The small town of Nové Město na Moravě in the Czech Republic on a UCI Mountain Bike World Cup weekend is a full-blown carnival! And Team Spur was there for the party.
This year 50,000 excited fans turned up for the opening round of the 2017 season and a weekend of red-hot racing. The events were split across the weekend, with the U23 Men and Elite Women racing on Saturday and the U23 Women and Elite Men racing on Sunday.
South Africa’s hope for a meaningful result rested on the shoulders of Team Spur’s Alan Hatherly in the Men’s U23 race. Seeded third after his recent Elite victory at the African Continental Champs, the 21-year-old was quietly confident and ready for battle.
“Practice in the week went really well,” Alan explains. “Then I was fortunate enough to have Susi (Christoph Sauser, multiple World Champion and Specialized global brand ambassador) take me on a lap on Friday to show me all his lines. He also gave me a few pointers for the race.”
The track in Nové Město is one of the most iconic on the circuit and has produced some epic battles over the years. It is characterised by several steep climbs and technical downhills rather than one main climb and descent. It also features a number of treacherous rock gardens.
“JP (Jacobs, Team Spur’s Technical Manager) and I also had a discussion on how to make bikes fast and we ended up playing with the bearings on the bike and got everything spinning faster. That really helped a lot on Saturday, so big ups to JP for being a guru.”
His recent form and good seeding led Alan to employ a different tactic during the early part of the race: “In the past I always looked to keep something in the tank for later. This year I went hard right from the start and focussed on staying right at the front,” he says. “I entered the first singletrack in about fifth and then on the way up the first climb managed to pass a rider.”
However, his race almost fell apart after the climb: “I had gone a little too hard catching that guy and then I hit a rock on the way down. When you’re on the limit your arms become weaker than normal and my hand blew right off the bars, sending me off the course.”
According to Alan he hit his chest fairly hard on his stem and then had to battle to get back onto the racing line. “I lost a few places but motivation was still quite high at that point because I was still riding inside the top 10.” Alan refocussed and worked at getting his rhythm back.
“On the last three laps of the race I managed to find a really good rhythm and push hard on all the climbs and attack all the descents which gave me fast overall lap times,” he says. “Then with one lap to go I saw the chase group was just in front of me so I pushed really hard to catch them because I had heard Susi out on course say that it was just 10 seconds to podium.”
Alan managed to pass two more riders on the last lap and narrowly missed out on a top five, finishing in sixth spot.
“I’m very stoked on how smooth everything ran out there – aside from the mishap in the first lap – but I’m feeling really good and I was strong on the climbs so I’m looking forward to Germany next week.”
***Alan and JP now travel to Round 2 of the UCI XCO World Cup at Albstadt in Germany, where they join teammate Ariane Lüthi. Alan will race on Saturday, 27 May, with Ariane racing on Sunday, 28 May.