Second Overall for Team Spur-Wallonie at Perskindol Swiss Epic

Ariane Lüthi and Alice Pirard won the final stage of the Perskindol Swiss Epic on Saturday, 16 September to finish second overall on GC in the women’s category. “What a great week of racing!” commented an ecstatic Ariane after the finish of the 45km final loop around Zermatt, which included some 1900m of climbing. The Team Spur-Wallonie pair finished in 3 hours and 24 minutes, six minutes ahead of the Meerendal CBC outfit of Jennie Stenerhag and Esther Süss who did enough to win the overall.
“It was tight racing and a good fight throughout,” Ariane said. “Congrats to Esther and Jennie for the win though – what a successful year they’ve had, winning the Absa Cape Epic and various other stage races.”

“We’re just happy to have challenged them as much as we could,” she said.

The final stage was a continuation of the theme from throughout the week’s racing: Ariane and Alice dominated on the descents and over technical terrain, while Meerendal CBC owned the climbs and tempo flat sections.

“Today we could get away and stay away, however,” Ariane said. “The first climb was really steep towards the end and went to almost 2600m altitude,” she explained. Meerendal managed to get a two-minute cushion on Team Spur-Wallonie on the climb, but the descent down the other side was technical and they took full advantage.

“We caught Jennie and Ester really soon [after the climb]. We managed to drop them and continued to increase our gap to two minutes at the bottom of the last climb. From there we stayed ahead of them before the last downhill which was a huge success for us. It was the first time all week we could stay away on the climb.”

“We knew if nothing happened to them they would win the race, but we still raced flat-out to the finish, so we were super happy to take the stage win.”

Aside from the win on Saturday’s fifth and final stage, Team Spur-Wallonie also won the Prologue over 19km in convincing fashion and took charge of the weather affected Stage 3 for a total of three stage wins. The third stage served up a wet and muddy day and race organisers were forced to shorten the stage due to severe rains forecast, the already short stage was cut to just 42km with 1700m of climbing.

As on the final stage, they made their move here on the final descent and kept the pressure on through the last flat section and finished 24 seconds ahead of Süss and Stenerhag. On every other stage Meerendal-CBC crossed first with Ariane and Alice in second. But even those second places were not gifted.

The week served up its share of challenges for the pair too, including a double puncture on Stage 1, but throughout they endeavoured to manage their losses and stay positive, while having a good time on the beautiful trails. “Alice was a great teammate and we had so much fun together,” Ariane said.

Stage 3 Win in the Mud at Swiss Epic!

Thursday’s Stage 3 of the Perskindol Swiss Epic served up a wet and muddy day, which played into the hands of Team Spur’s Ariane Lüthi and her Belgian partner, Alice Pirard. Race organisers were forced to shorten the stage due to severe rains forecast, the already short stage was cut to just 42km with some 1700m of climbing.

Team Spur had intended to target this stage, as the technical trails suited the pair’s superior bike handling skills. However, Ariane and Alice entered the stage with uncertainty as the shortened course eliminated the technical descents they were salivating over, and included an extra 200m of climbing. Yet their fighting spirit shone through, as they executed a tactical victory in Leukerbad. “We won,” exclaims Ariane. “That was a great day out for us, it was just really fun.”

Team Spur lost the wheel of overall leaders Team Meerendal/CBC on Stage 3’s first climb. But the ensuing technical descent allowed the team to make contact again. “It was on the 1000m or so of downhill after the first climb where we caught up with Esther [Süss] and Jennie [Stenerhag],” says Ariane. “We then hit the final climb up to the finish and they pulled away from us again.” Crucially, Ariane and Alice kept the leading pair in their sights.

Knowing the descent would be slippery with the rainfall, they worked to limit their losses on the climb with the plan to attack on the downhill run to the finish. “It was just technical enough and we managed to catch Esther and Jennie before the flat run in to the finish,” explained Ariane. From there it was a flat-out run to the line over the final couple of kilometers. A clearly elated Ariane and Alice crossed first, 24 seconds ahead of Team Meerendal pair.

Alice called the day’s racing as a highlight of her career. “It was incredible, going full gas downhill and catching Esther and Jennie in the final 2km. It’s one of the best days of my career on the bike.”

Ahead of the final two stages, Team Spur holds second on GC. Stage 4 today is a long one, riders will cover 85km with 2800m of climbing as they make their way from Leukerbad to Zermatt.

Trading Blows on Stage 2 of Swiss Epic

Stage 2 at the 2017 Perskindol Swiss Epic was a close battle at the front of the Elite Women’s field. On the thrilling technical descents between the lung-busting Alpine climbs, Team Spur’s Ariane Lüthi and Alice Pirard put pressure on the leaders, Team Meerendal/CBC’s Esther Süss and Jennie Stenerhag, throughout the 70km stage.

“We started well and soon caught Esther and Jennie on the first downhill of the day. The narrow trails prevented us from overtaking and forced us to ride on their wheels for a bit” explains Ariane. “Soon after passing them, Alice unfortunately had a little crash and the game of trying to catch Esther and Jennie began again.” she says

They got back up and running and were able to chase down and overtake Süss and Stenerhag before Alice suffered a mechanical. “Alice’s chain hopped between the spokes and the cassette, so we had to take the wheel out before we could get rolling again,” says Ariane.

