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.

 

Top 20 for Ariane Lüthi at UCI Mountain Bike Marathon World Championship

(Singin, Germany) Team Spur’s marathon specialist, Ariane Lüthi finished 16th in one of the most closely contested Marathon World Champs in recent history on Sunday 25 June.

“It was really fast and furious race,” Lüthi commented afterward. “It was very tactical too, so in the start loop of 31-kilometres the women went really hard,” she said.

“Up the first climbs the pace was furious and I dropped back a bit, but managed to catch back up the the lead bunch thanks to some fast downhilling and cornering,” she said.

Lüthi stayed in contact with the lead bunch until the 55km mark when there was a big move up front. “We hit probably the longest, steepest climb of the race up a grass field,” she explains.

“I dropped back there and tried hard to fight back up but just couldn’t make up the time.”

She was disappointed with the result but remained philosophic. “I’m not super happy – you always want to try better your results – but that would’ve been difficult in this race because it was definitely one of the most competitive world champs yet.”

“I played my game as well as possible and kept pushing, but it is what it is.”

“Congrats to Annika (Langvad) for winning world’s again. After what she has done that is really impressive.”

From here, Ariane prepares for the next two UCI XCO World Cups which take place on the 2nd and 9th of July in Andorra and Lenzerheide respectively.

 

Ariane Lüthi’s World Marathon Champs preparation on track

Team Spur’s marathon expert Ariane Lüthi has been finalising preparations for the UCI World Marathon Championships in Germany later this month. Over the weekend she added a race-pace effort to the schedule with the iconic 60km Elsa Bike Trophy in Switzerland.

“It was a beautifully, hot day,” says Ariane. “Probably the hottest day in Switzerland thus far this year.” Having spent so many years based out of Stellenbosch in the summer months these were ideal race conditions for her. “It was a really fast race in comparison to past years where it was rainy and cold,” she explains.

The race format features a mass start with Elite men and women combined, meaning that if you catch a fast train up the early climb, and then manage to hang on, you’re set for a good result on the day. “Ester (Süss) got away on that first climb I couldn’t stay with her,” Ariane says. “She was flying.”

It then turned into a battle for second place, with Ariane and Cornelia Hug riding together just about all the way to the end. “Cornelia managed to get a little gap on me somewhere in the first 10kms or so, but then she crashed as she washed out in a corner and I could catch back up. We then rode together the entire rest of the course,” she says.

It was a yo-yo affair Ariane explains: “Cornelia was a little bit faster on the climbs, but I managed to close in again on the downhills and more technical sections and then I just stuck to her wheel.”

They came to the finish together and it was always going to be a sprint. The finish is rather tricky though, with a left turn out of a roundabout and then a slight drag up to the line. “You have to jump after that corner if you want to sprint, but there were a few people in the way which was a bit messy and frustrating for me.”

After a tight finish, Cornelia finished second, behind Süss, with Ariane rounding out the podium. She was happy with the result and is looking forward to UCI World Marathon Champs on 25 June in Singen, Germany.

“I started working with a mental coach and I tried to put that into practice on the day. I think it made quite a bit of a difference!” she said.

Tough weekend for Team Spur at German World Cup

Albstadt in Germany played host to the 2nd round of the UCI XCO World Cup. The course that greeted Team Spur riders Ariane Lüthi and Alan Hatherly was dominated by two long, lung-busting climbs, with the corresponding steep descents the only recovery riders could hope for. In previous years the ascent was divided among five smaller climbs.

U23 star Hatherly was excited to build on his solid first round sixth place in the previous weekend’s World Cup in the Czech Republic. Things started out brilliantly for the 21-year-old on Saturday afternoon: “I had a front row position again, number six this time,” says Alan, who positioned himself on the prime left hand side of the start line. “I managed to holeshot off the front into the lead group – which formed quite quickly – and topped out on the first climb in second or third.”

During that first climb Alan looked around to gauge his opponents. “Surprisingly I saw that everyone was hurting quite a bit. As we entered the tech zone the guys sat up slightly to recover before the last climb and the drop down into the start-finish area,” he says.

Alan was still within his limits and rolled through the tech zone at a steady pace, rather than making a concerted break. “I got to the top of the climb with about an eight-second lead,” he says. “I bombed down the descent toward the start-finish and the guys didn’t close at all, I think it was about 10 seconds at that point.”

At the top of the next climb Alan further extended his lead to 15 seconds, but then disaster struck. “I came into a narrow left corner before a ski jump drop on the descent,” he says. “The corner was just littered with loose rocks from the lead motorbike which was obviously trying to get a gap from me.”

