Commonwealth Bronze for Alan Hatherly 

Team Spur’s Alan Hatherly won Bronze in the Men’s Cross-country mountain bike race for Team South Africa at the Commonwealth Games in Australia earlier today, Thursday 12 April. Hatherly finished third in a time of 1:17:56 behind the New Zealand duo of Sam Gaze (1:17:36) and Anton Cooper (1:17:36).

The result took Team South Africa’s medal count at the games to 28 and comes just two months after Hatherly fractured both wrists in a high speed crash at the three-day Tankwa Trek stage race. After a flying start with Gaze powering to the front, and only Hatherly and fellow Kiwis Cooper and Ben Oliver able to keep pace, the field was blown to pieces and the stage set for an exhilarating battle for the medals. By the end of Lap 3, Hatherly, Gaze and Cooper had burnt off Oliver who dangled in no-mans land for the remainder of the race to come home in fourth.

No stranger to the intense energy of an international games environment, having represented South Africa at the 2016 Rio Olympics, Hatherly knew he’d have his hands full containing two of the world’s fastest Elite mountain bikers. Cooper (in 2015) and Gaze (in 2017) are both past U23 World Champions and were also Gold and Silver at the last Commonwealth Games in Glasgow in 2014, with Cooper having the edge on Gaze in a two-up sprint.

According to Hatherly it was super tactical right from the start gun, especially with the three Kiwis in the mix. “I’m really happy with the result, considering eight weeks ago I suffered a broken radius and cracked wrist,” Hatherly commented after the race. “It went smoothly and I am happy to be on the podium.”

“I think it was around Lap 3 where I decided to put one big lap in to try split us up a bit more,” he said. It proved to be a decisive move and with two laps to go it was a three-horse race. “That left Sam, Anton and I to eye-ball each other throughout the rest of the race.”

“I felt really good out there,” he added, explaining that the wrists which had their first race run at the second round of the South African XCO Cup less-then two weeks ago, held up well to the demands of world-class racing.

The three riders jostled for position throughout the remainder of the race and it wasn’t until the final lap where the racing exploded.

“Sam had a rear-wheel puncture and was forced to stop to re-inflate it. Anton took off immediately and it became one hot lap to finish it all off.” said Alan. Gaze, who now sat in third, was quick to hop back on the bike as he hunted down the leaders. As they made their way up the penultimate rocky climb, Alan showed his class as he made way for a charging Gaze. Alan sat in third and continued to chase, but started feeling the effects of such intense efforts. “I started to feel the arms a bit at the end but it is expected after such a tough race. I am very happy to bring it home in third for South Africa.”

Commonwealth Games 2018: Alan Hatherly breaks it down

Tomorrow morning at 5.30am South African time Alan Hatherly toes the line at his inaugural Commonwealth Games. For the 22-year-old national champion it is a chance to pit himself against a tough international field. So just who and what is Alan up against?

Unlike the UCI XCO World Cup circuit, the Commonwealth Games has no age group categories, so despite being U23, Alan will be lining up with Elite riders. Among them are a few dangerous riders Alan will need to keep a close eye on. “There is the New Zealand Team of Sam Gaze, Anton Cooper and Ben Oliver,” Alan says. “We also have the Australian Dan McConnell who’s on home soil so he’ll be firing, no doubt. I reckon it will be the five of us who’ll be mixing it up at the front out there.”

The race will feature the most exciting young talent in mountain biking right now, with both Gaze (2017) and Cooper (2015) past U23 World Champions. Gaze narrowly beat Hatherly to win last year’s U23 world title on Australian soil, and Cooper beat Gaze to Commonwealth glory four years ago. But few can argue that it is Gaze who is in the ascendency right now, the powerfully-built Kiwi won the first round of the World Cup in Stellenbosch, beating out the Swiss maestro, Olympic and 2017 Elite World Champion Nino Schurter. Cooper placed sixth. In the U23 race in South Africa Oliver placed second, but Hatherly was forced to sit out with a wrist injury. Don’t discount the veteran Aussie, McConnell, who was third in the Glasgow Commonwealth Games in 2014 and has years of top-level World Cup racing experience to draw on.

