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HATHERLY DOES THE CROSS-COUNTRY DOUBLE IN LES GETS AND PIETERSE PUTS ALL TO THE SWORD IN LAST  UCI WORLD CUP BEFORE PARIS 2024

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HATHERLY DOES THE CROSS-COUNTRY DOUBLE IN LES GETS AND PIETERSE PUTS ALL TO THE SWORD IN LAST UCI WORLD CUP BEFORE PARIS 2024

6 days ago

In the last round of the UCI Cross-country Olympic (XCO) World Cup before the Olympics, Puck Pieterse (Alpecin-Deceuninck) and Alan Hatherly (Cannondale Factory Racing) put themselves in the strongest possible position by claiming commanding victories. Pieterse rode away from the field on the very first lap to win by more than two minutes from Candice Lill. Hatherly left it until the middle of his race to hit out solo, crossing the line 91 seconds ahead of Val di Sole second place, Mathias Flückiger (Thömus Maxon.)

PIETERSE POWERS TO GLORY IN LES GETS

Puck Pieterse (Alpecin-Deceuninck) was ready, hovering menacingly over her bars on the front row of the grid. When the lights went green the big names had mixed starts. Alessandra Keller (Thömus Maxon) dropped a dozen places, while Gwen Gibson (Trek Factory Racing - Pirelli) and Rebecca Henderson (Primaflor Mondraker Racing Team) fared much better. Jenny Rissveds (Team 31 Ibis Cycles Continental) led onto the lap proper, with Henderson on her left shoulder. Chiara Teocchi (Orbea Factory Team) also got off to her trademark strong start.

On the first climb, Henderson took over at the front briefly, before Puck Pieterse moved ahead of her at the top, ultimately the only attack she would be called upon to make. With things getting busy behind her she headed solo into the woods. As she scampered across the rollers after four minutes of racing, Pieterse already had a lead of six seconds over Henderson, making light work of the first entry into the woods. In contrast, Gibson lost it completely into the roots and rolls, going straight over her bars and landing heavily.

Out front, Pieterse was well into zone 5 of her heart rate but was making it count. Her lead was already well into the double digits of lead.

Henderson had to unclip on a narrow section of course, holding up Kate Courtney (Scott-Sram MTB Racing Team), and only helping Pieterse. The European champion was having it all her own way, putting huge time into the chasing pack. Friday’s short-track winner Alessandra Keller had made it back into the top ten but was already 50 seconds in arrears. 

Back into the open field, the track was already torn to pieces. No grip whatsoever on an off camber left bend caused several riders to either go wide or lose it completely.

Henderson and Candace Lill, who had moved up and was clearly on a flyer herself, crossed the line to start the second lap 36 seconds down.

Evie Richards (Trek Factory Racing – Pirelli) was hunting the pair down, while Alessandra Keller had made it through the traffic to join them and make a strong quartet of pursuers.

The onus was on Keller but she seemed to be struggling more than the other two on the climbs, even as she was handling the technical sections with greater proficiency.

Lill’s strength allowed her to break free in the other direction and concentrate on going as fast as she could, rather than merely racing the riders around her. Meanwhile, Pieterse was experiencing a few difficulties in the rock gardens but was otherwise on a flyer. The only concern, as it has been in previous rounds, was that she had gone too hard, too early.

Into lap three and big gaps were opening up between the chasers. Lill and Keller were both now on their own, while Richards had homed in on Henderson, with Anne Terpstra (Ghost Factory Racing) tagging on. By now, only Lill was within a minute of Pieterse. 

The leader attacked the bike park and had the freedom to do so. Lill managed the deficit, and held it mostly steady, but was unable to reduce it. Keller found herself with 30 seconds to the riders ahead and behind.

Heading onto lap 4, the biggest scrap seemed to be for fourth place, with Richards, Rissveds, Savilia Blunk (Decathlon Ford Racing Team) and Terpstra trading blows and swapping places on the sections of the course that suited their different strengths.

Lill began to feel the fatigue but made up for that by better getting to grips with the course conditions and its ever-changing nuances. Keller seemed to be mainly battling herself but wasn’t losing ground.

At around midway, Richards and Blunk had fallen away from the other two, while with three laps remaining, Lill began to ship chunks of time to Pieterse. She was in no danger of losing second to Keller, who was losing at least as much and riding a race all of her own. Rissveds stole a march on Terpstra across the lap, to strengthen her grip on 4th place.

Despite her massive advantage, Pieterse refused to let up. Rather than relaxing, she kept her aggressive, elbows-out position over the bike. For her part, Keller, knowing how easy it was to lose time on the climbs, kept fighting.

Richards’ head seemed to drop as she began her penultimate lap. The British champion was losing touch with 5th place but managed to just about keep the carrot of Terptstra in her sights.