The rocks forced Alan off course and when he re-entered the bunting tape got caught in his rear wheel and melted onto the hot discs of his rear brakes without him knowing.

“JP (Jacobs) Team Spur’s Technical Manager, took the tape out in the tech zone and I was lying in about third at this point. We made our way up the climb and entered the off camber descent, when I was fully committed I grabbed the back brake and there was nothing at all,” Alan says. The result was a washed out front wheel which saw him skid down the rocks on his ribs. “I got up and rolled down slowly to the bottom using the front brake, only.”

JP changed the wheel in the tech zone and Alan got rolling again, however it took about two laps for the back brake to start working again. “We didn’t know what the problem was, it was as though there was no back brake. It was very frustrating for me trying to fight back as the track didn’t allow for any overtaking,” he says.

Alan pushed hard to cross the line in 34th place and can take some consolation from his strong finish. But it will be his electrifying start in Albstadt that Alan will draw on for motivation at the next event in Andorra in a month’s time. “At least I know the form is good. I lead for a while and at quite a comfortable pace. It’s a tough one to process because I had done a fast lap the day before (the race) and the time was much faster than the average lap time of the leaders, so it was a podium opportunity, I reckon.”

Our marathon specialist, Ariane Lüthi, made her 2017 UCI World Cup debut in Albstadt the following day, but it was a day on the bike she would rather forget. “I felt strong on the start and was confident of a good race, but unfortunately my legs didn’t deliver what was needed in a World Cup,” she says, explaining how she worked hard to overtake in the early laps and then paid for it later on. “I blew a little there and maybe ate too little or too late”. Ariane ended the day in 55th place.

Ariane now focuses on training in Switzerland, her country of birth, ahead of the UCI Mountain Bike Marathon World Championships on 25 June, back in Germany.

Alan opens his World Cup season with a 6th at Nové Město

The small town of Nové Město na Moravě in the Czech Republic on a UCI Mountain Bike World Cup weekend is a full-blown carnival! And Team Spur was there for the party.

This year 50,000 excited fans turned up for the opening round of the 2017 season and a weekend of red-hot racing. The events were split across the weekend, with the U23 Men and Elite Women racing on Saturday and the U23 Women and Elite Men racing on Sunday.

South Africa’s hope for a meaningful result rested on the shoulders of Team Spur’s Alan Hatherly in the Men’s U23 race. Seeded third after his recent Elite victory at the African Continental Champs, the 21-year-old was quietly confident and ready for battle.

“Practice in the week went really well,” Alan explains. “Then I was fortunate enough to have Susi (Christoph Sauser, multiple World Champion and Specialized global brand ambassador) take me on a lap on Friday to show me all his lines. He also gave me a few pointers for the race.”

The track in Nové Město is one of the most iconic on the circuit and has produced some epic battles over the years. It is characterised by several steep climbs and technical downhills rather than one main climb and descent. It also features a number of treacherous rock gardens.

“JP (Jacobs, Team Spur’s Technical Manager) and I also had a discussion on how to make bikes fast and we ended up playing with the bearings on the bike and got everything spinning faster. That really helped a lot on Saturday, so big ups to JP for being a guru.”

His recent form and good seeding led Alan to employ a different tactic during the early part of the race: “In the past I always looked to keep something in the tank for later. This year I went hard right from the start and focussed on staying right at the front,” he says. “I entered the first singletrack in about fifth and then on the way up the first climb managed to pass a rider.”

However, his race almost fell apart after the climb: “I had gone a little too hard catching that guy and then I hit a rock on the way down. When you’re on the limit your arms become weaker than normal and my hand blew right off the bars, sending me off the course.”

According to Alan he hit his chest fairly hard on his stem and then had to battle to get back onto the racing line. “I lost a few places but motivation was still quite high at that point because I was still riding inside the top 10.” Alan refocussed and worked at getting his rhythm back.

“On the last three laps of the race I managed to find a really good rhythm and push hard on all the climbs and attack all the descents which gave me fast overall lap times,” he says. “Then with one lap to go I saw the chase group was just in front of me so I pushed really hard to catch them because I had heard Susi out on course say that it was just 10 seconds to podium.”

Alan managed to pass two more riders on the last lap and narrowly missed out on a top five, finishing in sixth spot.

“I’m very stoked on how smooth everything ran out there – aside from the mishap in the first lap – but I’m feeling really good and I was strong on the climbs so I’m looking forward to Germany next week.”

Alan and JP now travel to Round 2 of the UCI XCO World Cup at Albstadt in Germany, where they join teammate Ariane Lüthi. Alan will race on Saturday, 27 May, with Ariane racing on Sunday, 28 May.