Emphatic win for Alan Hatherly at African Continental Champs

(Mauritius) Alan Hatherly won the men’s Elite XCO title at the African Continental Champs on Friday, 12 May. Hatherly outclassed fellow countryman Stuart Marais and Mauritian, Yannick Lincoln to claim the title in a time of 1h20:18 over five laps.

“Solid points in the bag ahead of Europe next week,” commented the 21-year-old after the race. “I’m really happy how it all played out,” he said.

Earlier in the week Hatherly put in a request to race in the Elite category, instead of U23, in which he was the defending champion. His decision was based on the additional UCI points available for an Elite win (200) – U23 carries just 60 UCI points. Hatherly’s goal was always the title, additional points for his up-coming European UCI XCO World Cup campaign was the real reason behind the mission to race in Mauritius.

As expected the weather played a big role on the day. It had been raining all week on the Indian Ocean Island making track conditions challenging. “There was a huge rain squall early on Friday morning,” Hatherly picks up the story. “Even though the course wasn’t technical at all – mainly dirt roads with maybe 100m of singletrack – I knew it (the rain) would create a lot of tactics for the race. I was expecting a lot of cat-and-mouse on the flats…”

Hatherly managed to get the hole shot into the first corner after the downhill start and entered the singletrack in the lead. “That singletrack section was complete chaos. It was similar to Cascades (a notoriously slippery national round of the 2016 SA XCO Cup in Pietermaritzburg) in the clay-type mud!”

Hatherly lead out of the singletrack and onto the first road section, where he was overtaken by Arno du Toit. “The road was completely waterlogged,” Hatherly explains. “Arno had changed to mud tyres just before the race so he overtook me there because he wasn’t slipping as much.”

“Then as we hit the first climb it was myself, Stuart and Arno,” he says. The climb kicked up and Hatherly put in an attack near the top of the climb, ‘to test the waters’. This effort allowed Alan to gap his two chasers.

“At the top I had about 10 seconds and from there it was pretty much just controlling the gap, making sure that it wasn’t closing.”

According to Hatherly the course rode better and better with each lap as it dried out. “There was the odd flash rain section which made things quite tricky because you’d go from hot, to cold (with the rain) back to hot with the humidity,” he says, explaining how he struggled to settle into a rhythm, but managed to extend his lead over the course to finish up front with a buffer of nearly three minutes.

Hatherly jets off for international campaign brimming with confidence after big win

Team Spur’s Alan Hatherly and Ariane Lüthi were in Bloemfontein over the weekend for the third round of the Cycling SA MTB Cup Series.

The race would be Alan’s last before heading off to Mauritius to defend his U23 title at the African Continental Champs on Friday. Then Alan dots down back in Cape Town for a day before heading to Europe to start his U23 UCI XCO World Cup campaign. The race could not have gone better for him, as he eased through the technical course and managed to win by nearly four minutes.

“We did the same thing we did for Joburg [the previous round of the XCO series],” he explains. “By arriving on the Friday, you have 48 hours at altitude, so you tend not to be affected as much by the higher altitude.”

According to Alan the course – which features various tricky rock gardens, gap jumps and a technical climb – was very similar to last year, so he felt comfortable from early on.

“I managed to get the hole-shot off the front and settled into a good pace,” he says. Alan and about seven other riders quickly got a gap on the rest of the field. “I saw that everyone had latched on with no-one else wanting to do any work, so I ramped it up to race pace from the start. At the end of the first lap I had about a 15-second lead and then it just grew from there,” he says.

“For the last race on home soil before leaving for Mauritius, I’m really happy with how it played out and I take a lot of confidence from that.”

“A big thanks to Tim [Bassingthwaighte, team manager] and JP [Jacobs, team mechanic] for driving all the way out, looking after us and making sure the bike was running so well.”

Ariane Lüthi also had a successful day out in the lap racing format in Bloemfontein, with her second place finish.

“The course was rather technical with quite a few rock gardens and gaps jumps,” she says, “and also the climb was quite tricky.”

“I decided to play it a little bit safe and for a few gap jumps I took the B-lines in which I didn’t lose too much time.”

Ariane came into the race with tired legs after a big block of volume training as she prepares for UCI Marathon World Champs in June. “The fast first lap wasn’t my best. But I knew from the last few races I just need to stay patient and not get negative.”

Ariane rode her own pace and fought her way back from fourth to second by the end of the first lap. “I settled into my rhythm as Mariske was way off the front from the gun. I was happy to keep third and fourth at bay for a second place.”

