Mixed fortunes for Hatherly in his final U23 World Cup battle

The weather gods did not play along for Alan Hatherly’s final UCI XCO World Cup race as an U23 rider. The last round of the 2018 World Cup season was hosted in the cold and wet French town of La Bresse, with weather conditions wreaking havoc on both the downhill and cross-country races held over the weekend.

Heavy rains and cold temperatures in the day’s leading up to Hatherly’s showdown on Sunday, made for course practice sessions in a proper mud bath: “Trying to plan lines in the mud is always difficult, you have to set up so many options for yourself as the course changes once everyone has had their shot at course practice,” said Hatherly.

Hatherly and his Team Spur staff made preparations for racing on a slick course as best they could, opting for Specialized’s Fast Trak tyres to help with mud clearance while providing some extra traction.

The rain held off for Sunday’s morning race, but the course remained a slippery mudfest. Hatherly’s usual race-day routine was put under pressure with a last-minute bike change. “As I warmed up on the rollers the gears just weren’t feeling as smooth as I’d have liked,” recalled Hatherly. Team Spur mechanic JP Jacobs did his best to re-align everything but with just 10 minutes to race call-up Hatherly and Jacobs made a call to switch to the training bike. This meant changing race numbers, transponders and correcting the chainring size. A cool-headed Hatherly took it in his stride and didn’t let the pressure shift his focus, but it did impact his pre-race warm-up. “I definitely wasn’t as warmed up as I would have liked. Warming up, then stopping and warming up again meant my legs were a bit heavy on the start line,” he said.

“The start loop was chaotic as most of the riders were forced to run sections due to the slipperiness of the off-camber sections,” said Hatherly, who kept his composure through the first tech zone, sitting in the top 10. On the back section of the course however, Hatherly clipped a rock and slashed the tyre’s side wall, and was immediately swamped by chasing riders. A tricky rear-wheel change was handled track side with ease by the capable Jacobs, and Hatherly was back in the game, but had to shift strategies and now play Pac-Man.

The mechanical put Hatherly in a battle for positions, rather than able to impose his will on the frontrunners, as he had done in Mont Sainte-Anne just two weeks ago, when he won his first U23 World Cup. Hatherly had rejoined the race in 35th position and knew it would be a hard slog to see how far he could advance up the leaderboard. He kept the pressure to the finish line, salvaging a hard-earned 19th, and the day’s fastest U23 lap time.

“All in all I’m happy with finishing 19th and fifth overall in the series,” Hatherly reflected after the race. “I set the fastest lap time of the U23 race and the feeling was good so I’m looking forward to World Champs in two weeks.”

Hatherly now decamps to Livigno, Italy for a week of training before heading to Lenzerheide in Switzerland for the UCI Mountain Bike World Championships. Hatherly and Team Spur are intent on converting last year’s second place at teh World Champs in Cairns, Australia to the coveted rainbow jersey.

Hatherly races on Friday, 7 September and Team Spur will again be covering the pulsating racing action on twitter (https://twitter.com/team_spur) .

Victory for Ariane Lüthi at the Carpathian MTB Epic

In the second edition of the Carpathian Mountain Bike Epic, hosted near the city of Brașov in central Romania, Team Spur’s Ariane Lüthi showed her class through the challenging mountainous terrain to claim the overall victory after four days of intense racing.

The race village was based at the holiday resort and biathlon center, Cheile Grădiștei, a few hours drive north of Bucharest. A small field of professional riders contested the four-day stage race, which kicked off with a 10km Prologue on Thursday evening, 16 August. The Prologue course was a rude introduction to the wild local terrain, and featured a very condensed 550m of climbing. A brutal test, straight up or down for just over half an hour!

“It was a really tough and technical course, and the Prologue gave us a taste of what to expect over the coming days,” said Lüthi. The remaining three stages all clocked in at around 60km in length, with climbing varying between 2500m and 3300m.

Lüthi’s main competition for the weekend was Serbian XCO specialist, Jovana Crnogorac, who finished just 49 seconds behind Lüthi in the Prologue. The stage was set for an exciting few days of racing.

