The deep end. That’s what it is. This week a couple hundred of the world’s best mountain bike racers will all jump in the deep end of the most tumultuous year of our time and contest the 2020 UCI Mountain Bike World Champs. Some will flounder and some will flourish. South Africa’s team is stronger than it’s been in ages. Here’s what we can expect.
By Sean Badenhorst
After Alan Hatherly’s impressive showing at the only two XCO World Cup races of 2020, we’re heading into the 2020 World Champs at Leogang, Austria with a good feeling. The 25-year-old Hatherly, who races for Specialized, finished sixth and fifth at Nove Mesto, the latter his first Elite World Cup podium and confirmation of his progression to the pinnacle of the sport – an Elite World Title.
Curiously, Hatherly has won medals at the last three UCI World Champs, Under-23 XCO silver in 2017, Under-23 XCO gold in 2018 and eMTB XCO gold in 2019. The way he raced this past week, you can’t not put him down as a possible medal contender in both the XCO and eBike races.
Alan Hatherly was close to the top three in Nove Mesto and will most certainly be a medal contender in Leogang on Saturday. | Photo: Specialized
Hatherly is our only Elite male XCO racer. The other male XCO racers pulling on the South African kit this week are Daniel van der Walt in the Under-23 Men and Luke Moir in the Junior Men.
Van der Walt is a first-year Under-23 racer, which for most riders, is a year spent learning how to adapt to a faster pace and longer race distance. It’s probably the toughest year for any rider, almost an initiation period. If you make it through your first year as an Under-23 and you still have motivation and the support of your sponsors, parents and national federation, then you have essentially earned your stripes to be a full-time MTB racer.
Van der Walt competed in both World Cup rounds at Nove Mesto this past week and finished 71st and 62ndrespectively. His goal for the World Champs will be to not be lapped, which means staying within around 15 minutes of the leaders.
You have to feel for Moir. After finishing fifth as a first-year Junior at the 2019 World Champs, he has had his final Junior year consumed by global reaction to Covid-19. Stuck at his home during the hard lockdown, then stuck in South Africa, he only got to leave for Austria on Saturday.
This past week, while his rivals were all getting accustomed to the conditions and course in Leogang, Moir was in a battle to get travel documents approval. After his fifth-place last year, you know that he’d be a certain medal contender this year. A year older and stronger and faster in a category where writing matric and negotiating teen insecurities are as big a challenge as trying to race for national and world titles.
In the women, we have three South Africans, all contesting the Elite women’s XCO race. They are Cherie Redecker, Candice Lill and Mariske Strauss.
Redecker, who is based in Germany and rides for the Pactimo team, was 45th at the first XCO World Cup at Nove Mesto 11min 17sec behind the winner and 38th 08min33 seconds down at the second World Cup, showing the best consistency of the South African women over the two races.
Lill and Strauss were a little off form in Nove Mesto and will be hoping for a shift in Leogang as they tackle their biggest race of the year.
First up however, will be the South African trio of Hatherly, Matt Lombardi and Strauss contesting the second UCI eBike World Champs race today (Wednesday 7 Oct).
Matt Lombardi is more accustomed to racing in the Enduro World Series, but will rely on his former XCO experience in the Men’s eBike race in Leogang. | Photo: Specialized
Hatherly won the inaugural title last year and will be eager to defend it, but faces a formidable field of current and former XCO stars, including double XCO Olympic champion, Julien Absalon and 2012 Olympic bronze medallist, Marco Fontana.
Lombardi is a former XCO racer that now focusses on Enduro. Both he and Hatherly – and other Specialized riders, Tom Pidcock (GBR) and Simon Andreasson (DEN) – will be on Specialized Turbo Levo bikes, which are essentially around 2-4kg lighter than most other eBikes, which could play a role in the outcome…
Strauss (CST Post NL Bafang) will tackle her first eBike race in a field of just 14 and could well be in with a shot at a medal.
South African team:
Elite women XCO: Cherie Redecker, Candice Lill, Mariske Strauss
Elite men XCO: Alan Hatherly
Under-23 men XCO: Daniel van der Walt
Junior men XCO: Luke Moir
Elite men DH: Greg Minnaar, Niko Velasco, Stefan Garlicki, Sharjah Jonsson, Theo Erlangsen
eBike Men: Alan Hatherly, Matt Lombardi
eBike Women: Mariske Strauss
South African race schedule:
Wednesday 7 October
14h30: eBike Men (Lombardi, Hatherly)
16h15: ebike Women (Strauss)
Thursday 8 October
15h30: Junior Men XCO (Moir)
Friday 9 October
11h45: Elite Men DH qualifying (Minnaar, Garlicki, Velasco, Jonsson, Erlangsen)
15h00: Under-23 Men XCO (Van der Walt)
Saturday 10 October
12h15: Elite Women XCO (Redecker, Strauss, Lill)
14h45: Elite Men XCO (Hatherly)
Sunday 11 October
11h45: Elite Men DH final (Minnaar, Garlicki, Velasco, Jonsson, Erlangsen)
Click on this link for the full schedule, including start lists and live timing and results: https://www.uci.org/mountain-bike/events/uci-mountain-bike-world-championships-presented-by-mercedes-benz
Only the Elite Men and Women XCO (Saturday) and DH (Sunday) will be televised on SuperSport. There will be no access to live-streaming of any of the events from South Africa.