Front row start for U23 Hatherly
The South African team has settled in well and are enjoying the last few moments of practice and preparations ahead of the action-packed week at the 2016 UCI Mountain bike XCO World Championships, which take place for the first time in Nove Mesto Na Morave in the Czech Republic from Wednesday 29 June to Sunday 3 July. Some of the team members chatted about their spirits ahead of the events.
Under-23 rider, Alan Hatherly, is feeling relaxed ahead of the weekend, being familiar with the course after competing in the World Cup at the same venue last year, and he feels that this adds to his favour.
He also shares his countrymen’s views on the electricity of the crowds. “I'm feeling very confident and positive about this World Champs and, with my front row start, it's definitely the best opportunity for me to do well,” he said.
“Our accommodation this side is really awesome and they've been really helpful with meeting our dietary requirements, so on the whole we as a team couldn't ask for a better pre Worlds build up,” said the Kargo Pro MTB Team rider.
Looking back at himself on the bike just one year ago, Hatherly feels that his mind set ahead of such races has improved drastically. “There's a lot more to the race than just rolling up onto the line. I think the biggest thing I've worked on however is my strength on the bike as a whole, both legs and upper body/core, which I feel has helped me to be more consistent with my efforts and get my power out more efficiently. It's made my racing a lot more enjoyable because I can attack the descents now,” he added.
London 2012 Olympian, Philip Buys says that he loves the peace and tranquillity of Nove Mesto, and has enjoyed a change in scenery. His focus now lies in fine-tuning his lines and looking at weather-dependent options in case of rain. “I would also like to get the bulk of my track training done a few days before Sunday, because it is quite a demanding track to get around, and I would rather take it easy the two days before racing,” he added.
The Team Scott LCB rider is looking forward to high-speed downhills and power riding over the roots on the course, but is also cautious of the amount of climbs. “However, I've done the preparation in training for this. Overall I'm having fun on the track and that usually counts for a lot,” he said.
Current South African XCO Champion, James Reid, describes the course as being flatter than other cross-country courses with punchier climbs, which seem to suit him better. “There are roots and rocks everywhere, but the soil is grippy and there's a bit of tar to recover too. Providing it doesn't rain, I'm sure it will be good for me,” he said.
This will be Reid’s eighth World Championships in a row and intense nerves aren’t an issue for him anymore, except for the odd butterflies that kick in on race day.
The Team Spur rider is hoping to have a smooth race that he will be happy with. “Having done seven of these events, it is kind of time to start making it count, you know?” he said.
Reid also highlighted the challenge that comes with Elite level racing: “Being 11th in Mont Sainte Anne as a junior in 2010 was special, and 10th in Hafjell in 2014 was too, but Elite level racing is a different ball game all together – there are literally hundreds of fast riders everywhere, and you have to stick to your game plan in your own head.”
In terms of the vibe and energy of the crowds at Nove Mesto, he said: “The energy here is always special - these fans are supercharged! They turn out en masse to support their hometown hero, Jaroslav Kulhavy and get really heated up during the event. The passion is contagious, even if you're having a bad day. The roads and trails around Nove Mesto are also fantastic, making for a good week’s preparation ahead of the big day.”
The World Championships will be a first for Junior rider, Henry Liebenberg, who is soaking up every opportunity been offered to him. “My experience here so far has been amazing. The day I found out that I was going to worlds was one of the happiest moments of my cycling career. I kept ticking down the days to the trip to Nove Mesto. I couldn't wait to experience the atmosphere here and the trails in Nove Mesto. I've been training for World's non-stop, not peaking for any other races so that my form would be top on the day.”
The Absolute Motion rider tries not to think about the race too much, because of nerves. “But I am also very excited for my race. I've been preparing for this race the whole year, so hopefully I can have an awesome one.”
Liebenberg concluded by saying: “Being able to wear the South African colours makes me feel very proud. Since I’ve started cycling I’ve dreamt of wearing these colours and cycling for my country one day. I’ve always wanted to compete at world level and being able to have achieved that makes me feel like I've achieved something great. From the races that I did in Germany and Italy earlier this year, I now know what to expect on Friday on the start line.”
Schedule for the South African riders:
Friday 1 July 2016
· 15:00 Women Juniors [Danielle Strydom]
· 17:00 Men Juniors [Henry Liebenberg]
Saturday 2 July 2016
· 11:00 Men Under 23 [Alan Hatherly]
Sunday 3 July 2016
· 15:00 Men Elite [Philip Buys / Sipho Madolo / James Reid]
Watch the Elite Men’s race LIVE on REDBULLTV on Sunday at 14:50 (SAST). For further information about the 2016 UCI Mountain bike XCO World Championships, which take place in Nove Mesto Na Morave in the Czech Republic from 29 June to 3 July, click here