Ariane was racing with the dropper seat post for the first time and believes it aided her speed on the rocky descents. “I think I chose the right race in which to debut it, as the descent was quite steep and in the rock gardens I really appreciated the extra ‘space’.” Ariane says she will take the dropper post to Europe next week, where she will accompany Alan, and depending on terrain make use of it in some of the World Cups.

Easter XCO cheer for Team Spur’s Hatherly and Lüthi

Team Spur headed up-country to Tshwane for an Easter-egg hunt with a difference – chasing sweet victory at the end of some tough laps around the Wolwespruit XCO course at the second event in the 2017 SA XCO Cup Series.

Alan Hatherly wasn’t there to play around and, despite the race being very much a ‘B’ priority for him coming at the end of a big training week, he lead from lap one to claim the Elite title in fine style ahead of Philip Buys and Matthys Beukes.

“We flew in on Friday,” the 21-year-old picks up the story, “for the main reason to not have the altitude affect us too much, but at least have one day to acclimatise.”

“Practice on Friday went quite well. There had been a fair amount of rain in the preceding week leading and the course was muddy, so it was a bit tricky trying to do a couple of sighting laps with everything being so slick,” he says, adding that he did get a good overall impression of what to expect for the following day’s race and had put together one true hot lap to open up his legs and lungs a bit.

Race day started with a luxurious breakfast at The Maslow hotel, where the team was hosted, and then it was off to do the business.

“The start is open road and quite fast, with swooping corners,” Alan says. “Julian Jessop decided to go wide open right from the start. Both Phil (Buys of Pyga-Euro Steel) and I got good starts so we sat on his wheel for the first kilometre or so because we thought he had gone too hard and was going to pay the price a bit later.”

Alan moved to the front and put in a big effort to split the field up even further. “Phil sort of countered and went ahead of me on the second hill of the course and I noticed he was riding different to normal,” Alan says. “It took me a few minutes to figure out that he was doing a yo-yo effect of sorts to try allow Matthys (Phil’s teammate, who was about 15 seconds back) to join our group.”

Tactically this would’ve been a blow for Alan as he would have had two team riders to work against. “As we got near the end of lap one I rolled through and went hard again to try and make it as difficult as possible for Matthys to bridge. I sort of kept that pace up the first climb and by the time I got the top I saw I’d actually managed to open up a gap on Phil.”

“I felt really good out there and it is a positive sign that I could get a gap that early on, so I kept the pressure on just to see what would happen.” That gap stretched from 20 seconds to 44 by the finish and that is how it ended. “Obviously, racing at altitude you can’t go too deep into the red because it’s tough to get out of it. You have to stay just below your threshold. That was a rhythm I was very lucky to find early on and managed to extend the gap lap by lap to finish off with a good gap to win,” he says.

“The win was really awesome for me. It’s been quite a while since I’ve won a national, and gathering some points so I can improve my ranking before I head off to Europe in the middle of May was also great. A big thanks to Team Spur’s Tim (Bassingthwaighte) for driving all the way to Joburg for us and being so organised and to JP (Jacobs, Team Spur mechanic) for making our Specialized S-Works Epics fast, as always. It was also amazing to be hosted in style by Sun International at The Maslow.”

In her first race since her fourth place at the 2017 Absa Cape Epic, Ariane Lüthi also had a very successful outing at the second stop in the SA XCO Cup series, finishing second behind Mariske Strauss after the four laps of the Elite Women’s race.

Like Alan, Ariane took no time out to rest and taper from the week’s training load for the Wolwespruit event, opting to use the race as part of her training.

“Mariske was up the front all the way,” she says. “There was no way to catch her and I can see that I definitely have some work to do for the UCI World Cups in Europe.”

“I lost some time on the jumps, but otherwise it was a really good day out. It was quite slippery in the corners so you had to ride really well to not slip out. That was really good practice and good technical training. I really enjoyed the rock gardens and technical downhills.”

Ariane rode team sponsors Rotor’s oval Q-rings for the first time at the event and puts much of the enjoyment of the climbs down to that. “On one technical climb I felt that I was pedalling very smoothly, so I believe it made a positive difference to my pedal stroke.”

“I’m looking forward to fiddling around with the chainring settings with JP (Jacobs) and to tweak them to make the stroke even more efficient.”

Both riders go straight back into a training block  ahead of the next SA XCO Cup in Bloemfontein before Alan tackles the African Continental Championships in Mauritius and then the team jets off to Europe and the UCI XCO World Cup series.

