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.

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.

Lucky 13th for Hatherly in Canada

A valiant effort at Mont Sainte-Anne sees Alan Hatherly within reach of an overall series podium in the UCI U23 World Cup series, with one round remaining.

Visa delays saw Team Spur’s Alan Hatherly arrive in Mont Sainte-Anne, Canada only 15 hours before the start of the Men’s U23 race at the UCI XCO World Cup Round 5 on Sunday, 6 August. Battling jet lag and having briefly walked some sections of the course in pouring rain late the day before, Alan put on a solid performance to finish 13th after the six-lap race.

“I arrived late Saturday afternoon and then did a course walk with Simon (Andreassen, the Danish rider who ended up third) and managed to get a rough idea of what to expect for the race,” Hatherly explains. Luckily he had Team Spur’s mechanic, JP Jacobs along for the walk, and the two hatched a plan to set up the bike for raceday, without touching the track. Typically, Hatherly and Jacobs will work on perfecting bike setup for a World Cup race over a few days of riding the course.

“It was also bucketing down with rain,” Hatherly recalls. “But I managed to see a few lines on the really difficult sections to keep myself somewhat safe.”

Hatherly started the race on the front row and knew he was going to need to go flat out from the gun to have any chance of a good finish. “I managed to get a good start, but it was really crazy racing up front not knowing how long the climbs are or where the next corner was to stop guys from coming past,” he says.

Hatherly maintained his position in the start loop and into the first proper race lap, but then his trans-continental odyssey caught up with him and he faded. “I rode everything alright during the race, but the speed definitely wasn’t as fast as I would’ve liked it to have been,” he says. “My climbing speed was good – I didn’t lose any time there – and then tried to close the gaps on the descents.”

According to Hatherly his chest closed up slightly at the halfway mark, due to a combination of the long travel times and the serious race pace in the cool surrounds.

“This track is one of the gnarliest on the World Cup circuit, so riding it blind was really crazy. On the whole, I’m happy with 13th and just stoked it all worked out alright.”

Team Spur’s and Hatherly’s long-term season goal – to finish in the top three overall for the UCI U23 World Cup series – remains intact. As a result of his courageous race in Canada he now sits in fourth, 10 points off third, with the final round of the season in Val di Sole, Italy on 27 August.

Hatherly Reigns at SA Champs

(Mankele, Mbombela) Team Spur’s Alan Hatherly is the 2017 South African Elite men’s cross country champion. Racing with the #1 board from his consistent season at the SA XCO Cup series, Hatherly lead from start to finish over the 7-lap course at Mankele Bike Park in Mpumalanga to take the title ahead of Philip Buys in second and Matthys Beukes in third.

“I’m super stoked with the win, for myself and Team Spur” said the 21-year-old after the race. “I’ve been trying to win this for the past three years…”

Hatherly – who won the Elite African Continental title in May – returned from a successful European World Cup racing stint two weeks ago to prepare for SA Champs, but was forced to adjust his planned training schedule due to a bug he picked up during his return travels to South Africa.

“I was forced into a bit of an easier week of training, which timing-wise, I was a bit stressed about, but I think it eventually played into my favour because I got in some really good intensity this week and I managed to time everything perfectly.”

According to Hatherly, the Mankele course was super rough and technical, with a lot of sharp, loose rocks which forced some caution in various sections. “Playing it ‘safe’ tactically – to save the equipment – was super important today,” he said.

Hatherly still went full gas out of the gates – racing on a game plan whereby Alan would go 100% until halfway through the race and then reassess his game plan. “I knew Phil and Matthys as teammates were going to try play a tactical game, so I wanted to go all-in from the beginning until midway and then take it from there, to see where I was, and who was still around.”

“I went out super hard on the first two laps and by the end of the second lap I had a gap on Phil so I knew the pace I was setting was good enough,” he said. “I then tapped off to settle down into a good consistent rhythm and then I pretty much held that through to the end.”

“It was quite hot out there and the last half of the race was just about managing the conditions. I took ice socks from the guys and drank a bit more than usual just to try not to fade in the last lap,” Hatherly said, adding that his Specialized S-Works Epic was running super sweet thanks to the expertise of Team Spur’s Technical Manager and wrench wizard JP Jacobs.

Hatherly now heads off to Mont Sainte-Anne in Canada to continue his campaign on the UCI U23 World Cup circuit, where he is ranked sixth. “It’s been a good year so far and I’m looking forward to another hard week before I leave. The form is good and I’m hoping to do some damage there.”

Tough day out for Team Spur at Round 4 of the 2017 XCO World Cup

(Lenzerheide, Switzerland) Alan Hatherly held on for a valiant 11th overall after a big mechanical halfway through, while Ariane Lüthi crossed the line in 47th place.

In sharp contrast to the dry, dusty practice sessions during the lead-up, race-day saw a muddy, slippery Lenzerheide course, thanks to overnight rain.

Alan Hatherly was up first in the U23 men’s race. With a front row start (sixth) thanks to his superb second place in Andorra the previous weekend, he was in the mix from the first climb – a tough tow-minute effort to the top. He managed to drop into the singletrack descent in fourth and through the first tech zone had moved into third.

“I locked onto Simon (Simon Andreassen’s) wheel and by the end of the first lap we were riding pretty fast had a good gap to the rest of the field,” Hatherly said, explaining how the pace got super hot up front into the second lap. “The guys went very hard up the tar climb and I remembered the feeling from last weekend to stay just below that maximal effort, so I dropped off a bit to try pace myself for the next three laps. I knew being consistent would be more important than going all-in, and then fading at the end, because our race was seven laps long – 15 minutes longer finish-time than normal.”

