Commonwealth Bronze for Alan Hatherly 

Team Spur’s Alan Hatherly won Bronze in the Men’s Cross-country mountain bike race for Team South Africa at the Commonwealth Games in Australia earlier today, Thursday 12 April. Hatherly finished third in a time of 1:17:56 behind the New Zealand duo of Sam Gaze (1:17:36) and Anton Cooper (1:17:36).

The result took Team South Africa’s medal count at the games to 28 and comes just two months after Hatherly fractured both wrists in a high speed crash at the three-day Tankwa Trek stage race. After a flying start with Gaze powering to the front, and only Hatherly and fellow Kiwis Cooper and Ben Oliver able to keep pace, the field was blown to pieces and the stage set for an exhilarating battle for the medals. By the end of Lap 3, Hatherly, Gaze and Cooper had burnt off Oliver who dangled in no-mans land for the remainder of the race to come home in fourth.

No stranger to the intense energy of an international games environment, having represented South Africa at the 2016 Rio Olympics, Hatherly knew he’d have his hands full containing two of the world’s fastest Elite mountain bikers. Cooper (in 2015) and Gaze (in 2017) are both past U23 World Champions and were also Gold and Silver at the last Commonwealth Games in Glasgow in 2014, with Cooper having the edge on Gaze in a two-up sprint.

According to Hatherly it was super tactical right from the start gun, especially with the three Kiwis in the mix. “I’m really happy with the result, considering eight weeks ago I suffered a broken radius and cracked wrist,” Hatherly commented after the race. “It went smoothly and I am happy to be on the podium.”

“I think it was around Lap 3 where I decided to put one big lap in to try split us up a bit more,” he said. It proved to be a decisive move and with two laps to go it was a three-horse race. “That left Sam, Anton and I to eye-ball each other throughout the rest of the race.”

“I felt really good out there,” he added, explaining that the wrists which had their first race run at the second round of the South African XCO Cup less-then two weeks ago, held up well to the demands of world-class racing.

The three riders jostled for position throughout the remainder of the race and it wasn’t until the final lap where the racing exploded.

“Sam had a rear-wheel puncture and was forced to stop to re-inflate it. Anton took off immediately and it became one hot lap to finish it all off.” said Alan. Gaze, who now sat in third, was quick to hop back on the bike as he hunted down the leaders. As they made their way up the penultimate rocky climb, Alan showed his class as he made way for a charging Gaze. Alan sat in third and continued to chase, but started feeling the effects of such intense efforts. “I started to feel the arms a bit at the end but it is expected after such a tough race. I am very happy to bring it home in third for South Africa.”

Commonwealth Games 2018: Alan Hatherly breaks it down

Tomorrow morning at 5.30am South African time Alan Hatherly toes the line at his inaugural Commonwealth Games. For the 22-year-old national champion it is a chance to pit himself against a tough international field. So just who and what is Alan up against?

Unlike the UCI XCO World Cup circuit, the Commonwealth Games has no age group categories, so despite being U23, Alan will be lining up with Elite riders. Among them are a few dangerous riders Alan will need to keep a close eye on. “There is the New Zealand Team of Sam Gaze, Anton Cooper and Ben Oliver,” Alan says. “We also have the Australian Dan McConnell who’s on home soil so he’ll be firing, no doubt. I reckon it will be the five of us who’ll be mixing it up at the front out there.”

The race will feature the most exciting young talent in mountain biking right now, with both Gaze (2017) and Cooper (2015) past U23 World Champions. Gaze narrowly beat Hatherly to win last year’s U23 world title on Australian soil, and Cooper beat Gaze to Commonwealth glory four years ago. But few can argue that it is Gaze who is in the ascendency right now, the powerfully-built Kiwi won the first round of the World Cup in Stellenbosch, beating out the Swiss maestro, Olympic and 2017 Elite World Champion Nino Schurter. Cooper placed sixth. In the U23 race in South Africa Oliver placed second, but Hatherly was forced to sit out with a wrist injury. Don’t discount the veteran Aussie, McConnell, who was third in the Glasgow Commonwealth Games in 2014 and has years of top-level World Cup racing experience to draw on.

With a course that doesn’t offer too much technically, opportunities to create gaps will come down to raw power and tactics. “It’s definitely a big boy course,” Alan says. “So watts will be flying and it will be interesting to see how it plays out. I think the race will split up pretty quickly: by the end of lap two the race should be decided in terms of who’ll be staying and who is unable to hold the pace.”

The first opportunity to see the race track in Nerang State Forest was last week Friday. Alan inspected it closely with Team Spur and Team South Africa mechanic, JP Jacobs. “It allowed us to make sure all my lines were dialed and I had the fastest route planned before I hit the track on Saturday.” says Alan. “The course has quite a few open sections, but when it gets rocky it gets quite gnarly and it can be easy to puncture or mess up your bike.”

