The 2019 South African XCO Champs were hosted on a dry and chilly highveld afternoon at Thaba Trails in Johannesburg. The race would form the final event in Alan Hatherly’s three week racing stint and would take some careful preparation to be on top of his game. Returning from two somewhat disappointing World Cup races in Andorra and France, Alan put in a safe and controlled ride on Saturday 20 June to take his third Elite title on the trot.
Having previously raced at on his return from injury in March 2018, Hatherly noted some exciting new features to the otherwise dangerous course. “It is a classic Johannesburg track with sharp and loose rocks which are continually changing as riders make their way through the course. It’s so easy to miss a line out there and ping a rim, which makes the race a lot more difficult than it needs to be.” described Hatherly.
In preparation for the previous two World Cup races at altitude, Hatherly had completed an altitude training block in the Free State and was thankful for his build up. ” Having done the altitude training and then two World Cup races at altitude, it certainly helped keep the lungs intact for a good race.” explains Hatherly. Hailing from Cape Town, Hatherly is weary of the affects altitude can have while trying to go flat out in a race situation. “Maintenance and consistency is key while racing at altitude.” explains Hatherly.
In between the two high intensity World Cup races and long haul flights back to South Africa, Hatherly has had to manage both his form and fatigue in the build up to one of his top goal races of the year. “I have been struggling the past few weeks to keep my body on track, but thankfully some recovery during the week was enough to get me ready for the race. It’s really important to me to keep the South African Flag on my chest, and I put a lot of personal pressure on myself to deliver the goods.” described Hatherly.
The narrow course at Thaba Trails does not offer much room for overtaking and Alan laid down a good start to put himself in the driving seat. “With so much single track on course, dead wheels and gaps form quickly so I knew I would have to work to get a gap on the rest of the field and then focus on extending and maintaining my lead.” explains Hatherly. “With the risk of mechanicals, I needed to make sure I had a safe and controlled race, while keeping the pressure on.”
Having made a gap on lap one, Hatherly lead from start to finish and is happy with his consistency over the seven laps. It was Jan Withaar who took the early charge behind Alan in second, and although briefly changing places with Philip Buys, it was Withaar who finished in second with Buys rounding off the podium in third. “It was a decent win margin of just over a minute, but a bit close for comfort as if anything had gone wrong it would have put the whole race in jeopardy.” reflects Hatherly. “To come away with another National Title is a huge honour and I’m really looking forward to wearing the South African Flag on my chest at the upcoming International races.”
As Hatherly wraps up his local Cross-Country season, he shifts focus to the remainder of the World Cup races. “I have this weekend off from racing before I head back to Europe for the Italian and Swiss rounds, from there we head over to Canada and America at the end of August for World Champs and the final round of the World Cup in Snowshoe, USA.”