 

Tough Absa Cape Epic comes to a close

Yesterday’s seventh stage of the 2017 Absa Cape Epic provided a fitting finale to one of the most dramatic editions in the iconic stage race’s 14-year history.

After the 85km Team Spur’s Ariane Lüthi and Adelheid Morath pushed through to the finish line at Val de Vie, outside Franschhoek, in seventh place, to secure their fourth place overall in the Hansgrohe Women’s category.

The 2017 installment was won by Jennie Stenerhag and Esther Süss of team Meerendal CBC. Their total time was 31 hours, 39 minutes and 43 seconds, 35 minutes and 19 seconds ahead of Sunday’s runners up, Mariske Strauss and Annie Last (Hansgrohe Cadence OMX Pro), with the final stage winners, Robyn de Groot and Sabine Spitz (Ascendis Health) a further 12 minutes back.

“While I’m not happy with the result at all, there were three teams that were definitely stronger than us”, Ariane Lüthi conceded after the finish.

“They really deserve to be on that podium. They fought very hard and it was a great performance from all of them. Looking back, we hoped to have raced to another podium on a stage,” she said.

Ariane described the final stage, with some 1350m of climbing over its 85km from Oak Valley to Val de Vie outside Paarl as, “rough, flat, bumpy and sandy. It was pretty tough, not our favourite terrain, for sure.”

“There were a few small climbs and a lot of open roads early on”, she says. “The bunch split over the first climb towards Viljoen’s Pass, but all came back together before Franschhoek Pass.”

The top women’s contenders went up and over Franschhoek Pass together, the wind making a chance of a breakaway up the iconic climb unlikely.

“On the downhill “ in the Land Rover technical section“ Annie and Mariske got away”, Ariane says. “We were lying second and tried to chase hard to catch them. Robyn and Sabine were on our wheels and actually managed to bridge across and got a gap and that is how it stayed to the end.”

“It was really rough terrain after that and Adelheid was battling with her shoulder, so we nursed it home.”

“Overall it’s not the result we were looking for and we will analyse how it played out and build for the rest of the season”, Ariane said.

Team Spur’s support team, Spur Foundation, riding for the Full Tummy Fund charity, had a consistent eight days of racing in their back-up role. Belgian Alice Pirard and Frenchwoman Sabrina Enaux rounded out the race with a credible tenth place in the Women’s category.

“I did learn a lot this week. And the vibe in the camp was really great,  it was so nice to have another team in camp,” the Swiss Marathon champion Ariane, said of her back-up team, Spur Foundation. “Alice and Sabrina are just really lovely girls and I could practice my French a little bit and I’ve realised just how horrible it actually is! Also, our staff, JP Jacobs, Tim Bassingthwaighte and Gary Sylvester, worked so so hard for us and did such a great job every day.”

To all of you who offered Team Spur support and motivation along the way, thank you! We felt it every day. Knowing that we have you on our team cheering us through the adversity has a huge impact on our will to fight on. We look forward to sharing many more adventures with you this year.

Look out for our comprehensive race review soon.
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Into the home stretch

High drama in the women’s field on Saturday’s Queen Stage – the toughest of the 2017 Absa Cape Epic’s seven stages – will see Team Spur go into the Grand Finale in fourth place overall, some 17 minutes adrift of the podium. As today has once again shown, in a race of the proportions of the Epic, anything is possible and nothing is certain.

“The women’s race got turned on its head today,” explains Ariane Lüthi. “Sabine (Spitz, from Ascendis Health) suffered a broken handlebar – I was quite impressed how they could fix it and still manage to finish the stage in a really impressive time.”

“I was quite sad for them because Robyn (de Groot) has been so strong.”

Ariane went on to explain that their own day also didn’t go according to plan. “I went out quite hard in the beginning of the stage trying to repeat what we did on Friday,” she says.

“Unfortunately Adelheid was struggling with her shoulder after yesterday’s crash (she was caught up in a tumble with a media motorbike). She was in a lot of pain, barely managing to hold onto the bar through Groenlandberg and some of the other really rough descents, so we had to tap off and nurse ourselves to the finish.”

The pair is positive for the final day however, and looking to take it home. “As this stage taught us today, it’s never over till it’s over, so we have a fight on our hands tomorrow for sure.”

