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.

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 and McDougall dominate XCO Cup Final

The final round of the SA National MTB Cup Series XCO took place at the world class Cascades MTB Park on Saturday 17 June. Team Spur’s Alan Hatherly displayed his phenomenal speed and skill set on a bike to once again take the top honours in the Elite Men’s race and claim the overall Cup Series win. The Elite Women’s race was won by marathon rider Amy Beth McDougall, and Cameron Wright (AUS) and Tiffany Keep took home the Junior titles on the day.

Hatherly has had an outstanding season so far, and chatted about the hard work he’s put in behind the scenes. “I’ve been racing flat out since the age of eight it has always been a massive passion for me, so going out and having a big social life has never been a huge priority, but my move to Cape Town has been very good for me training-wise,” he said.

He mentioned and appreciated the encouragement and help received with training rides from housemate and mountain bike enthusiast Matt Beers. “Training in Durban by myself last year was great, but when racing against myself, I could never push myself, so it’s nice to have someone to ride with and test yourself against,” he said.

Hatherly has mixed up his training routine dramatically, and also stressed the importance of lots of sleep.

Hatherly thanked his team, and the dedication that they give to every detail of the cross-country bikes, making sure that at every race he and his bike are fully prepared to give it horns.

Pyga Eurosteel’s Philip Buys made a phenomenal come back to fight hard each lap after a mechanical early on in the race to grab the second spot from 15th position. After another impressive ride, the third place position on the day went to Jan Withaar.


The Elite Women’s title went to Valencia’s Amy Beth McDougall, with OMX Pro Team’s Mariske Strauss and Bianca Haw (Red Bull) crossing the line in second and third respectively. “I knew I was in quite good form but I haven’t races cross-country for a while. I did two races last year but before that, the last time was in 2013,”said McDougall.

McDougall had no idea what her form was like in this particular discipline, and sat with Cup Series leader Strauss until the fourth lap. “I felt strong and so I pushed harder and didn’t look back,” she added.

Off to Germany next week to take place in the World MTB Marathon Championships, McDougall will also be taking part in two cross-country cups while in Europe. “I’m glad I got to see where I was on a cross-country track, and today’s race just reminded me of why it will always be my first love,” she concluded.

In the Junior Women’s category, first year Junior Tiffany Keep (PAW) powered to first place after an incredible ride and managed to finish her four laps in under an hour. Keep loved her race at Cascades and said that it is always a challenge for her. Keep holds on to the elements of fun on the bike but acknowledged the focus needed when transitioning between Youth and Junior. She said: “This year has really been about scouting the age group and just seeing what its all about. The jump from Youth to Junior is quite a big one in the greater scheme of things overseas, as the girls take it very seriously and the racing is really tough. Its an important year, and the first year we’re able to qualify for World Champs and earn points in the Junior World Serious. So although you need to have fun out there, you still need to work hard to try and earn those points.”

In the Junior Men’s race, former KwaZulu-Natal local and Australian Junior National Champion, Cameron Wright beat Rossouw Bekker and Johann Trotzky in second and third to take the title. He said: “I wasn’t keen for the lengthy flight – it’s a long way and 24 hours of traveling, and getting flu on top of it all wasn’t ideal, but coming back to race on my old home track against some of my mates and definitely a few new faces out as well was awesome. The race went to plan for me today – just hold it from the beginning and make sure nobody follows me.” Wright heads back to Australia on Sunday evening.

Also taking place on Saturday morning was a Development Day held for keen young riders from various districts around the province. These riders raced against their peers on a track parallel to parts of the national track. Whilst improving their bike and competition skills, everyone who took part was able to also watch the some of the professional action taking place, providing much exposure to the sport of mountain biking.

Hatherly, Strauss hold top form at third XCO Cup

The third round of the 2017 SA National MTB Cup Series XCO took place in Bloemfontein at Happy Valley Conservancy on Saturday 6 May, where Team Spur’s Alan Hatherly took the top honours in the Elite Men’s race and OMX Pro Team’s Mariske Strauss took the Elite Women’s title. The penultimate race of the National series attracted a fair amount of international riders as well, with eight nations represented during the highly competitive event.

Hatherly crossed the line after six laps of racing in a time of one hour 34 minutes and 50 seconds. The most impressive rider on the day however was second placed Jan Withaar who rode fast and hard to finish in 01:38:42, with Stuart Marais crossing the line in third place (01:39:16).

