Alan Hatherly partners with Simon Andreassen for Cape Pioneer

 

With a successful UCI World Cup season behind him, and the U23 World Championship jersey on his shoulders, Team Spur’s Alan Hatherly returns to South Africa to finish off his season with some of the Western Cape’s most spectacular stage racing.

First up, Hatherly tackles the seven-day Momentum Health Cape Pioneer Trek, starting this Sunday in Mossel Bay. Then, in November, it’s the three-day FNB Wines2Whales in the Helderberg, Grabouw and Botrivier areas. For both outings Hatherly has chosen Danish U23 cross-country specialist, Simon Andreassen.

The Cape Pioneer Trek will be Andreassen’s second multi-stage race, after the disastrous three-day Tankwa Trek in February of this year, where Hatherly crashed heavily on the final stage, breaking both his wrists. The Pioneer will be a significant challenge, as it covers harsh terrain from the coastal town of Mossel Bay, through George and into the dry and rugged Karoo in Oudthshoorn.

Don’t be fooled by their youth: the two riders are a formidable pairing, having spent the year racing and training together on cross-country courses across the globe. During the ill-fated Tankwa Trek earlier this year the pair took the fight to many of the world’s most established marathon stage racers, soloing to victory on the technically demanding Stage 2.

“Pairing up for the seven-day Cape Pioneer Trek and the three-day Wines2Whales will be an exciting time as we have grown to know each other so well over the past year,” Hatherly says. “We have a great understanding of each other’s strengths and weaknesses.”

The two riders have been doing their homework, putting in some long hours on the bike to transition from the shorter XCO format, to the longer marathon days ahead. Hatherly and Andreassen are used to 90 minutes of flat-out racing but the Pioneer will see them in the saddle for 4-5 hous a day.

Hatherly’s introduction to stage racing came at last year’s Pioneer, where he and partner Matt Beers won six of the seven stages and took overall honours in dominant fashion. This year, however, Beers will line up next to Hatherly as a competitor.

On top of their yellow jersey aspirations at the Pioneer, the UCI points on offer are an attractive drawcard. Going into his first year as an Elite category rider in 2019, Hatherly needs to build his global ranking to ensure an all-important start near the front of the UCI World Cup grid.

Like Hatherly, Andreassen is a master technical rider, especially in muddy conditions. Andreassen’s South African training camps over the years have also given him a good understanding of the rugged African terrain and make him a powerful all-rounder. The multiple Junior XCO and Cyclo-Cross World Champion is just 21 years old but has a wealth of experience under his belt.

Seven days of continuous efforts in an unforgiving landscape are daunting but Hatherly is confident he has the racing under control. “It’s all about nurturing your body through each day and not burning any extra matches. To be able to start the next day as fresh as possible, while still having given your all the previous day is a puzzle you need to solve carefully,” says Hatherly.

 

 

Watch Alan Hatherly live at the XCO World Champs this Friday

The UCI World Championships is the biggest race for any rider – an opportunity to earn the coveted rainbow jersey and bragging rights as World Champ for a full year. Team Spur’s Alan Hatherly takes aim at the U23 World title on Friday afternoon on a natural course, littered with roots and slick wood sections, in Lenzerheide, Switzerland. And mountain bike fans can follow the bar-to-bar action live!
Last year Hatherly raced to second at the UCI XCO World Championships in Cairns, Australia in a thrilling battle with New Zealander Sam Gaze that went all the way to the line. Gaze moved into the Elite age group in 2018 while Hatherly gets a final shot at the U23 rainbow jersey. He carries plenty of confidence into Friday’s race, having finished fifth overall in this year’s U23 World Cup series and claiming a victory in Round 6 at Mont Sainte-Anne in Canada.

But the South African is no shoo-in for victory at the high altitude race venue in Lenzerheide. The U23 category is fiercely competitive. Norwegian powerhouse Petter Fagerhaug, Swiss whiz Filippo Colombo and Frenchman Joshua Dubau represent the biggest challengers to Hatherly’s dominance. But the U23 ranks run deep with talent and skill and attacks will come from any number of the highly-motivated youngsters. Hatherly’s training partner, Danish superstar Simon Andreassen, as well as rising star Christopher Blevins from the US will be fighting fit and won’t back down.