With a course that doesn’t offer too much technically, opportunities to create gaps will come down to raw power and tactics. “It’s definitely a big boy course,” Alan says. “So watts will be flying and it will be interesting to see how it plays out. I think the race will split up pretty quickly: by the end of lap two the race should be decided in terms of who’ll be staying and who is unable to hold the pace.”

The first opportunity to see the race track in Nerang State Forest was last week Friday. Alan inspected it closely with Team Spur and Team South Africa mechanic, JP Jacobs. “It allowed us to make sure all my lines were dialed and I had the fastest route planned before I hit the track on Saturday.” says Alan. “The course has quite a few open sections, but when it gets rocky it gets quite gnarly and it can be easy to puncture or mess up your bike.”

“The track is faster than a typical UCI XCO World Cup track, with an average speed of around 21km/h, it’s definitely one of the faster tracks I’ve been on. The 4,5km lap offers only around 100m of climbing, which is split over two climbs, so it’s not as punchy as an XCO course. It’s more of a continuous effort with a lot of pedaling, which I’d say suits me a bit more at this time of the year. It’s quite similar to the World Champs course in Cairns [Australia] last year,” reflects Alan.

Team Spur mechanic JP Jacobs and Alan have worked together closely for just over a year now, and their connection and understanding helps to keep everything running smoothly. “JP knows how I like my bike setup, and what tweaks or changes I tend go for on a course like this,” explains Hatherly. “He is one of the best mechanics out there, so as far as fine tuning the bike, I definitely have the advantage of having the bike as fast as possible, that just leaves it up to me now to pull it off.”

JP has firmed the suspension on Alan’s Specialized S-Works Epic to help Alan over the flat, fast sections as well as allow him to pedal over the rougher sections. “As the rough sections are on the flat, you have to pedal over them all, where normally these kinds of sections are on descents, and softer suspension would give you the cushion you need.” Otherwise, it’s Alan’s normal set-up of Specialized Renegade tyres, SRAM Eagle 12-speed drivetrain, Rotor 36T chainring, full CeramicSpeed bearings and Magura brakes.

To catch all the action on Thursday morning 12 April, tune into SuperSport to watch the race live at 05:30 South African time.

Commonwealth Games 2018: Under a week till take-off for Alan Hatherly

Seven weeks ago young cycling prodigy Alan Hatherly had a mountain to climb. And it wasn’t one of the many scheduled training efforts his coach had prescribed. He was sitting in the dirt on the side of the trail somewhere outside Ceres, staring at two painfully crooked wrists. A victim of a high-speed crash in the three-day Tankwa Trek mountain bike stage race.

Through the cloud of pain and adrenaline the reigning South African Champion could think only of how he might just have forfeited two of the most highly-anticipated races in his 2018 calendar – the UCI XCO World Cup season opener in Stellenbosch on 10 March and next week’s Commonwealth Games spectacle, held at Nerang State Forest on the Gold Coast, Australia.

Not one to wallow in self-pity Alan and his professional mountain bike outfit Team Spur rallied a crack support team around him – his coach John Wakefield and leading local sports physician Jeroen Swart. A broken left wrist and fractured right wrist were operated on the same day as his crash and while Alan lay recovering on his hospital bed his coach busied himself with a rehab route back to full strength.

Within a handful of days, Alan was on his indoor trainer and soon after returned to his gym routine, with some minor tweaks to accommodate having both wrists in casts.

Sadly, the UCI XCO World Cup came too quickly, and with his wrists not quite ready Alan was forced to watch his international rivals rip through the challenging Coetzenberg track – enjoying a mountain bike party in his own back yard without him.

Today it’s a very different story. With less than a week to the Commonwealth Games XCO event on Thursday, 12 April, Alan is fully fit and excited to get back to the start line on Australia’s Gold Coast. A win on local soil at the second round of the South African XCO Cup a week ago, is all the race preparation he needed to know the wrists can handle the demands of world-class competition and he would be able to race at full throttle in South African colours.

“It was only the last 10 minutes of the [SA XCO Cup] race where my wrists started to stiffen up, and that was a week ago, so by the 12th I would say I’ll be completely back to full speed,” says Alan. “With the Commonwealth Games being the main focus, I entered the SA XCO Cup slightly fatigued from an intense training block, but I am happy with my performance ahead of the big one.”

