Olympic Games only the tip for 20-year-old Alan Hatherly
26 October 2016
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Gerald de Kock: Hello and welcome to another edition of our Old Mutual Live Mountain Bike podcast where mountain biking is of course the topic of conversation. Over the next ten minutes or so as we get to know more about this wonderful sport of ours. That has seen a growth in this country that is quite phenomenal, particularly in the stage racing and marathon front. Particularly from I suppose the older generation who are coming into the sport and bringing plenty of enjoyment into it.
Down the younger generation there’s an incredible growth as well. A young man who has made great strides in the cross country field is Alan Hatherly who sits opposite me now. Having just come back from his first Olympic Games. No matter what happens in the rest of your life, you’re an Olympian. It’s quite a nice thing isn’t it?
Alan Hatherly: For sure, it’s obviously always been a dream of mine, since a young age, so to have completed that off the Bucket List so young, I’m really happy about it obviously.
GDK: How young?
AH: I’m 20 years old now, so I think have another three Olympics in me, potentially. So obviously going to try and work my way up to the dream goal of a top five finish or a podium eventually.
Getting an early taste for top competition
GDK: You had a World Championships in your home country, in Maritzburg when you were still a junior –
AH: Yes, first year.
GDK: And you did really well there –
GDK: Yes, 15th, one of the best placed South Africans across all the events. How important was that in formulating what you were going to achieve in your mountain bike career?
AH: I think it was setting in stone that this was what I want to do and obviously setting the goals of where I want to be. Starting so young with my parents obviously backing my decision to be so committed to it really helped and yes, it stuck. I’ve committed it as a full-time job and I’m not going to settle for a desk job. I’m going to pursue and make sure it happens the way I want it to happen.
GDK: Was it difficult persuading, I suppose that 15th might have gone a long way to persuading your parents. But even before then, this is what I want to do mom and dad?
AH: Yes, I think at six years old I started racing BMX nationally. I think I got SA number two plate, so it was sort of from a very young age. It was only the broken femur, one of the elite riders landed on me and broke my femur. But then I moved over to the mountain bike scene, starting off with the inter-schools series. From there I discovered that I can actually do this lap racing and it moved to the nationals. I did the downhill and the cross country, to see where I’m better at. Eventually I decided to move and stick to cross country purely.
Getting an early taste for downhill
GDK: Talk about that downhill, people say you’ve got a background in downhill. So it gives you a little bit of advantage on the technical stuff. How long did you race downhill and was it at any time, I’d rather do downhill?
AH: I started downhill at about nine-years-old and I stopped just before I went first year junior, so I was 16, collected national titles, downhill as well. So it was quite a tough decision to judge as to which one to do. But I got an offer from BMC at the time to move to cross country and it was obviously seeing how big the cross country was with Burry Stander and that. He was sort of more who I was leaning towards. That was pretty much the footpath I’ve followed.
GDK: In-between all this you had some schooling to do as well. Tell us about where you went to school, where you grew up and that background.
AH: I went to primary and high school in Hillcrest, Hillcrest Primary, Hillcrest High School. Training was difficult, I always trained after school, so it was 3pm to 5pm every day, but it worked. It was tough to juggle matric and cycling, that was really tough. So my matric year wasn’t my best year and I got ill as well.
So being first year u23 last year, was a big jump for me and obviously this year has been just as big. It’s really helped to keep the motivation pushing. Next year I’ve got massive goals with top five at World Cups and 2018 with Commonwealth, I’d like to go there to podium. So quite a few goals to still tick off.
Bonus of an early Olympic lesson
GDK: It’s fantastic to have those goals and ambitions, there are a lot of guys who have had similar starts to you in the sport and through bad luck, injury or just lack of interest have lost their way. Keeping the focus is important I suppose. This year, as a first year, as the u23 racing World Cup racing. Olympic Games, you must be pleased with what you’ve achieved.
AH: For sure, I think with Olympics, especially, was a big eye opener as to how far up the elite field. Cause obviously it was my first elite field I raced in at a cross country internationally. So seeing how far I can ride up in that elite field, definitely opened my eyes for next year. How my goals should actually be and where I need to be in 2-3 years’ time when I go to first year elite. I’ve still got quite a bit of work to do on the way there.
GDK: If you were to take one or two lessons out of that Olympic experience, what would they be?
AH: That’s a tough one! I would say it’s pretty much just staying confident in how you can actually ride and where you can ride in the field. Things can always take a turn for the worse. In the Olympic case it was, obviously being seeded so far back, being an u23 rider. The weather and the bottlenecks and stuff, it made the first lap really like, what’s going on.
I thought I was out the race, going to get lapped because of the distance from the bottlenecks. But once it opened up and I managed to work my way through the field from around 44th through to 26th, I actually realised, I can do this. The confidence slowly builds up more and more and I’m really happy with the 26th place.
GDK: There was a fairly useful rider behind you in the World Road Champion, Peter Sagan. He ended up in third in the first half a K, how did that happen?