“The track is faster than a typical UCI XCO World Cup track, with an average speed of around 21km/h, it’s definitely one of the faster tracks I’ve been on. The 4,5km lap offers only around 100m of climbing, which is split over two climbs, so it’s not as punchy as an XCO course. It’s more of a continuous effort with a lot of pedaling, which I’d say suits me a bit more at this time of the year. It’s quite similar to the World Champs course in Cairns [Australia] last year,” reflects Alan.

Team Spur mechanic JP Jacobs and Alan have worked together closely for just over a year now, and their connection and understanding helps to keep everything running smoothly. “JP knows how I like my bike setup, and what tweaks or changes I tend go for on a course like this,” explains Hatherly. “He is one of the best mechanics out there, so as far as fine tuning the bike, I definitely have the advantage of having the bike as fast as possible, that just leaves it up to me now to pull it off.”

JP has firmed the suspension on Alan’s Specialized S-Works Epic to help Alan over the flat, fast sections as well as allow him to pedal over the rougher sections. “As the rough sections are on the flat, you have to pedal over them all, where normally these kinds of sections are on descents, and softer suspension would give you the cushion you need.” Otherwise, it’s Alan’s normal set-up of Specialized Renegade tyres, SRAM Eagle 12-speed drivetrain, Rotor 36T chainring, full CeramicSpeed bearings and Magura brakes.

To catch all the action on Thursday morning 12 April, tune into SuperSport to watch the race live at 05:30 South African time.

Commonwealth Games 2018: Under a week till take-off for Alan Hatherly

Seven weeks ago young cycling prodigy Alan Hatherly had a mountain to climb. And it wasn’t one of the many scheduled training efforts his coach had prescribed. He was sitting in the dirt on the side of the trail somewhere outside Ceres, staring at two painfully crooked wrists. A victim of a high-speed crash in the three-day Tankwa Trek mountain bike stage race.

Through the cloud of pain and adrenaline the reigning South African Champion could think only of how he might just have forfeited two of the most highly-anticipated races in his 2018 calendar – the UCI XCO World Cup season opener in Stellenbosch on 10 March and next week’s Commonwealth Games spectacle, held at Nerang State Forest on the Gold Coast, Australia.

Not one to wallow in self-pity Alan and his professional mountain bike outfit Team Spur rallied a crack support team around him – his coach John Wakefield and leading local sports physician Jeroen Swart. A broken left wrist and fractured right wrist were operated on the same day as his crash and while Alan lay recovering on his hospital bed his coach busied himself with a rehab route back to full strength.

Within a handful of days, Alan was on his indoor trainer and soon after returned to his gym routine, with some minor tweaks to accommodate having both wrists in casts.

Sadly, the UCI XCO World Cup came too quickly, and with his wrists not quite ready Alan was forced to watch his international rivals rip through the challenging Coetzenberg track – enjoying a mountain bike party in his own back yard without him.

Today it’s a very different story. With less than a week to the Commonwealth Games XCO event on Thursday, 12 April, Alan is fully fit and excited to get back to the start line on Australia’s Gold Coast. A win on local soil at the second round of the South African XCO Cup a week ago, is all the race preparation he needed to know the wrists can handle the demands of world-class competition and he would be able to race at full throttle in South African colours.

“It was only the last 10 minutes of the [SA XCO Cup] race where my wrists started to stiffen up, and that was a week ago, so by the 12th I would say I’ll be completely back to full speed,” says Alan. “With the Commonwealth Games being the main focus, I entered the SA XCO Cup slightly fatigued from an intense training block, but I am happy with my performance ahead of the big one.”

“With all efforts focused on a one-day event, the final build-up and tapering is vital. I need to tie everything together so I can peak on a specific day and be as fast as possible,” says Alan.

Alan is no stranger to the intense energy of an international games environment, having represented South Africa at the Rio Olympic Games in 2016. But his first Commonwealth Games village was still a shock to the system. “With around 6,500 athletes and staff, there is a lot going on. One big bonus is the coffee machine in each apartment block. It makes adapting to the eight-hour time zone change more manageable,” laughs Alan. Still, staying healthy, sleeping well and allowing for ample recovery is still a puzzle that requires careful planning. Luckily he has a very familiar face to help make sense of the organised chaos – Team Spur’s mechanic, JP Jacobs was selected alongside Alan to represent South African as the Mountain Bike and Road Mechanic.

“Having been here for a few days only, I’m still trying to sleep through to 8am. We’ll then head out to breakfast. Then it’s training time, before coming back to the village for lunch and to relax for the rest of the day. We’re fortunate to have physiotherapists here, so I’m able to get a massage and focus on recovery,” Alan says.

Today [Friday, 6 April] marks the opening of the Games XCO track and Alan is excited to see what it has to offer: “JP and I will do a course walk and then it’ll be open for some efforts over the weekend. Once we’ve seen the track we’ll start the bike tweaking process and JP will work his magic to make the bike as fast as possible.”