Past the hour mark, every rider was feeling the fatigue and making mistakes they hadn’t in the early phases. Tyres were also clogging with mud, creating even more challenges.

Pieterse hit the two-minute lead point on lap 6. The riders closest to her had entered something of a holding pattern, with approximately thirty seconds separating each of those on the podium. She took the bell, continuing to motor at the front, flinging her bottle into the tech zone to reduce the weight she was carrying onto the first of the two final climbs.

Lill, who had delighted to take 3rd in Val di Sole, Trentino (Italy) was riding even better than she had that Sunday. Keller hadn’t given up completely on 2nd, however, opting for the hardest, fastest.

lines through all of the most technical parts of the course. It looked too late to close the gap completely but the small gains she was able to find kept her motivated to the end.

The final drop into the Red Bull Roots and Rolls was the only time Pieterse saw any sort of trouble. She momentarily unclipped and came to an abrupt stop but came through without complete calamity. She flew through the final mud section to take her first UCI Cross-country Olympic World Cup victory of the season.

Candice Lill came home safely, 2’37 in arrear but no less overjoyed to have achieved a career-best second place. Keller was close enough to give her a wave on the late course overlaps but not near enough to threaten the result. Lill’s result was all the more impressive given her low grid position. 

Fourth went to Rissveds and fifth to Terpstra. It was close but no cigar for Evie Richards, who crossed the line in sixth, with mud on her right shoulder from an unseen fall. 

I tried to go full gas from the start and luckily it worked out,” Pieterse summarised afterwards. “I knew it was a climber’s course so I tried to push every climb to my fullest and take less risks on the descent. The last lap I got a bit tired and made a few mistakes but luckily I had enough time. Maybe the focus was a bit gone… After three laps I worried if I had taken it too early but luckily I kept it together.”

Pieterse’s opening lap was 34 seconds quicker than that of any other rider, and she was the only rider to go under 12 minutes. The result moves her into second place in the UCI XCO World Cup standings, ahead of Haley Batten (Specialized Factory Racing) who opted to skip the Les Gets round.

Overall leader Keller was “very happy with third” and is now going into “my very first Olympics with no pressure. I’ll just try to enjoy the Olympic spirit.”

HATHERLY HITS CAREER HIGH AHEAD OF OLYMPIC TEST

When the lights changed from red to green, Cannondale Factory Racing immediately flew off in formation, their riders going up the hill in a 1-2-3. The WHOOP never-ending climb saw Simon Andreasson leading the way.

A good start was hugely helpful as riders battled for space. Daniele Braidot (CS Carabinier - Cicle Olympia) broke the Cannondale dominance by moving into second place while, on the second climb, his brother Luca (Santa Cruz Rockshox Pro Team) powered to the very front. Alan Hatherly took the opportunity to move up while Mathias Flückiger (Thömus Maxon) made a big move into the woods, clearing several riders with a swoop into third.

Ahead of the descent, Braidot looked over his shoulder to see Hatherly coming up behind. The course was drying but had been shredded by the earlier races. Hatherly started the second lap nine seconds behind Braidot but in the company of Flückiger, working together to reel in the Italian.

The next six riders, led by Charlie Aldridge (Cannondale Factory Racing), were fifteen seconds further back.

Braidot opted for route one through the Red Bull Roots & Rolls, but Hatherly handled the section even better, cutting several seconds out of Braidot’s lead. It was clear the men’s race was going to unfold very differently to the women’s, but also that tyre choice was going to be key.

Towards the end of lap 2, it was looking like a three-way battle between Braidot, Flückiger and Hatherly. The Swiss rider overtook the South African by running one technical part in the trees.

Luca Schwarzbauer (Canyon CLLCTV XCO) led a powerful duo of Nadir Colledani (Santa Cruz Rockshox Pro Team) and Andreasson but they were 21 seconds down and losing more time than they were gaining. Flückiger fancied a turn at the front, taking plenty of risks, one of which saw him nearly go over the front. Hatherly had to dig deep to stay with the Swiss man.

Sam Gaze (Alpecin-Deceuninck) was going from strength to strength. He moved up to fourth place but had to find even more power for a hope of making up the almost 45 seconds deficit to the leaders.

Out front, there was little between Hatherly and Flückiger until there was a lot. The South African pulled ahead before the second climb of the course, getting out of the saddle and putting down the hurt where it was steepest. It was sufficient to draw out a lead of eight seconds immediately, before doubling again in the last part of the lap. By the time Flückiger crossed the line, Hatherly was out of sight. 

Not so the 4th chase group, led by Gaze, who were visibly closing down Braidot as they began their fifth lap. Before too long he was in their clutches and in danger of heading out the back door.