Stage 1 was dubbed the Queen Stage, featuring a 60km route and 2500m of climbing. “The track was so raw that we had to find our own path between the route markings as there was no clear path to follow,” explained Lüthi. Having distanced herself from her rivals early in the stage, Lüthi maintained the pressure to finish the stage in a time of 3:58:13. A solid performance that increased Ariane’s margin to a comfortable 8 minutes and 42 seconds.

The elation of a stage win and comfortable buffer came to an abrupt end after the podium celebration as Lüthi twisted her ankle. “It was really painful and gave me some uncertainty going into Stage 2,” Lüthi recalled. “I struggled to clip in and out of my pedals. This would normally be okay but the day included a few sizable hike-a-bike sections.” Struggling to concentrate, Lüthi suffered two small crashes and time-consuming detours after missing route markers. “That saw me lose the overall lead, which was disappointing. Jovana rode so strong that day and having raced against her before, I know she is a powerful climber and good descender,” said Ariane.

The resultant time loss from Lüthi’s mishaps on Stage 2 meant she entered the final stage 14 seconds behind Crnogorac. Ariane left nothing to chance and set off from the start with fire in her eyes, determined to wrestle the lead back before the fial finish line. “I knew I had to suffer in the early kilometres, Jovana starts so hard,” Ariane recalled. “I hung onto her wheel and when we got to the downhill sections I started taking some risks.”

Using her years of experience racing across South Africa, Lüthi powered down the fast gravel roads and was able to secure a gap over the chasing Serb. “The elastic broke at some point and I just continued to push. I didn’t dare look behind me until the final kilometre,” Lüthi explained. “The benefits of such a small gap is that if you’re not in eye contact you’re probably safe.”

Ariane entered the Biathlon Arena of the race village in Cheile Grădiștei, having turned a 14-second deficit into a 14-minute winning margin, and took her third stage win. It was enough to win back the Overall lead. “This was such a sweet victory after the setbacks on Stage 2 and having to fight back so hard,” a relieved Lüthi admitted after the final stage.

“It was a beautiful stage race and I want to thank the organisers and Team Spur’s Tim Bassingthwaighte for all the help here in Romania.”

 

Alan Hatherly claims first U23 World Cup win in Canada

The result in Canada, on “one of the hardest tracks on the [World Cup] circuit”, according to Hatherly, is the South African’s most memorable result in a roller coaster season of racing. The 22-year-old broke both his wrists in February in a mountain bike stage but bounced back in April to claim a bronze medal at the Commonwealth Games in Australia. He then defended his African Continental and South African Championship titles recently.

For those in the know, UCI World Cup racing remains the pinnacle of the sport, and Hatherly was eager to deliver on his potential on the biggest stage. Passion, skill, dedication to training and pure grit have brought him a second (in 2017) and a third-place result this year in U23 World Cups. But the top step of the podium had eluded him… until Sunday!

Hatherly and his Team Spur support staff, mechanic JP Jacobs and team manager, Tim Bassingthwaighte, made their way from a cold and wet Cape Town, South Africa to the ski resort of Mont Sainte-Anne, outside Quebec City, Canada last week. The trio immediately set about negating the jetlag from the 6-hour time difference and negative effects of the long-haul flight.

A special training plan was hatched with a shift in the usual race preparation. Hatherly took a look at the course on Wednesday and knew he’d have his hands full on race day, trying to contain the best young riders on a physically demanding track. The Mont Sainte-Anne race course had cut out one major climb from previous years, but would still be a dogfight for all of its six laps. “The course here is one of the most natural of the year,” Hatherly said. “There’s nothing man-made on it and the climbing is really tough, which makes it one of the hardest tracks on the circuit.”

Technical rock gardens littered the course and were made treacherous with wet roots and muddy sections in between. Alan was up for the challenge: “I worked hard to dial in my lines for the race. With two long-haul international flights to get here, I needed to ensure I was race ready as soon as possible,” Hatherly said.

