He's on a Swiss roll: How injured SA biker became world champ
Nothing can stop this steely-nerved KZN rider's ride to the top of his sport's mountain
Early this year, an injury put the brakes on mountain bike champ Alan Hatherly’s plans to compete. Instead of rolling over, he held on to the goal he set for himself since he was eight years old – clinching the U.23 UCI Mountain Bike World Championships.
Last week Friday, this is exactly what he did in Switzerland in a time of 1:21:22 – making him only the second South African to hold the title. The first SA Olympian to hold the title was the late Burry Stander, who tragically died in 2013 when he was knocked over by a taxi.
Hatherly is from Hillcrest, KwaZulu-Natal.
Speaking en route to Italy for his next race, Hatherly said the first thing he did after winning was to go to teammates to share the glorious moment with them. “I didn’t do it on all on my own. Everyone played a role in making sure that my race was successful. The mechanic made sure that everything was okay with the bike, the team manager and my coach also played an important role,” Hatherly said.
He beat American Christopher Blevins by 27 seconds.
“This is really big for me personally, and I am proud that I managed to achieve something like this for my country,” Hatherly said.
The Team Spur member is described by his team as being “around bikes as far back as he can remember”.
“He started his cycling career with BMX, which soon progressed to downhill racing. This technical riding at such a young age allowed him to develop incredible bike-handling skills.”
The major titles he had already notched up include Elite South African XCO Championship (2017), Elite African Continental Champion (2017) and making the Olympic team (2016).
He received “overwhelming support from South Africans”, and said it was fulfilling to see that people in his country followed his race with so much attention, Hatherly said.
Team manager Tim Bassingthwaighte said Hatherly is an ambassador for the Spur Schools Mountain Bike League as well and raced in the league when he was at school. “The win means a lot for the sport in South Africa and the development of it in the future. It also shows the possible achievements the current league riders can achieve in the future.”
The race was not an easy one. “The final lap was nervewracking, as I had to make sure that nothing went wrong,” said the champ, saying that throughout his race, he always stuck to safer options to avoid making any mistakes.
He said race conditions were different to what he was used to and the track was slippery because it rained a few days before the competition.
“I still have goosebumps and find this unbelievable. I was competing against the best riders in the world, and still trying to sink it in that I really made it.”
Early this year, Hatherly suffered a great setback when he had a crash that left an injury in his left wrist and made him stop competing for a while. “It was really a difficult time for me, but I used the break to prepare myself psychologically for competitions like this one.”
Hatherly, who described himself as a goal-orientated individual, said this win has made him aim much higher. He is now preparing to compete in the 2020 world championships.