By the third lap the leaders had 20 seconds on Hatherly, but late in the fourth lap this had shrunk to around eight. “I could see my tactics were paying off, but as I started chasing hard toward the latter part to close the gap, my fork seal blew off on the air side, which meant I lost all pressure.” Hatherly battled on regardless, but because his fork was now deflated it changed his body position on the bike, which meant his back and quads took serious strain towards the end, he also had almost no control in the technical sections.  “I held onto sixth for about two laps but the technical sections were simply too dangerous – every time I hit a root or a rock the wheel would just decide which way it wanted to go so I had to play it cautiously,” he said.

Hatherly eventually crossed the line just outside of the top 10, but was philosophic about the setback. “On the whole I’m still relatively happy,” he said. “What happened today was really bad luck, but 11th is still a fair result and on the overall for the world series I’m still 6th overall, which means for Mont Saint Anne I’ll be on the front row again.”

Hatherly now returns to South Africa and sets his focus on SA National Champs in two weeks’ time. “I’ll most likely be racing Elite – go for the title that has been eluding me for three years.”

——————

For Ariane Lüthi it was something of a home race and she was excited and motivated to do it justice despite still recovering from World Marathon Champs and a mid-season dip in form.

“Just to hear your name being shouted is super motivating, plus I really like the course – I think it is really entertaining, even though you have to be focussed all the time, especially today, as it was wet and slippery,” she commented afterward.

“Off the start I tried to push a bit harder than last weekend, where I perhaps took it a little bit too conservative,” she said.

However, according toe Lüthi, the margin (between staying in touch and pushing it too far in terms of effort) is so small at this level, that it is all about management. “If you are a little bit over-cooking you go into the technical sections shaky – which is not ideal – so it is quite difficult to find the right rhythm.”

Lüthi did click onto a good rhythm and rode strong through the middle few laps. “But maybe pushed it too hard and then paid for it in the second last lap where I just made a silly mistake and, lost a bit of rhythm.”

“To take some positives away: I’m glad to finish a World Cup without being lapped and to have had the super smooth Specialized Epic on this course – it really was a dual suspension course. Also, big thanks to JP (Jacobs) and Tim (Bassingthwaighte) for their support. This was the first international trip with the full Team Spur in tow and it was great.”

Lüthi concluded how good it was to have a new world cup winner in Annie Last. “She is a very cool girl. I raced against her at the Epic and so good to see her right in front on the top step.”

Alan Hatherly Podiums in Andorra

(Vallnord) Team Spur’s Alan Hatherly finished second in the U23 Men’s race at Round 3 of the UCI XCO World Cup in Andorra on Sunday, 2 July. Hatherly put together a near-perfect tactical race to work his way up from a start on the second row and narrowly missed out on the top step in a riveting sprint to the line with former Junior World Champ Simon Andreassen.

Vallnord in Andorra – a tiny, mountainous principality in between France and Spain – is arguably one of the most beautiful venues on the World Cup circuit. The 4km course is surrounded by the jagged peaks of the Pyrenees mountains and features natural, forested tracks and exposed climbs. At nearly 2000m above sea level the race is held at the highest altitude of all World Cups.

“I started in 11th, but still managed to get a really good start,” the 21-year-old South African said after the race. “From there I pushed my way through to about sixth by the top of the first climb.”

According to Hatherly he lost a bit of time on the rocky descent as his confidence wasn’t where he would’ve liked it on the day. “I’d had one or two silly crashes in the build-up – because it had been so wet [during practice] – which threw me off a little bit. Fortunately it was dry on the day and I got my confidence back after a few laps.”

The Andorran altitude was always going to be a factor and Hatherly managed it perfectly. “The key was just knowing where my limit was and not going too deep too early on, because you definitely pay the price for that at 2000m,” he said.

Hatherly paced himself into third place as they entered the second lap, and found himself isolated between the lead pair – Denmark’s Andreassen and Latvia’s Martins Blums – and a chasing bunch. “I had a gap of about 15 seconds on the guys behind me and up front they were also about 15 seconds ahead. I found reference points on each lap which I used to check to see if I was closing the gap or not.”

Hatherly realised he was lapping at about the same speed as the leaders, but was learning where on the track he could make up time. “With about three laps to go I started exploiting these areas and managed to bridge across to the two leaders. With two laps to go things heated up and we sort of played a bit of cat-and-mouse as we tried to work out who would make a move,” he says.

This allowed the chase bunch to catch up as the group grew to five for the final lap. “There were a couple attacks that went and I knew they were way too hard and too early in the lap, so I sort of just paced myself out and then in the second half of the lap I went super hard.”

According to Hatherly there was a massive wind-up toward the finish with everyone still in touch: “We went flat-out through the last tech zone and up the final little climb,” Hatherly explained.”Then we [Hatherly and Andreassen] rode away and entered the final tar stretch together where we both tried to sprint with absolute jelly legs. He managed to pip me with two bike lengths.”

“It’s been a great week here and I’m really looking forward to Lenzerheide! On to the next one.”

Hatherly, his teammate Ariane Lüthi and Team Spur head to Lüthi’s home country of Switzerland this week for the fourth round of the UCI XCO World Cup in Lenzerheide.