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.”