This year the Absa Cape Epic finishes for the first time at Val de Vie and its renowned polo fields – the fourth host for the Grand Finale in the race’s 14 editions. The stage, over 85km, sees the least amount of climbing of this year’s race, with a total altitude gain of 1350m, but it includes a march up the iconic Franschhoek Pass, so will be a fitting final test to a tough eight days.

Watch the action live on: www.cape-epic.com

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Back in the game

Team Spur’s Ariane Lüthi and Adelheid Morath managed to shrug off the very frustrating past few days to finish on the podium on the Absa Cape Epic’s traditional ‘play day’ over 84km on the spectacular trail network around Elgin.

The pair crossed the finish line in third place, just under three minutes back from the teams of Ascendis Health and CBC Meerendal who finished first and second, respectively, after a sprint.

“The women’s field this year is super strong and to make it onto the podium on the stage makes me super happy,” said five-time champion Ariane, elated with how the day played out.

The performance also saw them claw back some time on Hansgrohe Cadence OMX Pro (Annie Last and Mariske Strauss) who are still third on the GC.

“It was a pretty tough stage, even though it looked short,” she said. “There were some hard, steep climbs early on…”

“Before the stage I told myself, ‘listen, you have to go super deep today and embrace the pain’. It worked out really well and we could stay with the leading teams for quite a while. When they did get away we caught up again after water point two.”

“Seeing that orange jersey is obviously a big motivation,” she said.

Saturday’s Stage 6 should play into the hands of Ariane and Adelheid. The pair will be looking to carry today’s momentum into what is billed as the Queen Stage – the toughest of all seven. It features the daunting Groenlandberg climb and a number of vicious climbs and descents towards the latter part of the 103km course. Ariane is familiar with much of the terrain, however, and this experience could prove critical in her and Adelheid’s plans to overcome the disappointment of the early stages.

“I’ve put the disappointment of the beginning of the week behind me. You know, you’re here with this expectation to win – I’ve won it for the past five years and actually don’t quite know what it feels like to not to be up there all the time. I had to get my head around that and now I’m super motivated for the next two stages. We’re ready for tomorrow,” Ariane said.

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Fourth place on Stage 4 for Team Spur

On an action-packed Stage 4 in the Hansgrohe Women’s category at the Absa Cape Epic, Ariane Lüthi and Adelheid Morath narrowly missed out on a podium spot on Thursday. The 112km route took racers over 112km from Elandskloof near Greyton to Oak Valley Wine Estate in Elgin..

“It was a longer stage, with a lot of open roads, especially in the beginning, where the whole women’s field stayed together,” Ariane says. The field did eventually split up a climb leaving four teams up the front, including our stars Ariane and Adelheid. “We rode together for quite some time before I had to let go of the pace.” Ariane says. Not long after this Sabine Spitz sliced the sidewall of her front tyre and she and partner Robyn de Groot (Ascendis Health) had to stop to fix it. Ariane and Adelheid passed them and went after second placed Annie Last and Mariske Strauss (Hansgrohe Cadence OMX Pro). But an unfortunate tactical slip-up caused them to miss out on a possible third place.

“At the last water point Adelheid stopped to fill our bottles,” Ariane says. “I continued on slowly but then saw Mariske and Annie again and I was kind of chasing after them and didn’t realise that Adelheid was battling to get back to me. She put in too much of an effort there. I should’ve waited up for her there and we battled after that, so Robyn and Sabine overtook us again and we had to nurse ourselves to the finish. All things considered, we are happy with our fourth today.”

Friday promises to be a fast, fun 84km on the legendary trails around Elgin. But with 2100m of vertical ascent over some of the area’s iconic singletrack trails, it is not going to be easy.

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Tough going for Team Spur on Stage 3

Looking to build on their momentum from Stage 2, things didn’t quite go the way of Ariane Lüthi and Adelheid Morath on the 78km Stage 3 of the 2017 Absa Cape Epic. An early puncture and a cracked rim hamper Team Spur’s comeback chances on the loop around Greyton, which took in 1650m of climbing, including the iconic climbs of the area, such as ‘Zig Zag’ and ‘UFO’ – both having featured in the race before.

“Early on it was all open district road and we were all together,” Ariane explains. “However, when we got into the singletrack we got held up a bit and fell back,” she says.

The pair worked hard together and managed to crawl their way back up the field and were fighting in fifth place when Ariane suffered a pinch flat.

“It didn’t take us too long to fix, so we didn’t lose much time, but a lot of teams passed us, which was not ideal. That’s how we finished, so all-in-all a rather disappointing day.”