For Withaar, the first two laps were a struggle to find a constant rhythm. “It was more of a matter of finding the concentration than it was physical,” he said. “I hadn’t cleated in properly either at the beginning which also isn’t too helpful,” he added.

When chatting about the course, Withaar said: “It’s a very natural track, and it was a little bit blown out – which by no means detracted for the quality of it. It’s an excellent track, we just all had to be very careful and concentrate hard to not hit too many obstacles that could lead us to punctures.”

Withaar was very happy with his second place and has said that this result has only given him even more of a confidence boost. “Seeing the repeatability after Pretoria means so much to me, and it’s very reassuring,” he added.

Strauss crossed the finish line first in the five-lap Elite Women’s race in a time of 01:38:55. Second place went to Swiss Team Spur rider Ariane Luthi in a time of 01:42:20 and third place to Namibian Michelle Vorster (1:45:55).

“Today went really well for me. It was dry and dusty out there but it was a great race – there were lots of obstacles to keep us alert and on our toes,” Strauss said.

Strauss heads off to KwaZulu-Natal soon to take part in the 2017 Sani2c next week with Robyn de Groot for Team Ascendis Health. “I’ve have wanted to do ’Sani for a long time and I am really looking forward to it,” she added.


Attached Image: SA National MTB Cup Series XCO Bloemfontein 1.jpg
Mariske Strauss was the fastest Elite Women at the third round of the SA National MTB Series XCO at the Happy Valley Conservancy in Bloemfontein on Saturday 6 May. Photo: Reblex Photography.

The following week Strauss heads off to kick off her UCI MTB World Cup campaign, with the Nove Mesto (CZE) and Albstadt (GER) races on 20/21 and 27/28 May respectively. “I’m excited to get the World Cup season going, and I am going to take it one race at a time,” she said.

All the top riders from all of the race categories were present to solidify their standings on the series log, with one remaining event to be held in Pietermaritzburg mid-June. Solid racing was seen especially in the Junior and Youth categories. The countries that were represented were South Africa, USA, Switzerland, Lesotho, Zambia, Zimbabwe, Namibia and Botswana.

In the Junior race, which formed part of the UCI Junior World Series, the Men’s title went to Pieter du Toit after four laps in a time of 01:08:53. Johann Trotzky and Namibian Alex Miller diced for the second and third places with both riders recording the same finish time of 01:10:55, but Trotzky’s wheel was inches ahead of Miller’s to take the second place.

Tiffany Keep won the three-lap Junior Women’s race in a time of 01:04:13 against second-placed rider Danielle Strydom (01:05:19), who finished just over a minute off the winning time. Azulde Britz finished in third place in a time of 01:11:03.

“Today went really well,” said Keep. Although looking as though she had breezed through the course, she assured that it wasn’t an easy one. “It was very tough, but mostly the conditions that made it so. There was also a lot climbing as well. There hasn’t been rain here either so it was very sandy and dusty. The races before us also then made the track quite blown out by the time that we raced.

“A few of the lines had changed on the climbs and there were a lot of loose rocks. The downhill sections were really fun. There were quite a few spectators watching that as well. The climbs took a lot out of me because they were very hard. I am happy with my win.

The fourth and final round of the 2017 SA National MTB Cup Series XCO takes place at Cascades MTB Park in Pietermaritzburg on Saturday 17 June.

The event also carries a UCI Category 1 rating and also forms part of the UCI Junior World Series. For more information about the Series, visit: mtb-cup- series/.

Hatherly, Strauss dominate at the spruit

Hatherly (Team Spur) commanded his race over six laps of the short and punchy four-kilometre track in a time of one hour 22 minutes and 54 seconds, winning the Elite Men race by less than a minute over Philip Buys (Team PYGA Eurosteel) in 01:23:38, with Matthys Beukes (Team PYGA Eurosteel) finishing third in 01:25:21.

Speaking about his race, Hatherly said: “When racing at altitude, you always have to play it smart tactically. If you start too hard, you will pay the price at the end.”
Mariske Strauss (OMX Pro Team) surged ahead in complete control, posting the fastest laps in each of her five laps and claiming her victory in a time of 01:27:15 at the second round of the 2017 SA National MTB Cup Series XCO at the Wolwespruit Bike Park in Tshwane on Saturday 15 April 2017

Hatherly completed the first lap in Buys’ wake. “I was sussing out the first lap and playing it safe. I felt good, but Phil seemed to play tactically and was trying to get Matthys to link with us. That wouldn’t have worked to my favour so I pushed off on the first main climb of the lap and rolled off and settled into my own pace.”

