that maximal effort, so I dropped off a bit to try pace myself for the next three laps. I knew being consistent would be more important than going all-in, and then fading at the end, because our race was seven laps long – 15 minutes longer finish-time than normal.”

By the third lap the leaders had 20 seconds on Hatherly, but late in the fourth lap this had shrunk to around eight. “I could see my tactics were paying off, but as I started chasing hard toward the latter part to close the gap, my fork seal blew off on the air side, which meant I lost all pressure.” Hatherly battled on regardless, but because his fork was now deflated it changed his body position on the bike, which meant his back and quads took serious strain towards the end, he also had almost no control in the technical sections.  “I held onto sixth for about two laps but the technical sections were simply too dangerous – every time I hit a root or a rock the wheel would just decide which way it wanted to go so I had to play it cautiously,” he said.

Hatherly eventually crossed the line just outside of the top 10, but was philosophic about the setback. “On the whole I’m still relatively happy,” he said. “What happened today was really bad luck, but 11th is still a fair result and on the overall for the world series I’m still 6th overall, which means for Mont Saint Anne I’ll be on the front row again.”

Hatherly now returns to South Africa and sets his focus on SA National Champs in two weeks’ time. “I’ll most likely be racing Elite – go for the title that has been eluding me for three years.”

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For Ariane Lüthi it was something of a home race and she was excited and motivated to do it justice despite still recovering from World Marathon Champs and a mid-season dip in form.

“Just to hear your name being shouted is super motivating, plus I really like the course – I think it is really entertaining, even though you have to be focussed all the time, especially today, as it was wet and slippery,” she commented afterward.

“Off the start I tried to push a bit harder than last weekend, where I perhaps took it a little bit too conservative,” she said.

However, according toe Lüthi, the margin (between staying in touch and pushing it too far in terms of effort) is so small at this level, that it is all about management. “If you are a little bit over-cooking you go into the technical sections shaky – which is not ideal – so it is quite difficult to find the right rhythm.”

Lüthi did click onto a good rhythm and rode strong through the middle few laps. “But maybe pushed it too hard and then paid for it in the second last lap where I just made a silly mistake and, lost a bit of rhythm.”

“To take some positives away: I’m glad to finish a World Cup without being lapped and to have had the super smooth Specialized Epic on this course – it really was a dual suspension course. Also, big thanks to JP (Jacobs) and Tim (Bassingthwaighte) for their support. This was the first international trip with the full Team Spur in tow and it was great.”

Lüthi concluded how good it was to have a new world cup winner in Annie Last. “She is a very cool girl. I raced against her at the Epic and so good to see her right in front on the top step.”

Alan Hatherly Podiums in Andorra

(Vallnord) Team Spur’s Alan Hatherly finished second in the U23 Men’s race at Round 3 of the UCI XCO World Cup in Andorra on Sunday, 2 July. Hatherly put together a near-perfect tactical race to work his way up from a start on the second row and narrowly missed out on the top step in a riveting sprint to the line with former Junior World Champ Simon Andreassen.

Vallnord in Andorra – a tiny, mountainous principality in between France and Spain – is arguably one of the most beautiful venues on the World Cup circuit. The 4km course is surrounded by the jagged peaks of the Pyrenees mountains and features natural, forested tracks and exposed climbs. At nearly 2000m above sea level the race is held at the highest altitude of all World Cups.

“I started in 11th, but still managed to get a really good start,” the 21-year-old South African said after the race. “From there I pushed my way through to about sixth by the top of the first climb.”

According to Hatherly he lost a bit of time on the rocky descent as his confidence wasn’t where he would’ve liked it on the day. “I’d had one or two silly crashes in the build-up – because it had been so wet [during practice] – which threw me off a little bit. Fortunately it was dry on the day and I got my confidence back after a few laps.”

The Andorran altitude was always going to be a factor and Hatherly managed it perfectly. “The key was just knowing where my limit was and not going too deep too early on, because you definitely pay the price for that at 2000m,” he said.

Hatherly paced himself into third place as they entered the second lap, and found himself isolated between the lead pair – Denmark’s Andreassen and Latvia’s Martins Blums – and a chasing bunch. “I had a gap of about 15 seconds on the guys behind me and up front they were also about 15 seconds ahead. I found reference points on each lap which I used to check to see if I was closing the gap or not.”

Hatherly realised he was lapping at about the same speed as the leaders, but was learning where on the track he could make up time. “With about three laps to go I started exploiting these areas and managed to bridge across to the two leaders. With two laps to go things heated up and we sort of played a bit of cat-and-mouse as we tried to work out who would make a move,” he says.

This allowed the chase bunch to catch up as the group grew to five for the final lap. “There were a couple attacks that went and I knew they were way too hard and too early in the lap, so I sort of just paced myself out and then in the second half of the lap I went super hard.”

According to Hatherly there was a massive wind-up toward the finish with everyone still in touch: “We went flat-out through the last tech zone and up the final little climb,” Hatherly explained.”Then we [Hatherly and Andreassen] rode away and entered the final tar stretch together where we both tried to sprint with absolute jelly legs. He managed to pip me with two bike lengths.”

“It’s been a great week here and I’m really looking forward to Lenzerheide! On to the next one.”

Hatherly, his teammate Ariane Lüthi and Team Spur head to Lüthi’s home country of Switzerland this week for the fourth round of the UCI XCO World Cup in Lenzerheide.