“With all efforts focused on a one-day event, the final build-up and tapering is vital. I need to tie everything together so I can peak on a specific day and be as fast as possible,” says Alan.

Alan is no stranger to the intense energy of an international games environment, having represented South Africa at the Rio Olympic Games in 2016. But his first Commonwealth Games village was still a shock to the system. “With around 6,500 athletes and staff, there is a lot going on. One big bonus is the coffee machine in each apartment block. It makes adapting to the eight-hour time zone change more manageable,” laughs Alan. Still, staying healthy, sleeping well and allowing for ample recovery is still a puzzle that requires careful planning. Luckily he has a very familiar face to help make sense of the organised chaos – Team Spur’s mechanic, JP Jacobs was selected alongside Alan to represent South African as the Mountain Bike and Road Mechanic.

“Having been here for a few days only, I’m still trying to sleep through to 8am. We’ll then head out to breakfast. Then it’s training time, before coming back to the village for lunch and to relax for the rest of the day. We’re fortunate to have physiotherapists here, so I’m able to get a massage and focus on recovery,” Alan says.

Today [Friday, 6 April] marks the opening of the Games XCO track and Alan is excited to see what it has to offer: “JP and I will do a course walk and then it’ll be open for some efforts over the weekend. Once we’ve seen the track we’ll start the bike tweaking process and JP will work his magic to make the bike as fast as possible.”

Team Spur’s Ariane Lüthi to race Absa Cape Epic with Belgian XCO Champ Githa Michiels

In a last-minute change forced by her previous partner’s falling ill, Team Spur’s Ariane Lüthi has teamed up with Belgian XCO Champion Githa Michiels for the 2018 Absa Cape Epic.

Although Lüthi’s Cape Epic plans were dealt a blow by the sudden change in partner, the Swiss national believes Team Spur’s goal of a victory in the Women’s competition at the eight-day mountain bike stage race remains intact. Lüthi, a five-time winner of the race, is confident Michiels will be a formidable replacement for Christina Kollman-Forstner, who was forced to withdraw from the event.

“Githa is powerful and a really hard worker and that is something that is rewarded at the Cape Epic,” said Lüthi. “I am excited about racing against a very strong field in the Women’s category at the Absa Cape Epic in 10 days’ time. Mountain bike stage racing is all about how you respond to adversity and challenges, and I feel we have a winning attitude.”

Michiels is no stranger to top-flight racing, having represented Belgium at the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro and earned numerous top-15 UCI World Cup placings in her career. Michiels has had a strong start to the 2018 season, placing fifth in the four-day Cyprus Sunshine Cup stage race in late February.

Michiels, who rides for the Versluys Pro Mountain Bike Team, will be competing her first Cape Epic but she couldn’t hope for a more experienced guide in Lüthi, who will be tackling her eighth event. Team Spur’s support staff also offer plenty of experience. Team Mechanic JP Jacobs is swinging his trusty tools for the 11th time at the Epic, with the rest of the management team adding a total of 16 Epics between them.

Lüthi’s previous partner Kollman-Forstner returned to her home in Austria a few weeks ago, after two weeks of unexplained illness while training in South Africa. Kollman-Forstner was diagnosed with an abscess in the root of one of her teeth and the offending tooth was removed. Unfortunately, it was too late to recoup the form she had been building and she reluctantly withdrew from the Team Spur setup.

Emphatic Wins for Team Spur at Cape Pioneer Trek

Spur teams take out both men’s and women’s titles in fine style

What a roller coaster! Anyone following Team Spur, as we tackled the 2017 Momentum Health Cape Pioneer Trek, presented by Biogen, last week will be wondering where their fingernails went.

When the dust cleared in the Klein Karoo town of Oudtshoorn on Saturday, 21 October the Team Spur/Red-E and Team Spur/Valencia teams of Alan Hatherly, Matt Beers, Ariane Luthi and Amy-Beth McDougall emerged with the Elite Men’ s and Women’s titles. Yet the fierce racing that took place in the rugged surrounds of Mossel Bay, George and Oudtshoorn over seven days will be tough to beat for its drama.