Off the back of the following climb and descent, the Team Spur pair managed to reel in Team Meeredal/CBC once again. “We were able to slipstream them on the flatter sections towards the final climb of the day.” explains Ariane. This would be the last time the two teams would ride together on the day with the stretch to the finish line in Leukerbad being a 10km climb.

The climbing strength of Süss and Stenerhag was shown as they pulled away, and held this gap to the line. “Unfortunately we lost a bit of time on GC again with a lot of stop and go, but thankfully there is no serious damage to bike or body.” says Airane. “We are happy that we made it to the finish without too big of a disaster.” Team Spur enters Stage 3 in 2nd place, 16 minutes adrift of Meerendal/CBC

Due to rain and snow forecast for the day, race organisers have been forced to alter today’s Stage 3. The course will be shortened to 42km with 1500m of climbing, cutting out some technical trails Ariane and Alice had hoped to exploit.

Team Spur Battle on Valiantly despite Mechanicals

Ariane Lüthi and Alice Pirard finished second behind Team Meerendal CBC (Esther Süss and Jennie Stenerhag) on Stage 1 of the Perskindol Swiss Epic, after suffering a double puncture early on in the event’s Queen Stage over 92km with 3000m of climbing.

“We had a good start and dropped just behind Jennie and Esther into the first downhill and managed to overtake them,” Lüthi explains. “The downhill was super rocky – quite fun actually – until I smashed into a rock that was stronger than my tyres,” she says.

Lüthi suffered a double flat only 15km into the stage and the team had to set about plugging both tyres. “There were four holes to fix, but Alice did an amazing job.” So well did Pirard fix the holes, that there was no need to even change the wheels at the tech zone – something which would’ve been possible only 40km later.

By this time Team Meerendal had disappeared out of sight. Lüthi and Pirard got back into racing and fought back, riding with the team who would eventually place third, before dropping them on the final downhill to finish second and limit their loss to Meerendal to 13 minutes 14seconds on General Classification.

“Esther and Jennie were definitely stronger on the climbs and they deserved the win today. We would’ve like to have challenged them a bit more, especially on the downhills,” Luthi said.

“We’re still in good spirits and motivated; and we’re definitely going to keep fighting for that jersey,” she said. “I’m going to mount some Specialized Ground Control tyres and go bombproof so as not to flat again,” Lüthi concluded.

Today’s Stage 2 will see riders tackle a loop from Leukerbad over 70km with some 2500m of vertical gain.

Team Spur Start Swiss Epic on a High

Team Spur’s Ariane Lüthi and Alice Pirard will start Tuesday’s Stage 1 of the Perskindol Swiss Epic in the leaders jerseys after winning the Prologue on Monday, 11 September in style. According to Lüthi, the pair rode within themselves over the 18km route yet finished with a 1 minute 54 second gap over their closest challengers, the Team Meerendal CBC outfit of Esther Süss and Jennie Stenerhag.

“We’re incredibly stoked to take the stage win,” said Ariane. “Especially since Alice arrived only at 2am the previous morning from Belgium, where she had won Belgian Marathon Champs – which was a really tough race as well.”

“We thought there was a chance of riding in snow, but the weather turned out to be perfect,” Ariane said of the day, explaining how the stage started at 2100m above sea level and went straight into a climb with another 300m of vertical gain. “After that there was a really nice technical downhill and I think that is where we made the difference on the other teams,” she commented.

Team Spur were the second last women’s team to start, two minutes behind Team Scott R’adys (Cornelia Hug and Florence Darbellay) and two minutes ahead of Meerendal CBC. “We caught Cornelia and Florence in the downhill, so we knew we had closed the gap to them, we couldn’t see Esther and Jennie, only way down on some of the climbs, but Alice set a really nice pace and we rode safe – without taking any unnecessary risks – and the bikes were running perfectly,” she said.

“At the finish we were just waiting to see that we had enough of a gap and surprisingly we took quite a lot of time out of them – almost two minutes on this short stage is a good gap and I’m really happy about that.”

“We’re looking forward to a great week – it’s such an awesome race with beautiful trails,” Ariane concluded.

Today’s Perskindol Swiss Epic Queen Stage takes them from Grächen to Leukerbad, over 92km with 3000m of vertical gain.

Emphatic Silver for Alan Hatherly at UCI MTB World Champs

(Cairns, Australia) Team Spur’s Alan Hatherly capped off his best ever XCO season by finishing in second place in the U23 Men’s race at the UCI MTB World Champs in Australia, on Friday 8 September. Hatherly completed the six laps of the 4.3km course in 1:17:57, some 11 seconds behind New Zealand’s, Sam Gaze who won his second straight U23 World Championship, Maximilian Brandl of Germany rounded out the podium.

“I’m a bit lost for words,” commented the 21-year-old shortly after the finish (around 8am SA time). “So stoked with the outcome, it was the plan from early on in the year to get this kind of result here.”