While Ariane and Adelheid are dismayed at seeing their GC podium hopes diminish, they are philosophical about the situation, knowing that racing, particularly in a gruelling multi-stage race like the Absa Cape Epic, is unpredictable and anything can happen.

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Ariane also has her mind on the ‘other’ reason they, and their back-up team of Alice Pirard and Sabrina Enaux (Team Spur Foundation), are riding – to raise awareness for the Spur Foundation’s charity, The Full Tummy Fund.

“We will be having a jersey auction soon,” Ariane says, explaining that details are to be released. She and Sabrina will also be visiting some of the kids who benefit from the Full Tummy Fund on Monday after the race. “We are looking forward to visiting the kids on Monday. She (Sabrina) has a little surprise for them from France and hopefully we’ll see some smiles there.”

Thursday’s Stage 4 from Greyton to Elgin over a distance of 112km with 2150m of climbing is bound to suit the experienced Team Spur outfit. It is all to play for for stage wins and they are bound to be in the mix up front.

 

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Onto The Podium On Stage 2

A valiant show of consistency saw Ariane Lüthi and Adelheid Morath shrug off their woes from Stage 1 to finish in third place on Tuesday’s Stage 2. The pair came in some five minutes after the first two teams in the Hansgrohe Women’s category, Meerendal CBC and Ascendis Health.

In an unprecedented move in the 14-year history of the Absa Cape Epic, organisers announced early on Tuesday morning that the stage would be shortened to 62km and finish in Caledon. This, after race medics warned that a combination of heat and humidity on the originally-scheduled 102km from Hermanus to Greyton, could endanger the health of riders.

Despite the shorter route the 62km was no walk in the park, with its technical climbs, sweeping singletrack and rolling open gravel roads.

“It was definitely our goal to finish on the podium for today’s stage,” commented Adelheid after the finish. “We worked really well together as a team and managed to get a gap to the fourth team on the road. And then maintained that all the way to the finish.”

According to Adelheid the shortened distance didn’t necessarily suit them and they are looking forward to some of the longer stages later in the week to eat into the gap to the podium GC. “It was perhaps faster today than it would’ve been. It’s good for us to have a slightly longer stage tomorrow to perhaps make up some time,” she said.  

Wednesday’s Stage 3 will see riders enjoy another shorter stage (78km) on the celebrated trail networks around Greyton. The racing promises to be tough and fierce however, with a series of solid climbs including Mad Dog Bite, Zig Zag and the UFO, as well as technical descents.

Follow the action on www.cape-epic.com.

Team Spur limit losses on brutal Stage 1 of Absa Cape Epic

In a race as long as the Absa Cape Epic there are bound to be challenging days. In fact, riders will experience as many ups-and-downs over the eight days as a typical stage’s spiny race profile.

Today’s Stage 1 was a tough one for Ariane Lüthi and partner Adelheid Morath. The pair dropped back early on the 101km day around Hermanus, which featured some 2300m of climbing on a brutally hot and dry day. “We started well but then after the first little climb, going into the second climb I had to settle a bit and a lot of teams passed us, which was pretty tough for me mentally,” concedes Ariane. “We were sitting in seventh or eighth position at one stage. I stopped counting teams that had come past us.”

The two however showed the character that has come to define their racing spirit and dug deep to ride themselves back into podium contention.

“Watching the other teams disappear over the horizon is never easy, luckily I could keep myself together and Adelheid - who was super strong - was very supportive.”

According to Ariane they stuck to a steady pace, which paid off in the end, seeing them wrestle to a hard-fought fourth on the stage. “We managed to haul back at least three teams during the last kilometres for a fourth place finish.”

The seasoned campaigner that she is, Ariane also knows that anything can happen and a mechanical or a similar ‘bad’ day could see any of her competitors lose time. The pair are positive and are looking to put today behind them and consolidate and then start to build again.

The back-up team of Alice Pirard and Sabrina Enaux riding under the Spur Foundation banner in aid of the Fully Tummy Fund are loving their experience of the race thus far.

Alice, who has ridden before, believes that the separate women’s start is a big and positive change. Sabrina, who is new to the race is amazed by the ever-changing landscapes and how much variety there is on the types of routes: “I said to Alice as we were riding though some trails that I thought it was paradise.”

To which Alice replied, “Where? Take me to that!”

Perhaps the two will experience some more paradise on Tuesday’s Stage 2 over 102km from Hermanus to Greyton.

Follow the action on www.cape-epic.com.

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