Ariane Lüthi Claims Third Swiss Marathon Championship Title

On Sunday morning, 30 September, Team Spur’s Ariane Lüthi lined up in Einsiedeln, Switzerland, close to the southern shores of Lake Zurich for the start of the Swiss Marathon Championships. One hundred kilometers – and over 3,700m of climbing – later the Swiss powerhouse came home ahead of compatriot Esther Süss to reclaim her national jersey in the discipline, adding the 2018 honour to her victories in 2016 and 2013.

“I am really happy I managed to reclaim this title. I knew it would be a 50/50 battle between Esther and I… I am happy with how the race played out: my tactics, my eating plan, everything just lined up and I think I rode the race of my life today,” Ariane laughed, replaying the race in her mind late on Sunday evening.

Ariane’s 6-minute 45-second winning margin over Süss belies the brutal and tactical cat-and-mouse battle that unfolded in the valley of the Alp river on Sunday. In mountain bike-obsessed Switzerland, the opportunity to wear the fabled red-and-white cross is taken very seriously. And the country’s two most established marathon riders put everything on the line to push each other to the limit, over more than 5 hours of racing.

Leading up to the first steep climb, Ariane asserted herself at the front of the field among the men, who were also vying for the national jersey, applying pressure to her rival Süss. The early move was a tactical masterstroke that would bear fruit later in the race. “To beat Esther on a course with so much climbing I knew I had to make my move early,” an elated Ariane described after the race.

Gaps opened and closed between the two riders throughout the race, but Ariane was determined to remain on the offensive for the entire race. “I managed to get a gap on the first climb, and from there I tried to settle into my rhythm on the flat sections,” reflected Ariane. Süss fought back to close the gap with her sensational climbing skills. As she drew close to Ariane at the top of the first climb of the day, the Team Spur rider dropped through the gears and attacked the technical descent.

With plenty of climbing yet relatively non-technical descents (by Swiss standards!) Ariane ensured she made the most of the gravity-assisted sections. “I would pull a gap on every downhill which just added to the pressure for Esther to close on the flats and climbs,” Ariane said.

Each time Süss caught Ariane on the climbs, Ariane would pin her ears back and disappear into the distance on the descents. “I am actually happy to walk away in one piece,” laughed Ariane. “I really attacked all the downhills to gain as much time as possible.”

The major climb of the day came at the 74km mark. It was a Swiss wall and the Queen of the Mountain hotspot, topping out at 1771m. On the lower slopes Süss took the lead for the first time in the race. “Esther was able to overtake me on the climb, and although I could always see her, she must have had around a minute or so on me,” Ariane said. But she kept her cool, having scouted the course earlier in the week, she knew what was to come and this aided her composed chase back.

Ariane closed the gap slightly on a walking section of stairs near the summit of the QOM climb and then stalked Süss on the tricky descent once again. The gap was neutralised on a series of gravel rollers just before another technical descent, where Ariane had crashed over the handlebars during the week on a course recce. Ariane noticed that the warmer weather had dried the course out since her recce ride and decided to play all her cards. “The one rocky section was drier than earlier in the week so I decided that I would go for it and ride it,” said Ariane.

Fortune favours the brave, and Ariane’s decision to go all-in proved to be the decisive move of the day. Ariane pushed ahead on her own, and continued to pile on the pressure to cross the finish line first.

After a challenging 2017 season, where Ariane battled depression and had to overcome a slew of disappointing results, the Swiss Marathon Championship victory marks an impressive return to form in 2018 for the five-time Absa Cape Epic Champion.

Ariane now returns to her second home in Stellenbosch, South Africa, to resume her duties as a proud ambassador to the Spur Schools Mountain Bike League. The Spur League’s national grand final takes place this weekend in Magaliesburg, Gauteng and Ariane will share her experiences and insights with thousands of riders, school coaches, parents and fans.

Alan Hatherly wins U23 World Championships in Switzerland

On Friday afternoon 8 September 2018 in Lenzerheide, Switzerland, Team Spur’s Alan Hatherly executed a tactical masterclass to wrestle the U23 UCI XCO World Championship jersey onto his shoulders. Flat-out racing from the starter’s gun played into the 22-year-old South African’s hands as he put all his racing experience to the ultimate test on a challenging course, covering his rivals closely through the opening laps before breaking clear of the pack with American Chris Blevins. It proved to be a race-winning move, with Hatherly laying it all on the line in the final lap to take victory. Blevins crossed the line in second.

Hatherly claimed the silver medal at last year’s World Championships in Cairns, Australia, and was hungry to go one better. “The Swiss course really suits me as you don’t get any free speed out there,” Alan said of the physically demanding 4km loop through the rooty Seewald forest. “You have to work for everything and it’s about carrying speed and being smart about burning matches.”

Cross-country starts are critical, and in the U23 category the starter’s gun signals a frenzied scrum of riders at high speed wanting to assert themselves. The bottlenecks that present themselves early in the Lenzerheide course made the Championship start even more critical. Hatherly used his front row start to manoeuvre himself into second wheel entering the first single track. “If you’re any further back than about sixth wheel you’ll get caught up in the bottle necking,” said Hatherly.

The U23 pre-race favourites and big hitters were all together through the first two laps as they jostled for position. A strong nine-man pack emerged. “The second lap was mayhem as riders took pretty big chances and were not shy to let you know where they wanted to be in the bunch,” reflected Hatherly. Having tested his rivals occasionally in the lead and seen who was up to scratch, Hatherly casually moved to the front on Lap 3 and started mixing things up.

“I shifted to the front and put some pressure on the climb, but also maintained that pressure through the technical descent and rolling climbs. I think this is where the gap formed as it was soon Chris Blevins [USA] and I off the front with a few riders behind working to rejoin,” said Hatherly. The two Specialized riders worked together as they had done a few weeks ago, when they found themselves in the same situation at the Canadian round of the UCI World Cup series.

