Spur teams take out both men’s and women’s titles in fine style
What a roller coaster! Anyone following Team Spur, as we tackled the 2017 Momentum Health Cape Pioneer Trek, presented by Biogen, last week will be wondering where their fingernails went.
When the dust cleared in the Klein Karoo town of Oudtshoorn on Saturday, 21 October the Team Spur/Red-E and Team Spur/Valencia teams of Alan Hatherly, Matt Beers, Ariane Luthi and Amy-Beth McDougall emerged with the Elite Men’ s and Women’s titles. Yet the fierce racing that took place in the rugged surrounds of Mossel Bay, George and Oudtshoorn over seven days will be tough to beat for its drama.
Our Elite Men’s pairing, Team Spur/Red-E, made up of XCO specialist, Alan Hatherly and his house mate and marathon racing powerhouse, Matt Beers, won six out of the seven stages to take victory 1 minute and 42 seconds ahead of the NAD Pro MTB team of Nico Bell and Gawie Combrink.
“I’m pretty stoked that Matt and I – who are training buddies – finally got to race together,” Hatherly commented after the race. “From the big training block we did in the lead-up we knew each other’s strengths and weaknesses and how to work together to be a super strong team,” he said, adding that being his first-ever stage race there was always going to be a lot of uncertainties.
“We managed to get a small margin on Day 1 and from there tried to stay in control of the racing. NAD put pressure on us throughout, but I feel we kept the pressure up too. And then chose the right moments to get away and extend that margin,” Hatherly said. The pressure was significant, yet the 21-year old Hatherly and 23-year-old Beers thrived in the close combat with their more experienced rivals, NAD Pro – five of the race’s seven stages produced a winning margin of less than 10 seconds.
“To kick off my stage racing career like that was just awesome and I’m really looking forward to Wines2Whales in two weeks’ time!”
“It was great to win!” Matt Beers echoed Hatherly’s sentiments. Perhaps victory was even sweeter for the towering Beers. “After last year with [a different partner] falling sick and us not having a proper opportunity at an overall win, there was a bit of unfinished business. So this year the overall was a lot different, staying in the game, we were there to win and it was such a close battle all week with the NAD boys.”
“I’ve always wanted to win Pioneer. I rode it in 2014 and it broke my soul because it was so hard. It’s just a great feeling of accomplishment in how I’ve grown as a rider to now be able to win a seven-day stage race.”
“To race with my house mate, training buddy and one of my best mates was a great experience – it was just a great combination that all came together,” he said, adding that he believes keeping it fun and lighthearted is also a key factor to success. “I think that showed in our results.”
Beers thanked the Team Spur support staff as well as his dad, who traveled with the winning pair throughout the week, and believes the win would’ve been a lot harder without such a slick back-up support system in place. “There are so many pieces to the puzzle and without all that in the back end it’s very difficult to focus purely on racing.”
In the Elite Women’s category, Swiss marathon legend Ariane Lüthi and local talent Amy Beth McDougall fought valiantly to keep the Ascendis Health duo of Robyn de Groot and Sabine Spitz at bay.
The final day saw near-disaster as Lüthi crashed spectacularly, but the pair regathered and kept up the pressure to limit the time lost to De Groot and Spitz, with Team Spur/Valencia eventually winning the UCI-sanctioned women’s competition by 1 minute and 40 seconds after the seven days.
“To win a race this close and to have fought this hard is really special,” Lüthi said.
According to Lüthi it wouldn’t have been the same if they’d won by a big margin. “It was a proper, proper race,” she said. “Everyday we had such a battle with Robyn and Sabine on the bike – it’s those big challenges that brings the best out of us as riders. We had to bring our A-game everyday.
Lüthi could not sing the praises of her partner enough, highlighting how she had to overcome both the physical challenge of a nasty chest infection and the mental game of racing some of the biggest names in world stage racing.
Lüthi went on to say that the win came just at the right time for her: “To close off the year on a high note, which, ironically, started really badly with some Dryland events, is amazing”.
“I was ecstatic about the win,” McDougall exclaimed.
While the Queen Stage (Stage 6 up Swartberg Pass) was by far the toughest (both mentally and physically) for McDougall, she lists it as a highlight of the race. “I actually didn’t know how I was going to survive this day because I didn’t think I had anything left,” she picks up the story.
“A small surge early on saw not only Sabine and Robyn float away from me, but half of the rest of the field too. I could write an entire report on this day alone because it will stay with me for the rest of my life. I kept fighting and somehow managed to get stronger as the day went by. We reeled in teams, one-by-one and at 64km we were only 1:30 back. We still had the mighty Swartberg Pass to contend with but I felt good. We put our heads down and smashed it up the pass. I put every bit of power, energy and fight into each pedal stroke and crossed the line 2:38 back and still in pink! It was surreal.”
“It was a real honour to race alongside Ariane and to win was incredible! I learned a lot from Ariane and through her encouragement and belief in me I found strength I never knew I had.”