The U23 men race at 16:30 local time (the same in South Africa) on Friday afternoon, and there will be live streaming on the UCI Youtube channel. Team Spur will also be covering the race from its twitter page. The live video streaming is a welcome development, and an opportunity for fans to see the ferocious pace and silky skills of the world’s most talented young mountain bikers. Team Spur fans have been reduced to following Hatherly’s exploits across the globe in 2018 via the team’s live twitter feed updates, as U23 World Cup races aren’t broadcast live.

Hatherly starts the race on the front row with the number two board, as the highest ranked U23 rider. “The start at Lenzerheide is crucial, you have only a hundred metres or so on the straight before we turn left onto an open tar road climb,” Hatherly says. “Once you’re on the tar climb it’s near impossible to pass riders, and diving straight into a tricky singletrack section afterwards makes tactics even more important.”

Rain is forecast for race week and in course practice riders are already battling to stay upright on sections of the slippery track. Hatherly has raced a few wet World Cup events this year with mixed results, but a solid understanding of how to approach a race when the weather turns against him. “It’s all about being stable on the bike and controlling the slides which will inevitably come,” Hatherly says.

Hatherly spent the past week in Livigno, Italy, preparing for high-altitude racing on the big stage on Friday. “The altitude will also play a factor and I need to be smart about keeping my efforts constant, any overreaching and you’ll pay the price.”

It is a proud day for Hatherly and Team Spur, who are ambassadors to the wildly successful Spur Schools Mountain Bike League back home in South Africa. Hatherly himself is a product of the Spur League and Team South Africa will be represented today (Thursday, 6 September) by no fewer than five Juniour riders chasing glory. Spur League riders Tiffany Keep and Zandri Strydom are the Junior women hopefuls, while Daniel van der Walt, Jamie Penfold and Keagan Bontekoning will line up in the green and gold national kit for their first World Championships event.

 

Mixed fortunes for Hatherly in his final U23 World Cup battle

The weather gods did not play along for Alan Hatherly’s final UCI XCO World Cup race as an U23 rider. The last round of the 2018 World Cup season was hosted in the cold and wet French town of La Bresse, with weather conditions wreaking havoc on both the downhill and cross-country races held over the weekend.

Heavy rains and cold temperatures in the day’s leading up to Hatherly’s showdown on Sunday, made for course practice sessions in a proper mud bath: “Trying to plan lines in the mud is always difficult, you have to set up so many options for yourself as the course changes once everyone has had their shot at course practice,” said Hatherly.

Hatherly and his Team Spur staff made preparations for racing on a slick course as best they could, opting for Specialized’s Fast Trak tyres to help with mud clearance while providing some extra traction.

The rain held off for Sunday’s morning race, but the course remained a slippery mudfest. Hatherly’s usual race-day routine was put under pressure with a last-minute bike change. “As I warmed up on the rollers the gears just weren’t feeling as smooth as I’d have liked,” recalled Hatherly. Team Spur mechanic JP Jacobs did his best to re-align everything but with just 10 minutes to race call-up Hatherly and Jacobs made a call to switch to the training bike. This meant changing race numbers, transponders and correcting the chainring size. A cool-headed Hatherly took it in his stride and didn’t let the pressure shift his focus, but it did impact his pre-race warm-up. “I definitely wasn’t as warmed up as I would have liked. Warming up, then stopping and warming up again meant my legs were a bit heavy on the start line,” he said.

“The start loop was chaotic as most of the riders were forced to run sections due to the slipperiness of the off-camber sections,” said Hatherly, who kept his composure through the first tech zone, sitting in the top 10. On the back section of the course however, Hatherly clipped a rock and slashed the tyre’s side wall, and was immediately swamped by chasing riders. A tricky rear-wheel change was handled track side with ease by the capable Jacobs, and Hatherly was back in the game, but had to shift strategies and now play Pac-Man.

The mechanical put Hatherly in a battle for positions, rather than able to impose his will on the frontrunners, as he had done in Mont Sainte-Anne just two weeks ago, when he won his first U23 World Cup. Hatherly had rejoined the race in 35th position and knew it would be a hard slog to see how far he could advance up the leaderboard. He kept the pressure to the finish line, salvaging a hard-earned 19th, and the day’s fastest U23 lap time.