The Rio Olympian’s attack placed a suitable gap between himself and Buys, which he managed to maintain throughout the remaining laps. “I gapped it and kept the pace up, and kept the gap up, attacking every descent and finding the flow. On the whole it was a good race.”

Hatherly’s next race is the third round of the National Cup Series in Bloemfontein on 6 May, before he heads off to the island of Mauritius for the African Continental Championships. Thereafter he returns home briefly before jetting off to Europe on 14 May for the UCI MTB World Cups in the Czech Republic and Germany.

The Elite Women’s race saw a battle for podium positions between Ariane Luthi (Team Spur), Frankie du Toit (Absolute Motion) and Bianca Haw (Red Bull) as race winner Strauss (OMX Pro Team) surged ahead in complete control, posting the fastest laps in each of her five laps and claiming her victory in a time of 01:27:15. Luthi was the second rider home in 01:33:30, with Du Toit rounding out the podium in a time of 01:35:07.

The current National Champion said: “My race went smoothly – I have to admit I was a tiny bit nervous as I wasn’t sure how my legs would perform. My game plan was to gradually open the valves and that seemed to have worked for me.”
Ariane Luthi (Team Spur) navigates her way to second place at the second round of the 2017 SA National MTB Cup Series XCO at the Wolwespruit Bike Park in Tshwane on Saturday 15 April 2017

Strauss adopted the approach of trying to chase the men’s lap times, in a racing format where every category races on the exact same course (apart from the Nippers and Sprogs on a shortened course). It showed in her lap times, which were in the 17 and even 16 minute bracket.

“I am happy with how it went,” she said. “Now to pack again as I prepare to set off for the Swiss Cup next week.”

The Junior Men raced four laps, with Pieter du Toit claiming victory in a time of 01:00:36. Ryan Conradie and Mulder Oosthuizen’s tight battle ensued until the very end, with the former taking second place in 01:02:43 and Oosthuizen third, five seconds behind.

The Elite Men’s podium from left: Jan Withaar, Philip Buys (PYGA Eurosteel), Alan Hatherly (Team Spur), Matthys Beukes (PYGA Eurosteel), Stuart Marais at the second round of the 2017 SA National MTB Cup Series XCO at the Wolwespruit Bike Park in Tshwane on Saturday 15 April 2017

Fresh from her recent European campaign, Tiffany Keep kept a one-minute buffer between herself and second placed Danielle Strydom to take the victory in the Junior Women’s race in 00:56:35. Azulde Britz rounded out the podium in 01:00:28.
Philip Buys (PYGA Eurosteel) gets some air over the jump section at the second round of the 2017 SA National MTB Cup Series XCO at the Wolwespruit Bike Park in Tshwane on Saturday 15 April 2017

Luke Moir, who has also recently competed in Europe, managed to keep Jamie Penfold at bay to secure his victory in 00:48:54 in the Youth Men’s race, with Penfold taking second place five seconds behind in the three-lap battle. Daniel van der Walt finished in third place, only one second behind Penfold. Also competing over three laps, the Youth Women’s race saw Zandri Strydom take victory in 00:57:24. Christelle Coetzer finished in second place in a time of 01:05:55, while Andrea De Waal finished in third place (01:07:16).

All Systems GO for Absa Cape Epic

It’s the classic case of ‘all hands on deck’ ahead of the world’s premier mountain bike stage race.

“We’re in for a tight battle,” commented Ariane Lüthi ahead of Sunday’s start of the 2017 Absa Cape Epic. “This is the strongest field I’ve ever faced in the women’s category. I know I say it every year, but this year I believe it more than ever.”

According to Ariane, the biggest challenge is likely to come from the new Team Ascendis Health pairing of Robyn de Groot and Sabine Spitz, as well as Team Meerendal CBC – Esther Süss and Jennie Stenerhag.

“Then there is Mariske (Strauss) and Annie Last, as well as Candice (Lill) and Vera (Adrian). Candice rode well in the Tour of Good Hope and I’ve never seen her this strong,” she said.

“One can never say how it’s going to play out because it’s such an unpredictable race, but there are three or four teams in with a very good chance.”

As defending champion Ariane and new partner Adelheid Morath will set off at 10:35:25, as the last women’s team on Sunday’s prologue at Meerendal Wine Estate. It is often said that the race cannot be won on the prologue’s serpentine 26km route (with some 750m of climbing) but it can easily be lost on its dusty trails.