“We have such a similar ride style, it’s awesome to sit at the front and keep the constant pressure on!” Hatherly admitted. The small gaps behind the two leaders soon stretched out substantially, with only Dutch rider David Norderman lurking ominously 20-30 seconds back.

Lap 5 offered a glimpse of how deep Blevins was in the hurt box and Hatherly quickly made plans to exploit the weakness with a monster effort late in the race. “I sat up on Lap 5 to get Chris to come to the front. When he just held my wheel I knew he was in some pain,” said Hatherly.

Hatherly didn’t want the race coming down to a two-up sprint against his American rival, as Blevins’ road race pedigree is widely known and he may have had the upper hand with only 100m of tar to cover to the line. Into the final lap Hatherly knew it was now or never, and he buried himself to snap the elastic band connecting him and Blevins for the previous three laps. Hitting the course’s first technical sections at pace, Hatherly was able to put six seconds into Blevins. But that wasn’t enough and Hatherly went again, forcing the gap out even further as the finish line and its throng of cheering fans grew louder. Hatherly kept pushing and crossed the line comfortable, a full 27 seconds clear of Blevins in second.

Claiming the U23 World Championships title and the coveted rainbow jersey is a dream come true for Hatherly: “This is bucket list stuff and something I have dreamed of for years. For it all to come together so well… I am blown away that I actually achieved this win,” an elated Hatherly said after the lung-busting effort.

“It is kind of a bitter sweet moment however, as I move to the Elite category next year and won’t get to rock this [U23] jersey. But to be able to call yourself World Champion is an amazing feeling and I am looking forward to stepping into the big leagues next year,” Hatherly said.

Alan now shifts focus to UCI Marathon World Champs next weekend, where he will join Team Spur teammate, Swiss marathon specialist Ariane Lüthi, in the Italian Dolomites for the last race in Europe for the year.

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

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.

Team Spur looking to end season on a high at FNB Wines2Whales

Now in its ninth year, the FNB Wines2Whales is firmly established as one of the premier three-day stage races on the South African calendar. However, for the pros it always comes at a tricky time of year, essentially being the last race of the season.

Team Spur will be fielding a full complement and will be looking to carry the successful momentum from The Cape Pioneer Trek all the way from Lourensford, via Oak Valley, to Onrus this weekend.

In the men’s race the Team Spur/Red-E pairing of Alan Hatherly and Matt Beers – who won six out of seven stages to take out the Cape Pioneer Trek – will once again be lining up together.

Having made his true stage-racing debut at the Pioneer, W2W will be another first for Hatherly. “I’ve obviously heard really good things about it,” he said, explaining how he’s not 100% sure what to expect but has some idea. “I followed the race properly last year through the great coverage and the route definitely makes for some exciting racing, especially with the portage on day one.”

Hatherly will again be relying heavily on the experience of marathon machine (and house-mate), Matt Beers with regards to the course and tactics. “Matt and I have managed to get in some really good recovery after Pioneer,” he commented. “He’s obviously raced it before so he’s going to be my guide through each day – making sure we don’t get caught up in bad positions on important sections,” he said.

The compulsory portage at Gantouw Pass on Stage One is bound to be one of those ‘important sections’.  “It seems to be one of the biggest deciders of the race,” Hatherly said. “From what I’ve heard, if you lose time there it’s very difficult to make it back, but if you get it right, then you can make the break and get into the leader’s jersey from there.”

In the women’s race Ariane Lüthi is equally mindful of the infamous portage, which comes 38-kilometres into the 68km stage.

Ariane has raced the event many times before and is well versed in what to expect. “Every year there are a few small changes here-and-there, but generally the first day is a crucial decider for the main GC – the first climb and singletrack sections are often the key, and then of course there is the portage.”

Ariane will be teaming up with Podium Sports stable mate Ashleigh Moolman-Pasio who is taking some time ‘off’ after another highly successful season on the roads for Team Cervélo Bigla.

“What a great honour it is for me to ride with Ashleigh,” Ariane commented. “I have such huge respect for her. I’ve followed her career closely and she is an amazing role model for all cyclists in this country.”

While not her natural racing forte, Moolman-Pasio is no stranger to fat tyres and dirt tracks having recently tackled the Cape Pioneer Trek with husband Carl Pasio. Although Ashleigh was forced to retire on the final day due to illness, they completed the six days with a two podium finishes in the Mixed Category.

The women’s field is stacked this year with at least a handful of teams in title contention, this includes the Ascendis Health outfit of Sabine Spitz and Robyn de Groot, Jennie Stenerhag and Adelheid Morath of CBC/Åbro, Candice Lill and Vera Adrian of DormaKaba and Ariane’s Pioneer-winning team mate, Amy McDougall and Samantha Saunders for Valencia.

“Ashleigh and I are a completely new combination and she has not raced a lot of mountain bike in the women’s division, so it’s going to be quite a interesting thing for us to race together. She also has a hectic schedule ahead next year so we’re fairly relaxed about our goals,” Ariane said.

“Having said that we have the racing spirit so when the gun goes we will not hold anything back,” she quickly added. “Hopefully I have good legs on the day to go with Ashleigh up that first climb.”

“We can also count on our great back-up team of JP (Jacobs) and Tim (Bassingthwaighte) who have just ridden the course and can give us some tips and tricks!” She concluded.

Follow the blow-by-blow racing on Twitter and stay tuned to Team Spur’s social channels for more updates.

The FNB Wines 2 Whales starts on Friday 3 November at Lourensford and finishes, three stages and some 210km later, on Sunday 5 November at Onrus Caravan Park.

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.