Our Elite Men’s pairing, Team Spur/Red-E, made up of XCO specialist, Alan Hatherly and his house mate and marathon racing powerhouse, Matt Beers, won six out of the seven stages to take victory 1 minute and 42 seconds ahead of the NAD Pro MTB team of Nico Bell and Gawie Combrink.

“I’m pretty stoked that Matt and I – who are training buddies – finally got to race together,” Hatherly commented after the race. “From the big training block we did in the lead-up we knew each other’s strengths and weaknesses and how to work together to be a super strong team,” he said, adding that being his first-ever stage race there was always going to be a lot of uncertainties.

“We managed to get a small margin on Day 1 and from there tried to stay in control of the racing. NAD put pressure on us throughout, but I feel we kept the pressure up too. And then chose the right moments to get away and extend that margin,” Hatherly said. The pressure was significant, yet the 21-year old Hatherly and 23-year-old Beers thrived in the close combat with their more experienced rivals, NAD Pro – five of the race’s seven stages produced a winning margin of less than 10 seconds.

“To kick off my stage racing career like that was just awesome and I’m really looking forward to Wines2Whales in two weeks’ time!”

“It was great to win!” Matt Beers echoed Hatherly’s sentiments. Perhaps victory was even sweeter for the towering Beers. “After last year with [a different partner] falling sick and us not having a proper opportunity at an overall win, there was a bit of unfinished business. So this year the overall was a lot different, staying in the game, we were there to win and it was such a close battle all week with the NAD boys.”

“I’ve always wanted to win Pioneer. I rode it in 2014 and it broke my soul because it was so hard. It’s just a great feeling of accomplishment in how I’ve grown as a rider to now be able to win a seven-day stage race.”

“To race with my house mate, training buddy and one of my best mates was a great experience – it was just a great combination that all came together,” he said, adding that he believes keeping it fun and lighthearted is also a key factor to success. “I think that showed in our results.”

Beers thanked the Team Spur support staff as well as his dad, who traveled with the winning pair throughout the week, and believes the win would’ve been a lot harder without such a slick back-up support system in place. “There are so many pieces to the puzzle and without all that in the back end it’s very difficult to focus purely on racing.”

Amy-Beth McDougall and Ariane Luthi celebrate their 2017 Momentum Health Cape Pioneer Trek, presented by Biogen, title. Photo by Hayden Brown.

In the Elite Women’s category, Swiss marathon legend Ariane Lüthi and local talent Amy Beth McDougall fought valiantly to keep the Ascendis Health duo of Robyn de Groot and Sabine Spitz at bay.

The final day saw near-disaster as Lüthi crashed spectacularly, but the pair regathered and kept up the pressure to limit the time lost to De Groot and Spitz, with Team Spur/Valencia eventually winning the UCI-sanctioned women’s competition by 1 minute and 40 seconds after the seven days.

“To win a race this close and to have fought this hard is really special,” Lüthi said.

According to Lüthi it wouldn’t have been the same if they’d won by a big margin. “It was a proper, proper race,” she said. “Everyday we had such a battle with Robyn and Sabine on the bike – it’s those big challenges that brings the best out of us as riders. We had to bring our A-game everyday.

Lüthi could not sing the praises of her partner enough, highlighting how she had to overcome both the physical challenge of a nasty chest infection and the mental game of racing some of the biggest names in world stage racing.

Lüthi went on to say that the win came just at the right time for her: “To close off the year on a high note, which, ironically, started really badly with some Dryland events, is amazing”.

“I was ecstatic about the win,” McDougall exclaimed.

While the Queen Stage (Stage 6 up Swartberg Pass) was by far the toughest (both mentally and physically) for McDougall, she lists it as a highlight of the race. “I actually didn’t know how I was going to survive this day because I didn’t think I had anything left,” she picks up the story.

“A small surge early on saw not only Sabine and Robyn float away from me, but half of the rest of the field too. I could write an entire report on this day alone because it will stay with me for the rest of my life. I kept fighting and somehow managed to get stronger as the day went by. We reeled in teams, one-by-one and at 64km we were only 1:30 back. We still had the mighty Swartberg Pass to contend with but I felt good. We put our heads down and smashed it up the pass. I put every bit of power, energy and fight into each pedal stroke and crossed the line 2:38 back and still in pink! It was surreal.”