Knowing a fierce challenge lies ahead, from both the unforgiving terrain and the world-class competition, Ariane and Adelheid are confident and excited to start the battle.

“Adelheid is a super accomplished athlete and has prepared so much harder than for last year’s race (where she finished third overall with Sally Bigham),” Ariane said. “We had our last big training ride on Tuesday and I was amazed at how fast she was climbing.”

“We’ve also focused a lot on our teamwork the last few weeks – getting to know each other and building that trust is crucial for this race.”

“I feel very good after the Tour of Good Hope (a five-day road stage race held recently). It was good for my condition and form,” Ariane said. “It gave me a lot of confidence. I’ve definitely improved from last year, both strength and endurance wise. Also, I’ve worked a lot on my technical skills with Jo Dobinson of Biking in the Bosch.”

A first in the women’s race this year is the addition of a true back-up team, with Alice Pirard and Sabrina Enaux riding under the banner of Team Spur Foundation. Alice and Sabrina will ride in support of Ariane and Adelheid, but also to raise awareness for Spur Foundation’s charity, the Full Tummy Fund. “I’m really excited that it worked out,” Ariane said. “It’s an experiment, but for me it was about giving a second team a chance to benefit from our setup and getting two strong athletes to the event to help grow the depth of the women’s racing. We are also privileged to be able to draw attention to the amazing work of the Full Tummy Fund in this area.”

Alice and Sabrina set off at 10:19:35 on Sunday.

According to Team Spur boss Nic Lamond, who is riding his 10th Absa Cape Epic in 2017, and, alongside brother Simon, is gunning for a Masters GC podium, the 2017 route is likely to once again favour “the more technically-accomplished all-rounders.”

“The Epic is not a slog fest anymore, where the biggest engine wins,” he says. “Using the region’s more exciting technical terrain means teams need to know their strengths and exploit them. This rewards mountain bikers who do their homework and build on all their skills. Of course, this has been true for the past few years, but is definitely different from, say, five years ago. I’m incredibly proud of the entire Team Spur’s preparation and focus.”

The 2017 route will take riders through 691km of the Western Cape with some 15 400m of accumulated climbing over the eight days.

After the prologue it is on to Hermanus, for the 101km opening stage on Monday 20 March. Stage 2 sees riders heading inland to Greyton for two nights, with Stage 3 starting and finishing in the quaint town.

Stage 4 is another transition day, as the travelling circus moves on to Oak Valley Wine Estate. Stage 5 takes riders on a circular route around the Grabouw/Elgin area as does Saturday’s Queen Stage over 103km with some 2 750m of elevation gain.

Stage 7 will finish at the new Grand Finale venue, Val de Vie Estate near Paarl.

Catch all Sunday’s racing live on SuperSport and The Grand Finale – the final stage on Sunday, March 26 will be live from 9.30am to 1.30pm.

In addition, this year will see more live race coverage than ever before. Stages 1, 2, 4 and 6 will be live streamed from 9am to 12.20pm on and Stages 3 and 5 from 8am to 11.20am.


Team Spur announces partnership with Kargo National

Kargo National, the specialist road freight distribution company, has been investing in South African cycling for over three years and will continue to do so in a new partnership with professional mountain bike team, Team Spur.

Team Spur consists of Swiss Marathon Champion and multiple Cape Epic winner Ariane Lüthi and Olympian and U23 African Champ Alan Hatherly.

“We are very excited to join Team Spur for the upcoming season,” commented Leigh Oliveira, Marketing Manager at Kargo National. “Kargo National has always had a passion for mountain biking and we believe that this new venture will be a prosperous one.”

“Alan has been such an outstanding ambassador. A great sportsman both on and off the track. We are proud to continue this journey with him,” Oliveira said.

“Ariane Luthi shows such passion and commitment for this sport which ultimately every athlete needs to have in order to succeed. Kargo National looks forward to sponsoring and supporting both these talented athletes during the season.”

“The relationship is fantastic continuity in their support for Alan Hatherly,” commented Nic Lamond of Podium Sports, which runs Team Spur. “It’s encouraging to see that they wanted to continue to support the country’s pre-eminent mountain bike racer and believe he has the character and talent to make a global impact.”

European stars to ride back-up for Team Spur’s Lüthi and Morath

In her quest for a fourth Absa Cape Epic women’s title, Ariane Lüthi has put together the first-ever women’s back-up team for the 2017 edition of the mountain bike race. Alice Pirard and Sabrina Enaux will make up Team Spur Foundation and ride in support of Lüthi and her new partner, German Adelheid Morath.

