As South Africans, we’re privileged to be able to root for our own Alan Hatherly when the world’s best XCO racers do battle at the biggest events. We’re fortunate to be able to watch most of his races live online or on TV and his rise to the top of the sport has been both steady and exciting. How much more can he achieve? Let’s examine his rise to find out.
By Sean Badenhorst
When the latest UCI rankings were published earlier this week (06 July 2021) Hatherly was in ninth. It’s the second time he’s been ranked in the top 10 (he was also ranked 9th in May 2021). Not since 2012 has a South African been in the top 10 of the UCI XCO world rankings. The late, great Burry Stander spent most of 2009-2012 ranked in the top 10, peaking a number of times at No. 2.
Despite atrocious conditions, Hatherly was able to finish fourth at Les Get on 4 July 2021. | Photo: Redbull Content Pool
Stander was killed while on a training ride by a taxi on 3 January 2013. He was 25. Hatherly is now 25 and it seems as if his career is just really getting started. While Stander’s rise to the top of the sport was rapid, (he was ranked No.2 overall at the age of 21), Hatherly’s has been more measured.
From 2017 until 2019 Hatherly was largely ranked between 21 and 30. In 2017 and 2018, his last two years in the Under-23 division, he excelled, claiming the silver medal (behind Sam Gaze) at the 2017 Under-23 World Champs and then winning the gold the following year. He also claimed the bronze medal at the 2018 Commonwealth Games (behind Gaze and Anton Cooper).
A broken wrist at the Tankwa Trek in February hampered Hatherly’s (on the left) early season progress in 2018, but later in the year he won the Under-23 XCO world title. | Photo: Zoon Cronje
Looking back, 2019 was a key year Hatherly. He kept his focus and maintained his self-confidence in a year that’s often a difficult year for many racers – their first year out of Under-23.
He didn’t feature too prominently on an international level in World Cup races, but he did win the inaugural UCI eMTB World Championship title. A bit of a novelty title at the time, but he still had to beat a strong field, including XCO racing legend, Julien Absalon, who claimed the bronze medal.
A happy winner of the inaugural UCI XCO eMTB World Championships title in 2019. | Photo: UCI
Hatherly was outside the top 30 in the UCI rankings in the second half of the year, but he peaked at 11th in May 2019, courtesy of wins in most of the SA Cup rounds, the SA Championship and the African Championship. He also finished fifth overall at the Absa Cape Epic (with Matt Beers).
The year 2020, which was significantly dislodged by global lockdowns in response the Covid-19 crisis saw some leading riders crumble and other rise to prominence. Hatherly was in the latter group. In mid-March the Absa Cape Epic was cancelled 36 hours before the start and that led to the UCI trying to find ways to rescue the 2020 racing season. A number of events were cancelled, but there was still a very abbreviated World Cup and World Championships, all of which took place in muddy conditions.
Hatherly on his way to his second Elite career podium at the Les Get round of the 2021 UCI World Cup. | Photo: Redbull Content Pool
There were just two rounds of the 2020 World Cup, both at Nove Mesto, Czech Republic and Hatherly impressed with a sixth and a fifth in the XCO races respectively, his first World Cup podium. He was unfortunately ill at the World Championships two weeks later and finished well down. But his two top 10 finishes at the only two World Cup rounds were important signs that he was on his way up.
Early in 2021, Hatherly announced that he would be changing teams from Specialized Factory Racing to Cannondale Factory Racing. The move came as a surprise to many. Would the move unsettle him? He would be joining aging German ace, Manuel Fumic, Brazil’s superstar, Henrique Avancinci (ranked at World No.1 at the end of 2020) and his close friend, Simon Andreasson, who won his first World Cup at Round 1 of 2020.
Proof that Hatherly has raced in hot, dry weather. On his way to winning Round 2 of the SA Cup at Thaba Trails in March 2021.
Hatherly has been the standout rider on that team in 2021. The change has clearly not unsettled him. If anything, it’s given him a boost. He’s been the most consistent and best performer in the four-man team this year with three top 8 finishes at XCO World Cups. His 24th place at Leogang was as a result of a mechanical, while he was in the podium hunt with two laps to go.
That one mechanical-affected result aside, Hatherly has been impressive this season – besides dominant wins at the first two rounds of the South African Cup Series February and March, his World Cup performances have seen him finish between 6th and 11th at the short track (XCC) races and between 4th and 8th at the main (XCO) races.
This kind of top-10 consistency is significant and somewhat rare. It confirms Hatherly’s ability to contest podiums in both forms of the discipline on different courses and in all conditions. His fourth place at Les Get last weekend was in the most challenging conditions and the fact that he was in third place for much of the race was also telling. Only on the final lap did he relinquish that position to Jordan Sarrou, a Frenchman racing at home in the World Champion jersey.
Hatherly (far left) claimed his second Elite XCO World Cup podium at Les Get on 4 July 2021. | Photo: Redbull Content Pool
What’s next for Hatherly? Well, the postponed Olympic Games in Tokyo on 26 July followed by the World Championships in Italy in late August. And then the matter of contesting the final two rounds of the 2021 UCI World Cup in Switzerland and the USA in September.
After four rounds, Hatherly is lying seventh in the 2021 World Cup Series. If he continues to rack up more top 10 finishes and possibly a couple of podiums, he’s in with a shot at a top-five series finish, which is big. Consistency is hard to achieve in mountain bike racing. But Hatherly seems to have it nailed at this point. That he’s only 25 years old, is on one of the best supported teams in the world and is highly ambitious, means that this will be another year of progress up the ranks for the South African.
What can he still achieve? It’s hard to predict, but you can’t help but feel that we still have a lot to look forward to as we cheer on the continued rise of Alan Hatherly.
If you don’t already, follow Alan on Instagram: @alanhatherly to track his progress.
Alan Hatherly’s recent UCI World Cup results:
|# 1 Nove Mesto, CZE||XCC: 13th|
|# 1 Nove Mesto, CZE||XCO: 6th|
|# 2 Nove Mesto, CZE||XCC: 6th|
|# 2 Nove Mesto, CZE||XCO: 5th|
|# 1 Albstadt, GER||XCC: 10th|
|# 1 Albstadt, GER||XCO: 8th|
|# 2 Nove Mesto, CZE||XCC: 11th|
|# 2 Nove Mesto, CZE||XCO: 6th|
|# 3 Leogang, AUT||XCC: 6th|
|# 3 Leogang, AUT||XCO: 24th|
|# 4 Les Get, FRA||XCC: 5th|
|# 4 Les Get, FRA||XCO: 4th|
Current XCO world rankings (as at 06 July 2021)
Current XCO World Cup Series Standings (as at 04 July 2021)