“It was a real honour to race alongside Ariane and to win was incredible! I learned a lot from Ariane and through her encouragement and belief in me I found strength I never knew I had.”

Gruelling weekend of racing for Team Spur

Marathon specialist Ariane Lüthi was up first in the Swiss National Marathon Championship.

Run over 137 kilometres with some 4000 metres of climbing it was always going to be a tough day in the saddle. Ariane went into the race in arguably her best form of the year and was feeling strong right from the gun. “Esther (Süss) was the clear favourite,” says Ariane, “having beaten me by something like 20 minutes in the previous marathon race, the Eiger Bike Challenge, 2 weeks ago, I knew I had to stick to her wheel.”

As expected, Süss attacked on the first climb, shortly after the start. “I managed to follow her and felt good up the first 1000 metres.” Ariane managed to get ahead and squeeze a small gap on the descent and, ironically, this would be her undoing on the day.

“When I got the gap I put my head down and really went for it,” she explains. “But, I went for it a little too hard and actually missed a turn on that downhill and just kept on riding on the main road without looking back.” It was only when she got all the way down the mountain that she realised she must’ve gone wrong. This meant she had to climb back up, which added an extra 300 metres of ascent and turned her day into 144 kms.

At this point it would’ve been easy to throw in the towel and call it a day. However, Ariane knew that in such a long race anything can happen, so she knuckled down and buried herself to race as hard as possible. “I made up a good few places, but was never really sure where in the field I was. At the end, the third placed rider was apparently less than a minute away, but I didn’t know because I never saw the her on course. So that was a little bit difficult to take because bronze was actually still up for grabs.”

After a gruelling day out, she eventually finished 6th overall (there were two Austrian riders in the field) and 4th in the Swiss Champs. While she obviously wasn’t happy with the result, she was satisfied in her efforts after the navigation error. “It is what it is, a silly mistake cost me, but I gave it my all.”

On Sunday it was the turn of XCO hotshot, Alan Hatherly. Alan lined up for the final World Cup of the 2017 season at Val di Sole in Italy. “We had some overnight rain and I wasn’t quite sure how it was going to effect the course,” Alan picks up the story. “The U23 women raced in the morning so that didn’t really allow us an opportunity to have a look at the course beforehand. You could judge by their bikes that it wasn’t that wet, though.”

“I felt really good from the start and, while the course was slightly wet, it was nothing worth worrying about.”

According to Alan the start was once again super fast, with that pace being sustained for nearly the first two laps. “The course didn’t suit me as much as I thought it would,” he explains. “The back half was really flat and I’ve been working a lot on my climbing speed so on the extended flats I struggled. I also ended up riding solo in-between the bunches on these flat sections which sort of didn’t play to my favour,” he says. Adding that the course was brutal because you had to be on the power all the way round.

“Very different to the other world cups where you could go maximal up the climbs and recover on the descents and then sort of repeat, this was sub-maximal for the whole way round.”

With about two laps to go the pace became too much and he had to drop back from around 10th to 15th and regain a rhythm. He worked steadily there and that was the position he finished in. “It’s obviously not where I wanted to be, but I spoke to John Wakefield, my coach, and we were happy with how it went, with the big goal being the UCI MTB World Championships in Cairns, Australia on 4-11 September’. This gives us some time to build up and nail World Champs.”

Alan’s goal for the World Cup series was to podium in the overall results. After Italy he managed to move up a few slots and ended up fifth in the U23 World Series. “This is my best overall World Cup series result, so I’m stoked with that and ready to take it forwards to World Champs.”

Although Alan finished fifth overall in the UCI MTB World Cup Series, his stellar performances at the African Continental MTB Champs, the South African XCO Nationals and his consistent showing at the UCI MTB World Cups, Alan is the highest ranked U23 rider. With this, Alan will line up at World Champs with the #1 board for his U23 race on Friday 8 September.

Emphatic SA Cup Series hat-trick for Alan Hatherly

(Pietermaritzburg) Team Spur’s Alan Hatherly is the undisputed king of XCO racing in SA. The young Olympian claimed his third victory on the trot for the season as he won the fourth round of the SA XCO MTB Cup Series in Pietermaritzburg, KwaZulu-Natal, on Saturday.