AH: The way it works with the start is there’s eight riders per row and obviously due to riders not starting and he was seeded 50th, he ended up having a row completely to himself. When they move the tape and everyone bunched up, he had two rows behind us. When they said ‘go’ he pretty much had momentum going and just picked the gaps. By the first corner I think he was already fifth, so crazy skill there.
The plan for 2017
GDK: You’ve had an Olympics behind you, 26th in your first Olympics. 2017 beckons, I’m sure it’s a consolidation year, what are the plans for 2017?
AH: The focus is obviously going to be cross country again, World Cups, I’d like to see top five finishes. But a big goal for me is to target the World Champs in Cairns, Australia. I really want to try and go for a podium there. I think it’s more suited to South Africans with the conditions there. So that’s a big goal, I’m going to work really hard for it, so let’s see.
GDK: The scene in South Africa as we know is heavily weighted in favour of stage races and marathon races. But it’s not something you’ve done too much of have you?
AH: No, this Berg & Bush now I’m doing this year, it’s my first stage race. Obviously the 100km stage is one of the longest distances I’ve actually raced. It’s been quite tough to transition in my training from cross country to full on marathon. But it’s been really good and a lot better than what I expected.
GDK: The cross country races in SA, is it difficult to resist the temptation because there’s money and things involved and your sponsors no doubt want you to race marathons and stage races. Is it quite difficult, do you have to be disciplined about saying, hang on, I’ve got to focus on what I’m doing here?
AH: I think it’s committing yourself to what you set your goals for. I set all my goals for cross country. I wasn’t going to make a sacrifice by saying: I’ll do the stage race, then racing a cross country and not achieving my goal or being where I want to be. I think it’s pretty much how committed you are to your end goal.
How can we make cross country stronger in SA?
GDK: It’s a growing thing, cross country, there’s more and more, the numbers are higher and higher, high school seems to be feeding a lot through. But there’s also still, you feel still people don’t follow through quite as much as they should. Are we where we want to be, do you think we should be bigger numbers, what do you think?
AH: I think it’s pretty much finding the talent and pretty much encouraging the younger riders just to push through. Show them what the goals are and where they can be. I think it’s showing them the light and from there they’ll be able to now make it to the World Champs and see what international fields really are like. I think that’ll be the stepping stone for them to progress to be u23 and elite pros in SA.
GDK: How different was the World Cup scene to what you experienced at the Olympics?
AH: It was very similar from the way, like the whole event was organised, but obviously the field was only 50 riders, and it’s Olympics, it only comes every four years. So everyone had a different mental approach, so everyone was prepared to die trying. They were going way over their limits and I think that was partially why there were so many punctures. I think guys were just riding so deep and hitting stuff that they wouldn’t normally hit.
GDK: It didn’t happen to you though?
AH: I sort of held back thinking, you know, is it really risk versus reward, trying to way it up. I just didn’t see that the risk was worth taking in that case. It was rather worth getting a solid result instead of crashing out.
GDK: You’re a full-time mountain biker at the age of 20. It’s what you do, you earn a living out of it. It’s pretty much a dream come true?
AH: Yes, 100%, it’s a dream job. Like I said, I’ve always dreamt of being where I am now, from a young age. So just hoping for things to progress, especially on the international scene and get better.
GDK: You’ve certainly made a great start Alan, congratulations, good luck with those dreams. What do you do in the off season now? obviously the Berg & Bush is the first stage race, but what are you going to be doing between now and that first World Cup?
Great back from team for World Cup races
AH: I’m going to do Wines2Whales later in the year, I think it’s middle of November, out there. Then I’ll probably take a bit of a rest and start my build-up for the cross country scene because that’s normally around February, is the first National and the first World Cup is in May. So going to have to time it perfectly to get good form by then.
GDK: Are you going to go to every World Cup next year?
AH: Yes, that’s the plan as it is now, so let’s see.
GDK: And that’s support through your sponsor?
AH: Yes, through Kargo Pro Cycling Team.
GDK: Fantastic that they are there, and they really have been great in supporting your cross country ambitions and in fact the whole team’s ambitions.
AH: Yes, they took me as last year a junior and I’ve shown the light and where to go in the international side and where to plan your training around. Since then, I’ve looked at the power files from when I first joined Kargo to now and it’s around 30% higher. So it just shows, like I was saying with the younger riders, if you get the right guidance and get shown the light, you can definitely elevate yourself a lot compared to if you’re stuck not really sure where to go.
GDK: Keep aiming high Alan, thanks for chatting and good luck next year, good luck with all your dreams and ambitions. May we see you in three or four Olympics on the podium.
AH: Thanks so much.
GDK: Alan Hatherly, a bright, young cross country star here chatting to us on our Old Mutual Live Mountain Bike podcast. A bright prospect for the future of mountain biking in SA. Look out for him, cross country racing, short lap racing, no more than an hour and a half, two hours, that’s what it’s all about.
Unlike those stage races and marathon races. It’s where the youth race, it’s where the Olympics are, it’s the big stage in terms of mountain biking. I hope you enjoyed that podcast, join us again for another here on the Old Mutual Live Mountain Bike podcast. I’m Gerald de Kock, thanks for downloading, until next time, cheers.