Pirard raced the Absa Cape Epic in 2015, finishing fifth alongside another Swiss mountain bike legend, Esther Süss, but for Enaux it will be her debut on African soil. Both riders however, come with sterling marathon and stage race pedigrees.

Hailing from Belgium, Pirard has four back-to-back Belgian National Marathon titles (2013-2016) under her belt and won the 2016 women’s category at the gruelling Crocodile Trophy stage race in Australia. She is also a past winner of the Cape Pioneer Trek stage race held in South Africa. “It’s a big honour for me to ride in support of Ariane and Adelheid,” says the 28-year-old. “Ariane makes lots of effort to improve women’s mountain biking, she’s an inspiring athlete. Because I respect her so much, I want to help her in the best possible way to reach her goal.”

“I have some idea of what to expect after my 2015 experience. But back then, there was no separate start for the women. I think this changed the women’s racing and raises the importance of a back-up team,” she said.

While Enaux is more of a XCO specialist, the French rider took bronze at the 2016 UCI Mountain Bike Marathon World Champs in Laissac in her home country. “From everything I’ve seen and read I know it’s a very difficult race, both physically and mentally,” she says.

“The idea of riding as a support team is a very good idea,” she says. “Not only will this bring more women into this race, but ultimately give Ariane and Adelheid even more chance at victory.”

A professional women’s back-up team has been a project of Lüthi’s for some time. Team Spur Foundation will simultaneously raise awareness for an important charity and provide an insurance policy against a race-threatening mechanical. Lüthi also sees it as a way of bringing more elite women to South Africa to compete in the Absa Cape Epic. The successful model has been employed by multiple men’s winner Christoph Sauser and his global Specialized Racing team for the past few years. A number of top pro men’s teams now do the same and the depth in the men’s racing field at the event in March each year is the result.

“I am very pleased to have found two riders of such pedigree to ride in support of Adelheid and me,” Lüthi says. “Although Annika [Langvad] and I didn’t puncture once at the Absa Cape Epic since riding with Specialized Fast Trak tyres with Grid casing, the increasingly tight racing in the women’s category will rise the chances of getting mechanicals because we will have to take more risks.”

According to Lüthi, the back-up team format also gives Absa Cape Epic newbie, Enaux, a great chance to draw from her experience and tackle the daunting race under less pressure at her first attempt. “I hope my competitors will follow suit and look for support for themselves in the future as to grow the women’s field,” she says.

Pirard and Enaux will race in aid of the Full Tummy Fund, which is an initiative of the Spur Foundation. The Spur Foundation, through its Full Tummy Fund, focuses on initiatives that primarily target children from birth to six-years-of-age, which are aimed at improving early childhood development (ECD), not only by investing in educational programmes but also in programmes that ensure these vulnerable children are nourished and safe.

“The best part of it all is that this is not just about getting but also giving support. Adelheid, Sabrina, Alice and I are very motivated to raise funds and awareness for the Full Tummy Fund, a charity which is doing an amazing job helping underprivileged children, during this epic journey.” Lüthi says.

Ronel van Dijk, Chief Financial Officer at Spur Corporation and Chair of the Spur Foundation Trust, says: “We are thrilled that Ariane has selected the Full Tummy Fund as her charity of choice for this year’s Absa Cape Epic. We value her efforts to generate awareness around this vehicle for investing in educational development and nutritional programmes. Through the funds that she and her teammates will be raising from her followers and from the auction of her race jerseys we can continue our quest to fill the tummies and feed the minds of children from disadvantaged communities around the country. We wish Ariane the best of luck and hope that 2017 will mark her sixth Cape Epic win.”

Team Spur will be piloting the latest Specialized S-Works Epic race machines, while the back-up team combines two athletes not supported by the same bike manufacturer. The creation of the charity team allows Pirard and Enaux to wear the same team jersey and ride different bikes: Sabrina Enaux is a Specialized ambassador in France, while Pirard rides for Merida in Belgium. However, a number of critical parts, such as wheels, are interchangeable across the bikes. As has been the norm in the men’s field for some time, the idea is that should Lüthi and Morath suffer a mechanical setback, they will be able to swap damaged parts out quickly with the back-up team’s help.

Tread MTB: A beer with James Reid

On Sunday James Reid takes on the biggest race of his career so far. In 2014, just after winning his second South African Marathon jersey, James chatted to Tread magazine about his journey, the challenges of choosing the life of a pro cyclist and what youngsters (and parents) can do to get the most out of mountain biking. Read more here.