The SA MTB Cup Series XCO is made up of five challenging races set at different venues around the country. Starting in the Western Cape with the first race in February, the second taking place in Johannesburg in March, with the third race held earlier this month in Pietermaritzburg. The series is one of the most anticipated mountain biking events on the cycling calendar, attracting big names all pushing themselves to not only overcome their competition, but their own limits as well.
The third event in Pietermaritzburg was a doozy to say the least, with Alan Hatherly completing the six laps of the elite men’s race in a time of 1:19:50 to secure the win, beating Arno du Toit who came in second with a time of 1:24:02, and third place Stuart Marais, who followed hot on his heels with a finishing time of 1:24:35. William Mokgopo, SA’s multiple mountain bike champion and Pearl iZumi cycle gear ambassador, came in tenth with a time of 1:32:18.
Hatherly sported great form and resilience in the cross-country race at Pietermaritzburg’s Cascades MTB Park, considering he was coming back from a recent wrist fracture. But this win and winning form is becoming a norm for Hatherly, who also won the second Cup Series event at Thaba Trails in Johannesburg, and then went on to take bronze at the Commonwealth Games. It’s clear that determination and commitment far outweigh physical limitations for Alan. He is not the kind to be held back by injury, and he’s proven it once again with this latest win.
Describing the Cascades course as ‘brutal’, Alan still managed to pull Team Spur to a more than comfortable five minute lead over second place Arno du Toit. Hatherly mentioned the 180 meters of climbing in each lap as a true test to his pre-race preparations, but that it all worked out in the end. He then went on to say in an interview that the challenge at Cascades MTB Park was the ideal precursor to getting him in the right mindset for the UCI Mountain Bike World Cup in Abstadt, Germany later this month – a course said to have similar grueling climbs.
Despite Hatherly’s impressive finish, the race at Cascades started off as a real nail-biter, with Marais (who finished third) taking an early lead in the first lap. However, Hatherly used the bottleneck on the first corner to sneak right past him, and that was a lead he held onto until the finish line.
Mariske Strauss brought it home for the ladies in a breathtaking time of 1:21:02 in the elite women’s race, and what a victory it was. Strauss had fallen ill coming back from the Commonwealth Games, and at first it looked likely that she would have to forego the Cup Series as a result. However, after a week of bed rest, Strauss pushed through any lingering illness with determination and a fighting spirit to keep up preparations for the upcoming series. In an interview after her win, Strauss said that she had no idea going in how it would all play out, but she was over the moon that she managed to overcome the worst to cross the finish in first position. She beat second place Candice Lill, who finished really close behind with a time of 1:21:35, and Amy Mcdougall who came in third with a time of 1:24:23.
Acknowledging the physical uphill that she was facing – both with the course and her health – Strauss went into the race with the main goal of pacing herself through the early laps in order to call on the stored momentum to finish strong. Her strategy worked out in the end, with Strauss and Lill creating an early gap in the first lap. They rode together for another lap, and by the third lap, Strauss was ready to break away. She increased her pace to open up and lead Lill right up to the finish. A bit of drama ensued when her handle bar came loose as she hit the final lap, forcing her to ease up quite a bit to decrease the twisting and unpredictable motion.
Much the same as with Hatherly, Strauss has her sights set firmly on the Europe and the Mountain Bike World Cup, and used the challenging climbs of the course as a kind of preparation for her body and mind. Taking the win not only proved to the world that she belongs on the international MTB stage, but she proved to herself that she can overcome anything to achieve victory.