The tactical race through the rainforest on the highly technical track at Smithfield Park in Cairns went just about according to plan, admits the young star, “We knew the heat and humidity was going to be a big factor, so JP (Jacobs, team mechanic) and I had our game plan for cooling well mapped out, this included ice towels during warm-up and ice water during the race.”

According to Alan – who started in pole position, as the highest ranked U23 rider – the start loop was predictably fast and caused an early split, after which tactics came into play. “We all sat up after the start loop and looked at each other to see who would pull,” he says. “By that time a group of seven had formed and we kind of worked together, but watched each other closely, as the tactics continued.”

“Things got real on Lap 4,” Alan says. “Sam started going a bit harder up the climb and I – lying fourth – saw guys were losing his wheel, which had me a bit panicked because there was not much chance of overtaking there. “Fortunately with this track it splits on the climb where there are more challenging, rocky straight lines. I attacked through one of these just to get past the bunch and chase Sam down to make sure he didn’t get away too early.”

Alan and Sam rode together for a lap before Sam made his decisive move at the top of the climb on the penultimate lap. “He got out of the saddle and kicked really hard, I was feeling really good with a constant steady pace so I couldn’t react straight away. I knew though, that if I rode a steady pace I’d have a chance of maybe pulling him back. However, he got about a 10 second gap and that’s how it stayed until the end.”

“Just a massive thanks to everyone who helped along the way to get me to where I finished today, I couldn’t have done it without such an awesome support system,” Alan concluded.

Director of Team Spur, Nic Lamond, believes this is just the start for the young Hatherly, “I’m over the moon. It is such a pleasure to work with Alan – a young talent whose professionalism is already so well developed. As a team we pride ourselves on a powerful launchpad for Alan to chase his dreams, but the work still has to be done. And Alan knows how to deliver that. So many heroes behind the scenes make these results possible: staff, coach, sponsors. Special thanks to Spur Restaurants, Specialized South Africa and Kargo International for having our back all season. We need some time to let it sink in, but the team is already excited to see what next year brings – don’t forget Alan has another year in the U23 ranks!”

Hatherly raring to go at MTB World Champs in Australia

Some insights on the course from SA’s U23 podium contender ahead of race day.

(Cairns, Australia) Make no mistake, this is it. The world’s best cross-country racers may do battle month in and month out across Europe and America during the World Cup Season, but World Champs is different. A year’s worth of bragging rights is at play, national pride is on the line. And no one can ever take away those rainbow stripes…

On the back of his most successful UCI World Cup series yet – fifth overall in the U23 series – Team Spur’s Alan Hatherly is in Australia for the big dance. Hatherly is settled in, has acclimatised well and is ready to race. Earlier this week he had a chance to walk the XCO track in Cairns with Team Spur’s technical manager, JP Jacobs, who is also the mechanic for Team South Africa. These are his thoughts:

“Before we rode it, it was already super broken up and dusty,” Alan says. “The surface just below the dust is a kind of hardpack rock however, so even if it breaks up completely it is just the top layer that will stay loose.”

According to Alan the course is surprisingly technical and made even more so by how fast it is.

“It’s sort of like wide open from the start and then you come straight into a few technical sections really fast have where you have to jump on the brakes, negotiate the section and then get back on the gas right away.”

In addition the course features one major climb as well as a jump section, both of which play to Alan’s strengths. “The climb is switchbacked with quite a bit of rocks and ledges that you have to thoroughly concentrate on,” he explains. “But accelerating into and out of each corner fits my style of riding – there must be over 10 switchbacks on that climb, I think it’s about a 4-minute climb at race pace, so I’m targeting that.”

“From there it is a nice long technical descent and then to finish the lap, before you head back into the tech zone, there is a long jump section which is really awesome – the jumps are all in the middle, with the B line on the outside, so you’re really going to gain ground if you send it.”

According to Alan it has been hot all week, so that will be a factor on the day: “If you go out really hard you will pay the price a lot sooner than you would in a ‘normal’ World Cup race, partially because being in the forest the entire time is where the humidity is a lot higher.”

“I’m feeling confident though and the bike is running super smooth thanks to JP. I can’t wait for race day.”

As the highest UCI-ranked U23 rider in the world Alan will have prime position on the front row of the start grid. Alan’s strong World Cup season and Elite South African and African Continental XCO Championship titles earned him a ton of UCI points earlier in the year. However, he’ll wear the No 2 plate in the race as the No 1 plate goes to New Zealand’s 2016 U23 World Champion, Sam Gaze.

Alan and the U23 Men race at 2:30pm local time tomorrow (Friday, 8 September). The racing will be covered on Team Spur’s twitter page as there is no live video feed. Set your clock for 6:30am SA time.

The UCI MTB World Champs kicked off for the individual riders today, with the Junior Men’s and Women’s races. South Africa had three contenders, all graduates of the Spur Schools Mountain Bike League: Tiffany Keep placed 37th in the Junior Women’s race, while Pieter du Toit finished 41st and Johann Trotzky came home in 47th in the Junior Men.