Going up in the world: Alan Hatherly’s silver medal at the World Champs in Australia at the weekend was the best by a South African since the late Burry Stander’s gold medal in 2009. Picture: GETTY IMAGES
Going up in the world: Alan Hatherly’s silver medal at the World Champs in Australia at the weekend was the best by a South African since the late Burry Stander’s gold medal in 2009. Picture: GETTY IMAGES

Alan Hatherly’s silver medal in the UCI Mountain Bike World Championships in Cairns, Australia, at the weekend was the outstanding moment in a competition that produced a few "what-if" moments for SA.

Hatherly finished second in the under-23 cross-country race on Friday, just 11sec behind New Zealand’s Sam Gaze, with Germany’s Maximilian Brandl third. It was SA’s best result in the cross-country world championships since the late Burry Stander won the under-23 title in 2009.

But while Hatherly was still celebrating, Greg Minnaar was left to reflect on his run of bad luck after he suffered a puncture on his run in the downhill champs on Sunday. Minnaar, a three-time world champion, had been third-fastest at the first split on the dusty track.

A puncture also cost him the chance of winning the UCI World Cup series in Italy a few weeks back.

SA’s loss was Australia’s gain on Friday, when the South African-born Cameron Wright won his adopted country their first cross-country world championships in the junior category. Wright, who left SA at the end of 2012, had his citizenship fast-tracked so he could compete for Australia in Cairns.

Wright idolised Stander as a youngster and wanted to emulate the greatest mountain bike talent SA has produced.

Hatherly, though, will return home having given his country a glimpse of the future and hope that SA has developed a world-class talent capable of mixing it at World Cup level. Hatherly represented SA at the 2016 Olympics in Rio.

"I’m lost for words," said Hatherly, who rides for Team Spur-Specialized. "I’m so stoked with the outcome.

"It was the plan from early on in the year to get this kind of result. We had a plan for this race and it worked for us.

"Things got real on lap four. Sam started going a bit harder up the climb. I was lying fourth and saw guys losing his wheel, which had me a bit panicked because there was not much chance of overtaking there.

"Fortunately, with this track it splits on the climb where there are more challenging, rocky straight lines. I attacked through one of these just to get past the bunch and chase Sam down to make sure he didn’t get away too early," said Hatherly.

Wright is the one who got away too early for SA. He won by about 30sec, slowing up as he entered the finish straight.

"Doing it in front of my home crowd is the best thing that has ever happened to me," said Wright. "It was a hard race, but it paid off in the end. Initially, my plan was to stay in the front group for the start loop and attack before the singletrack, but I felt really, really good so I went straightaway."

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