Rio Olympics mountain biker Alan Hatherly won the men's Elite XCO title at the African Continental Champs in Mauritius at the weekend.
The KwaZulu-Natal cyclist outclassed fellow countryman Stuart Marais and Mauritian, Yannick Lincoln to claim the title in a time of 1hr 20min 18sec over five laps.
'Solid points in the bag ahead of Europe next week,' commented the 21-year-old after the race. 'I'm really happy how it all played out,' he said.
Earlier in the week Hatherly put in a request to race in the Elite category, instead of U23, in which he was the defending champion. His decision was based on the additional UCI points available for an Elite win (200) - U23 carries just 60 UCI points. Hatherly's goal was always the title, additional points for his up-coming European UCI XCO World Cup campaign was the real reason behind the mission to race in Mauritius.
As expected the weather played a big role on the day. It had been raining all week on the Indian Ocean Island making track conditions challenging. 'There was a huge rain squall early on Friday morning,' said Hatherly. 'Even though the course wasn't technical at all - mainly dirt roads with maybe 100m of singletrack - I knew it (the rain) would create a lot of tactics for the race. I was expecting a lot of cat-and-mouse on the flats... '
Hatherly managed to get the hole shot into the first corner after the downhill start and entered the singletrack in the lead. 'That singletrack section was complete chaos. It was similar to Cascades (a notoriously slippery national round of the 2016 SA XCO Cup in Pietermaritzburg) in the clay-type mud!'
Hatherly lead out of the singletrack and onto the first road section, where he was overtaken by Arno du Toit. 'The road was completely waterlogged,' Hatherly explains. 'Arno had changed to mud tyres just before the race so he overtook me there because he wasn't slipping as much.'
'Then as we hit the first climb it was myself, Stuart and Arno,' he says. The climb kicked up and Hatherly put in an attack near the top of the climb, 'to test the waters'. This effort allowed Alan to gap his two chasers.
'At the top I had about 10 seconds and from there it was pretty much just controlling the gap, making sure that it wasn't closing.'
According to Hatherly the course rode better and better with each lap as it dried out. 'There was the odd flash rain section which made things quite tricky because you'd go from hot, to cold (with the rain) back to hot with the humidity,' he says, explaining how he struggled to settle into a rhythm, but managed to extend his lead over the course to finish up front with a buffer of nearly three minutes.