The race got underway on a sweltering Quebec summer’s day. Alan lined up in the front row for the all-important explosive start. It was the usual frenetic cloud of dust when the starter’s gun was fired, with riders jostling for positions on the shorter start loop. Staying in touch with the front group was vital as the technical course means bottlenecks at the more challenging obstacles, or when other riders fall.

“I aimed to be in around fourth or fifth position in the start loop, this allowed me to be aware of any attacks which may have come off the front,” Hatherly reflected. “The bottom of the climbs here are all wide open and then it goes into singletrack at the top, so I knew I didn’t need to be up front early on. There was an opportunity to move up on the big climbs.”

Sitting fifth wheel in the lead bunch, Alan put in an attack up a grass climb midway through the first lap and started dictating the pace. “I rode a pretty hard pace to try and split the group and test the riders with me. On the second lap Joshua Dubau [France] attacked up the climb and I went with him and we distanced ourselves from the group,” Hatherly said. “Chris Blevins [USA] was the only one who could come with us.”

“Unfortunately Josh crashed on the descent soon after attacking me, so it was just Chris who was able to stay with me.” The pair of Specialized riders then worked together to extend their lead over their chasers. “We kept it wide open to get the gap as early on in the race as possible, so we could play tactics towards the end of it. Having the buffer puts you in a good position to play the tactical game. Whereas if [the chasers] are hot on your heels you don’t have time to work out the strategies. Chris and I pulled together, rotated and kept it steady through to the last lap,” said Hatherly.

Aware of Blevins’ technical prowess, Hatherly watched him like a hawk. After four laps out in front, the pair knew it would come down to the decisive final lap. “I knew I had to make a move on the climbs. As we hit the second major climb of the lap I put my head down and went for it.” described Alan.

Pushing right to the edge of his limits, Hatherly took a steeper inside line while Blevins opted for the safer, wider line. The effort required to summit the small rise paid off as Hatherly gained a good few meters of Blevins. “I managed to get about a 10m gap or so on Chris and I knew I had to keep the pace up and just push through to the line. I think he made a mistake at the top in the rock garden and that gave me a bit of extra time,” he said.

Dropping out of the trees towards the line, Hatherly had wrestled the gap out to around 30 seconds. A few grass bends and high fives later and Alan crossed the line to claim his first U23 UCI XCO World Cup victory!

“It’s unbelievable to finally get the win. We’ve been working for this now for longer than two years obviously, but I feel likes it’s been possible for the last two years and to finally have pulled it off is massive. With all the ups and downs of this year: broken bones, anemia mid-season… it’s not ideal! To bounce back towards the end of the season is incredible. It’s four weeks now till World Champs and two weeks to La Bresse. Some exciting racing is still ahead so it’s time for some big training to prepare for the final two-three races of the year. I’m happy there’s some racing left to chase another top step!”

“I am so stoked that all the effort has paid off. The last few weeks have been so hard but to walk away with the win makes it all worth it. I just want to say thanks to everyone back home for all the support, it makes the victory that much sweeter,” Hatherly said.

Hatherly now spends a few weeks in Europe before the final round of the UCI World Cup in La Bresse, France and the XCO World Championships in Lenzerheide, Switzerland in September.

Alan Hatherly Claims First U23 World Cup Win in Canada

On Sunday, 12 August in Mont Sainte-Anne, Canada Team Spur’s Alan Hatherly controlled an explosive race in the U23 Men’s category to win his first-ever UCI XCO World Cup.

The result in Canada, on “one of the hardest tracks on the [World Cup] circuit”, according to Hatherly, is the South African’s most memorable result in a roller coaster season of racing. The 22-year-old broke both his wrists in February in a mountain bike stage but bounced back in April to claim a bronze medal at the Commonwealth Games in Australia. He then defended his African Continental and South African Championship titles recently.

For those in the know, UCI World Cup racing remains the pinnacle of the sport, and Hatherly was eager to deliver on his potential on the biggest stage. Passion, skill, dedication to training and pure grit have brought him a second (in 2017) and a third-place result this year in U23 World Cups. But the top step of the podium had eluded him… until Sunday!

