The 2021 UCI Mountain Bike World Champs have begun in Val de Sol, Italy and South Africa is already off to a winning start. Alan Hatherly won the first of two heats for the Elite Men’s XCC and will go into Thursday’s final as the No.1 ranked racer. Here’s what to expect during the five-day race-fest, the racing programme and where you can watch live.

Elite XCO racers can win up to three medals at the UCI Mountain Bike World Championships. After a successful run of XCC races at the UCI World Cup events since 2019, the UCI has added this as a stand-alone discipline at World Championships level. Add to this the XCO Relay and the XCO race itself and some riders at the top of their game can potentially contest three World Championships medals.

Alan Hatherly on his way to winning his heat in the XCC on Tuesday. | Photo: Michele Mondini

For South Africa, Hatherly is the only realistic medal contender in the XCO events. Even with our strongest combination of riders, South Africa simply doesn’t have the depth to be able to contest a medal in the XCO relay, but Hatherly has the potential to win a medal in both the XCC and the XCO. His win on a tough course on Tuesday strengthens his medal hopes in a discipline he has been very consistent in at World Cups since 2020. A front-row start in such a short event is essential and he’s already booked that important spot.

Unlike the Olympic Games where the field size was limited to just 32, the UCI World Champs has no such limit and there are 107 riders that will line up to do battle for the Elite Men’s XCO title on Saturday.

Having secured a silver (2017) and gold (2018) in the Under-23 XCO category and gold (2019) in the eBike category, Hatherly isn’t a stranger to having World Championships medals around his neck. His 2021 season has been very consistent and he is currently 11th in the UCI World Rankings and seventh in the current World Cup Series.

If he’s regained his pre-Olympics form, when he finished fourth at the Les Get World Cup,  we could well see him in the medal hunt. Others lining up in South African kit in the Elite men’s XCO race are Matt Beers and Arno du Toit, neither of whom has any recent international XCO racing experience and will just be looking for a smooth race from start to finish.

The XCO course is 4000m long with 190m of ascent per lap. The long-range weather forecast is partly cloudy with some rain likely, but not a lot of rain, which the South Africans will appreciate.

The South African Elite women’s contingent comprises Tokyo Olympian, Candice Lill and current South African champion, Mariske Strauss. Both have finished in the top 20 at World Cup races when in their best form. Lill is likely emotionally drained after her Olympics experience, but will no doubt deliver a solid performance despite having done no races since the Tokyo showpiece four weeks ago.

Unfortunate to lose out on Olympic selection, Strauss has been racing consistently and her form seems good. She won a C1-graded race in the Netherlands on 19 June. She then finished 19th in the XCC and 27th in the XCO at the last World Cup round in Les Get on 4 July. A slight deviation in discipline saw Strauss contest two rounds of the UCI XCO Eliminator World Cup, finishing a very credible sixth at Round 1 in Belgium on 15 August. If her motivation matches her form, she could well challenge for a top 15 in the XCC (a straight final for the women) and a top 20 in the XCO.

There are two junior women, Andrea Schofmann and Madison Mann as well as Danielle Strydom in the Under-23 women’s category, all of whom will be racing to gain experience at an international level.

In the men, South Africa has sent four Juniors, Kai von During, Gunther Katzke, Luca Ruwiel and Matthew Scott and four Under-23s, Keagan Bontekoning, Unathi Nxumalo, Daniel Van Der Walt, Johan Van Zyl. This is a good investment in the future as this is the nucleus from which our next Alan Hatherlys will emerge. While Van der Walt and Van Zyl have international racing experience, it will be important for the rest to use the opportunity to learn and grow.

South Africa has one rider contesting the eBike XCO title. After finishing ninth after a late call-up at the 2020 World Champs in a slippery mudfest, Matt Lombardi will once again don the national team jersey. He’ll be looking to improve on that ninth place and his form following a series of international Enduro and stage races looks to be good.

South Africa’s team for the XCO relay on Wednesday comprises Kai von During, Madison Mann, Andrea Schoffman, Luca Ruwiel, Danielle Strydom and Johan van Zyl. With none of the Elites in the team, it’s a low-pressure way to get some of the riders into the racing mindset, which can be intimidating for World Champs first-timers.

The South African XCO team:

Junior Women: Andrea Schofmann, Madison Mann

Under-23 Women: Danielle Strydom

Elite Women: Candice Lill, Mariske Strauss,

Junior Men: Kai Von During, Gunther Katzke, Luca Ruwiel, Matthew Scott

Under-23 Men: Keagan Bontekoning, Unathi Nxumalo, Daniel Van Der Walt, Johan Van Zyl

Elite Men: Alan Hatherly, Matthew Beers, Arno du Toit

eBike: Matt Lombardi

Note: Downhill preview will be a separate article.

The racing schedule

Tuesday 24 August: Elite Men’s XCC Heats

Wednesday 25 August: 12h30 XCO Team Relay

Thursday 26 August: 11H30: XCO Junior Women | 13h30 XCO Junior Men | 17h00 XCC Elite Women | 17h45 XCC Elite Men | 21h00 4X Men & Women Qualifying

Friday 27 August: 10h30 Downhill Junior Men & Women Qualifying | 11h45 Downhill Elite Men & Women Qualifying | 15h00 eMTB XCO Women | 16h45 eMTB XCO Men | 20h45 4X Men & Women Finals

Saturday 28 August: 09h00 XCO Under-23 Women | 10h45 XCO Under-23 Men | 13h00 XCO Elite Women | 15h45 XCO Elite Men

Sunday 29 August: 09h25 Downhill Junior Men & Women Qualifying | 12h50 Downhill Elite Women | 14h10 Downhill Elite Men

Where to watch

These are the events that will be televised live.

Thursday 26 August: Elite Women XCC final – SuperSport Ch207 16h55 | Elite Men XCC final – SuperSport Ch207 17h40

Saturday 28 August: Elite Women XCO 12h55 (SuperSport Channel to be confirmed) | Elite Men XCO 15h40 (SuperSport Channel to be confirmed)

Sunday 29 August: Elite Women Downhill 12h45 (SuperSport Channel to be confirmed) | 14h05 Elite Men Downhill (SuperSport Channel to be confirmed)

Red Bull TV is also showing these events live, but is geo-blocked in South Africa.