Deep into the 5th lap Hatherly was cruising, with 50 seconds over Flückiger, who himself had almost a minute on everyone else. Braidot’s superior descending allowed him to come back, while Simone Avondetto (Wilier-Vittoria Factory Team XCO) shared some of the load in the same group, which was fighting for podium places at best. One of them would have to miss out.

Into the final third of the race, the attacks began to come. One from Avondetto surprised Braidot but he was able to claw his way back. Andreasson was more interested in positioning, moving to the front going back into the woods. It proved immediately advantageous as Gaze had to hop off and run, holding up the rest.

At the hour, Hatherly led Flückiger by a minute. If the four behind could cooperate it was not beyond them to pull back the Swiss rider. More likely, however, was that their caginess would allow the Schwarzbauer selection back into contention.

Gaze seemed to sense that threat and launched his attack late on lap 7. The effect was instant: over barely a few hundred metres he had claimed a double-digit lead over his erstwhile allies. 

At the bell, Hatherly had no worries. Nor did Flückiger.

In the race for 3rd and below, Braidot accelerated across the line to close the gap to Avondetto and Andreasson, before going over the top of them and somehow roaring back onto the wheel of Gaze.

Andreasson looked to have kept something in the tank himself. He dropped Avondetto on the climb and closed in on the next descent. The course had dried out making it even faster but also differently difficult. That caused Gaze to fall. As quick as the Kiwi was to jump back on his bike all momentum was lost. Having had his eyes on 3rd, he was suddenly off the podium entirely.

As Andreasson and Braidot continued to squabble, Hatherly sailed to a first UCI World Cup win. The South African grabbed a flag to carry across the line, before stopping and raised his bike above his head.

Flückiger showed his strength for a solid second, though minimal celebration indicated initial disappointment at not having done better. Braidot chased Andreasson into the straight but did not have enough to deny the Cannondale rider third place. Simone Avondetto held out for the remaining podium place.

For Hatherly it had been an “unreal weekend. Before the race I visualised the double and I’m so happy to have executed it, especially leading into the [Olympic] Games.”

Once I was confident and happy with my pacing strategy I just cracked on. I was surprised that I rode away the way I did, but happy. I just kept it steady to the finish.”

Flückiger was more reflective afterwards than he had been at the finish: 

I’m happy with the whole race,” he said. “Alan [Hatherly] was just on a different level today… The podium is good for the confidence, and we still have a few weeks left before Paris.”

The fastest lap was Luca Braidot’s first, which saw him the only rider to go under ten minutes.

HOLMGREN AND RILEY MAKE IT DOUBLES IN LES GETS, HAUTE-SAVOIE

Having tasted U23 short-track success in Les Gets on Friday, Isabella Holmgren and Bjorn Riley (Trek Future Racing) each completed the set in Sunday’s UCI U23 XCO World Cup.

Having missed the Crans-Montana round, Holmgren enjoyed a toe-to-toe battle with Olivia Onesti (Trinx Factory Team) for the second time in three weeks. The Canadian again came out on top, by 25 seconds from the French rider. 

She was especially keen to pay tribute to her team: “I’m so happy to have the support of Trek for the last three World Cups,” she said. “Without them I don’t think I’d be able to do this.” 

Next up is Paris 2024 where “I’m really happy to be able to go with my brother. This was a nice race to boost my confidence. Between now and then I’m just going to train hard and have fun.”

Overall U23 XCO leader Kira Böhm (Cube Factory Racing) was a further 81 seconds back in third. Afterwards she declared herself “super pumped to get on the podium. It was super slippery but I just got stronger and stronger on the climbs of each lap.”

Bjorn Riley (Trek Future Racing) will have to wait until Los Angeles 2028 to make his Olympic debut, but the future is certainly bright for the young American, who is only getting stronger as he enters the final phase of this season.

Having raced it out with Finn Treudler (Cube Factory Racing) on Friday’s XCC U23 UCI World Cup, Riley’s closest challenger in the XCO was Luca Martin (Orbea Factory Team). Martin finished more than a minute down, with Treudler 38 seconds back in third.

Riley’s success this weekend must in part be attributed to his riding with total freedom:

Coming into the race I knew I was the favourite,” he said, “especially with [US team-mate] Riley [Amos] being gone, but I just decided to race. Coming away with the win is even more special, but I didn’t even care what position I got.” 

He also spoke of being a huge fan of Les Gets: “This is one of my favourite courses on the World Cup circuit - I’ve always had a good result here. The climbs are pretty perfect for what I do and the downhills are so fun. Everything about this course makes me happy.”

The WHOOP UCI Mountain Bike World Series returns to Switzerland next weekend where the Aletsch Arena - Bellwald, Valais will host the fifth round of the UCI Enduro & E-enduro World Cups.

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