Hatherly and his Team Spur support staff, mechanic JP Jacobs and team manager, Tim Bassingthwaighte, made their way from a cold and wet Cape Town, South Africa to the ski resort of Mont Sainte-Anne, outside Quebec City, Canada last week. The trio immediately set about negating the jetlag from the 6-hour time difference and negative effects of the long-haul flight.

A special training plan was hatched with a shift in the usual race preparation. Hatherly took a look at the course on Wednesday and knew he’d have his hands full on race day, trying to contain the best young riders on a physically demanding track. The Mont Sainte-Anne race course had cut out one major climb from previous years, but would still be a dogfight for all of its six laps. “The course here is one of the most natural of the year,” Hatherly said. “There’s nothing man-made on it and the climbing is really tough, which makes it one of the hardest tracks on the circuit.”

Technical rock gardens littered the course and were made treacherous with wet roots and muddy sections in between. Alan was up for the challenge: “I worked hard to dial in my lines for the race. With two long-haul international flights to get here, I needed to ensure I was race ready as soon as possible,” Hatherly said.

The race got underway on a sweltering Quebec summer’s day. Alan lined up in the front row for the all-important explosive start. It was the usual frenetic cloud of dust when the starter’s gun was fired, with riders jostling for positions on the shorter start loop. Staying in touch with the front group was vital as the technical course means bottlenecks at the more challenging obstacles, or when other riders fall.

“I aimed to be in around fourth or fifth position in the start loop, this allowed me to be aware of any attacks which may have come off the front,” Hatherly reflected. “The bottom of  the climbs here are all wide open and then it goes into singletrack at the top, so I knew I didn’t need to be upfront early on. There was an opportunity to move up on the big climbs.”

Sitting fifth wheel in the lead bunch, Alan put in an attack up a grass climb midway through the first lap and started dictating the pace. “I rode a pretty hard pace to try and split the group and test the riders with me. On the second lap Joshua Dubau [France] attacked up the climb and I went with him and we distanced ourselves from the group,” Hatherly said. “Chris Blevins [USA] was the only one who could come with us.”

“Unfortunately Josh crashed on the descent soon after attacking me, so it was just Chris who was able to stay with me.” The pair of Specialized riders then worked together to extend their lead over their chasers. “We kept it wide open to get the gap as early on in the race as possible, so we could play tactics towards the end of it. Having the buffer puts you in a good position to play the tactical game. Whereas if [the chasers] are hot on your heels you don’t have time to work out the strategies. Chris and I pulled together, rotated and kept it steady through to the last lap,” said Hatherly.

Aware of Blevins’ technical prowess, Hatherly watched him like a hawk. After four laps out in front, the pair knew it would come down to the decisive final lap. “I knew I had to make a move on the climbs. As we hit the second major climb of the lap I put my head down and went for it.” described Alan.

Pushing right to the edge of his limits, Hatherly took a steeper inside line while Blevins opted for the safer, wider line. The effort required to summit the small rise paid off as Hatherly gained a good few meters of Blevins. “I managed to get about a 10m gap or so on Chris and I knew I had to keep the pace up and just push through to the line. I think he made a mistake at the top in the rock garden and that gave me a bit of extra time,” he said.

Dropping out of the trees towards the line, Hatherly had wrestled the gap out to around 30 seconds. A few grass bends and high fives later and Alan crossed the line to claim his first U23 UCI XCO World Cup victory!

“It’s unbelievable to finally get the win. We’ve been working for this now for longer than two years obviously, but I feel likes it’s been possible for the last two years and to finally have pulled it off is massive. With all the ups and downs of this year: broken bones, anemia mid-season… it’s not ideal! To bounce back towards the end of the season is incredible. It’s four weeks now till World Champs and two weeks to La Bresse. Some exciting racing is still ahead so it’s time for some big training to prepare for the final two-three races of the year. I’m happy there’s some racing left to chase another top step!”