“All in all I’m happy with finishing 19th and fifth overall in the series,” Hatherly reflected after the race. “I set the fastest lap time of the U23 race and the feeling was good so I’m looking forward to World Champs in two weeks.”

Hatherly now decamps to Livigno, Italy for a week of training before heading to Lenzerheide in Switzerland for the UCI Mountain Bike World Championships. Hatherly and Team Spur are intent on converting last year’s second place at teh World Champs in Cairns, Australia to the coveted rainbow jersey.

Hatherly races on Friday, 7 September and Team Spur will again be covering the pulsating racing action on twitter (https://twitter.com/team_spur) .

Alan Hatherly Successfully Defends his Elite SA XCO Jersey

Team Spur’s Alan Hatherly secured his second South African Elite Cross-country jersey in Bloemfontein on Saturday afternoon, in his final year as a U23 rider. Electing to compete in the Elite XCO category, despite being U23, Hatherly can now proudly wear the national jersey colours when he progresses to the Elite category from the start of 2019.

Alan returned from Europe on Wednesday last week after two high-paced UCI World Cup races. Landing in Bloemfontein after his long-haul travel, Alan focused on defending his national jersey immediately, with a few longer rides to stretch out the legs.

His Team Spur support staff also had their work cut out, and were juggling baggage weight limits and excess charges from Europe to ensure everything arrived on time and in one piece. “Spare parts and tools are vital for an XCO. When you see Alan twice on a lap, it is important to have your bases covered,” Team Spur mechanic, JP Jacobs said. “Everyone needs to be a bit more flexible when we are racing for an important championship jersey out of a suitcase, en route home after a long overseas stint. Not everything goes to plan,” laughed team manager, Tim Bassingthwaighte. “But having two heads locked into the plan helps us manage the unforeseen changes, and keeps everything running smoothly.”

The Bloemfontein course at Happy Valley Conservancy is dry and rocky, but a hidden gem, found in the middle of town yet quite unknown to all but the passionate local mountain bike community. “The course was essentially the same as last year,” said Hatherly. “With just a few hundred metres cut out.”

Although a far cry from the recent Andorra World Cup, which sits at over 2000m above sea level and where Alan placed eighth, Bloemfontein’s altitude, at 1400m, would play a factor in race tactics.

“I knew it would be important to race smart from the get go,” said Hatherly. “Stuart Marais and Phil Buys set the pace out front and I let them do their thing until the first climb, where I moved past.” Hatherly then increased the pace to keep the race pressure high, with only his close friend Matt Beers and Arno du Toit able to respond. “I got a gap on my chasers – Matt and Arno,” he described.

The seven-lap race was then quickly strung out as riders came through the start-finish banner to complete the first lap. Lap-time predictions at Friday’s course practice proved to be inaccurate, with the racing producing slower than expected times. “The course was so blown out after a full day of racing all the age categories, that we ended up racing for an hour and thirty eight minutes,” Hatherly said after the race. “The climbs were loose, so traction was quite tough to come by.”

“I felt really good throughout the race, despite it being the third race weekend in a row for me, mixed in with lots of travel!” Hatherly admitted. Once Hatherly had established a gap over his chasers, he maintained a constant effort to extend his lead on each lap. After seven laps of hard racing, Hatherly finished just over three minutes ahead of his close friend, training partner and marathon specialist Matt Beers in second with third-placed Arno du Toit a minute further back.

“A big shout out to Matt for a solid ride in a format which he hasn’t had too much experience in,” said Hatherly.

“All in all I’m super stoked to renew my Elite National title, I’m looking forward to next year now. I can wear and show off my white South African jersey at the UCI World Cups in my first year in the Elite category.”

It has been a long and successful road for Alan, having started his XCO racing at the Spur Schools League in KwaZulu-Natal. “Being a Spur Schools Mountain Bike League ambassador, I think it’s important to inspire the young riders and show them that it is possible to come from the League and achieve an Elite National title.”

“It’s now time for me to shift all my focus towards the next block of World Cups and the big goal in September, the UCI U23 World Championships!”

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.