Despite still being eligible to race in the U23 category for another year, his start-to-finish win on the demanding Cascades track sealed the 2017 SA XCO Cup Elite Men’s title, his third in as many years.

“The race went really well,” said the 21-year-old who recently returned from a successful European campaign. “I managed to get the hole shot from the start and pretty much lead from there all the way through to the end.”

According to Hatherly he was preparing for a ding-dong battle with Pyga-Euro Steel’s front-man Philip Buys. But Buys suffered a pinch flat in the first lap, effectively taking him out of the hunt for a win.

“From there I was pretty much racing myself,” Hatherly says. “I managed to go through the first lap, with roughly a 20-second gap and managed to extend it by about that much on each lap.”

While the win and hat-trick of SA Cup overall series titles satisfied Hatherly, it is where his form and preparation is for his second block of European racing which made him really happy.

“My form is really good,” he says. “I struggled with a bit of illness after I got back from the first block of European racing so I didn’t manage to get quite what I wanted from that first week back (in terms of training) but I did manage to get a lot of volume and strength work in leading up to this event,” he says, explaining how he felt it on the day. “I definitely wasn’t as sharp and fast as I would’ve liked to have been, but in a way that is good. I’d rather do some crazy speed work this week and then taper nicely for the next block of World Cup races.”

Hatherly leaves for Europe on 25 June as he heads into the Andorra and Lenzerheide legs of the UCI XCO MTB World Cup series, before returning to South Africa in July to support the Spur Schools Mountain Bike League and compete for the national jersey at the South African Championships.

Team Spur’s XCO wizard talks us through his steed.

Alan Hatherly recently took out the second round of the 2017 SA National MTB Cup Series XCO at the Wolwespruit Bike Park in Tshwane in fine style.

On the eve of round three – which takes place in Bloemfontein on 6 May – we quizzed Alan and Team Spur’s technical manager, JP Jacobs, on the S-Works Epic 29 World Cup.

Suspension setup

“Suspension would be the key factor for me with regards to bike setup,” explains Alan. “I run my fork harder than my rear shock with the rebounds being fast upfront and slow at the rear,” he says.

Alan runs the bike’s Brain platform in the fork and shock fully activated. According to Specialized the Brain suspension differentiates between rider input and trail bumps, ensuring that pedalling forces aren’t being wasted in compressing the suspension. “This combo gives me the ability as a complete package to smash everything full tilt both up and down without feeling like I’m going to go OTB (over the bars).”

Tyres

“Next big factor for me would be tyres – I’m running the new Renegade Gripton series tyres which have a really soft compound meaning I can run slightly harder tyre pressures without loosing traction which equates to lower chances of punctures.”

Rotor crank

Drivetrain

Alan runs 12-speed SRAM Eagle with Rotor cranks. “I’m able to run a Rotor 36t front ring with this drivetrain, whichs allows for major top end speed without comprising the easier gears for steep climbs.”

Race ready

JP Jacobs is the man who spins the wrenches to make sure Alan transfers every Watt of power into bike speed. For an XCO race he has a few tricks up his sleeve to get the bike running as light and smooth as possible.

“We start by removing all the moving components off the bike – I’m talking wheels, pulley wheels, anything that has a bearing in would get taken out,” JP explains. “These get cleaned out completely. We then might even remove one or two seals depending on the weather.”

JP also applies a special lube to the bearings that will either make them spin super fast or run at a lower resistance.

SRAM Eagle

To shave weight, he removes, the second bottle cage, the multitool under the rear shock as well as the chain breaker gets taken out of the fork. “Fork service gets done to make them run as smooth and efficient as possible so every bit of energy is transferred to the pedals,” he says.

“We are  running Rotor cranks this year, which gives us very nice feedback from the computer and we can see exactly where he peaks in his pedal strokes and we can fit the correct size chainring for the particular course and terrain.”I also add some jewelry in the form of Titanium bolts on the rotors, stem and calipers just for race days” JP Jacobs

After the third round of the National Cup Series in Bloemfontein, Alan and JP head off to the island of Mauritius for the African Continental Championships. Thereafter they will jet off to Europe  for the UCI MTB World Cups in the Czech Republic and Germany.

Hatherly, Strauss dominate at the spruit

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

All Systems GO for Absa Cape Epic

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

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

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

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

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

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

ariane

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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