“I am so stoked that all the effort has paid off. The last few weeks have been so hard but to walk away with the win makes it all worth it. I just want to say thanks to everyone back home for all the support, it makes the victory that much sweeter,” Hatherly said.

Hatherly now spends a few weeks in Europe before the final round of the UCI World Cup in La Bresse, France and the XCO World Championships in Lenzerheide, Switzerland in September.

Ariane Lüthi Wins Alpine Test of Strength: The Eiger Bike Challenge

Team Spur kicked off a Sunday to remember on 12 August in Grindelwald, Switzerland, when Swiss marathon mountain biker, Ariane Lüthi, claimed victory in the brutal 88km, 3900m Eiger Bike Challenge. Lüthi beat fellow Swiss rider and former Marathon World Champion, Esther Süss by two and a half minutes after a ding-dong battle through stunning trails in the picturesque Bernese Alps.

“I’m really, really happy with this win,” Lüthi admitted after the race. The diminutive Süss is known as one of the best climbers in the world. “To beat Esther on this course is super hard, as it feels made for her. Some sections might have actually been too steep for her. But the race is not very technical, so you normally win here on the climbs.”

Lüthi knew she was in good shape for the race, after a very good training session early last week. “I had super good legs in the week, and my weight was going in the right direction,” Lüthi laughed, acknowledging the disadvantage that a relatively bigger rider faces when tackling Alpine races. “I was ready, and excited to start the race. I was calm and not nervous at the start.”

The Eiger Bike Challenge ramps up from the starter’s gun straight into the Grosse Scheideg – a tar climb of around 1000m vertical ascent. Ariane put her tactical nous to good use immediately, allowing the hard-charging Süss to get in front up the climb. “You can benefit a little from slipstreaming,” Lüthi said. “So I let Esther lead and she definitely took a little more wind there.”

Across the flat sections Lüthi also played the tactical game, conserving her energy in the bunch, while she watched Süss dig a little deeper to follow wheels. “I then led up another short climb because I wanted to lead into the first downhill, where I managed to pull quite a gap. My technical skills are definitely an advantage, and I went down as fast as I could,” Lüthi admitted.

The long Feld climb loomed and Süss closed the gap to Lüthi very quickly but paid the price as the gradient ramped up near the summit, where it required more power to combat gravity. Lüthi opened another gap near the top, and again on the descent.

“It just seemed to go on like this forever,” Lüthi laughed. “Esther caught and passed me on the next climb and I couldn’t make any impact on the downhill, as there were a few little kickers in it, so she stayed ahead.”

“Going into the very last big climb, which was the 1100m Kleine Scheidegg, Esther had about a 15-second lead at the bottom and I kept checking to see how the gap was changing. It blew out to two minutes at one stage! I could still see her most of the way and kept thinking she was absolutely flying up the climb. I lost sight of her in the steeper parts towards the top and then suddenly I could see her and the gap had come down. That was all I needed to think there was still a chance!” Luuthi said. “So I kept pushing hard and it looked like Esther was fading a little bit, so my motivation went up a lot!”

“I trailed by only eight seconds off the top and I thought to myself it was now or never! I chased her into the downhill and when I’d passed her really went for it. I managed to drop her and knew with three more shorter climbs left – two in the descent and one to the finish line – I’d have to keep hammering.”

Lüthi returned to Grindelwald in a red and blue blur, elated with her victory: “I can’t believe I managed to finish ahead of Esther! It’s really a big thing for me – she’s won I-don’t-know-how-many of the past editions of this race! I’m super happy.”

Lüthi chose to tackle the Bernese Alps on her superlight Specialized S-Works Epic hardtail, but with an ace up her sleeve. “It’s the first race I’ve ridden with Specialized’s Command Post XCP dropper seatpost, and it was really cool. It helped a lot!” she admitted.

Ariane Luuthi continues to prepare for the XCM World Championships in Auronzo, in Italy’s spectacular Dolomite mountain ranges in mid-September.