- Cannondale's two South African World Cup riders take stock of their international season
- A breakthrough year for Alan Hatherly, although the season did not end – as planned
- In a year of big events, Candice Lill still needs to conquer the Cape Epic
It has been a few weeks since the last World Cup race in the States and I've had to time reflect on what has been a fantastic but hectic season.
My initial pre-season race schedule was thrown into disarray when the Tankwa Trek was cancelled and the Cape Epic postponed, within weeks of each other.
To make up for this, Phil Dickson (the Cannondale Factory Racing trainer) put us through our paces in a very intense training camp just before the first round of World Cup races.
Becoming a front-row rider
My goal this year was to achieve a top 10 in all the World Cup races. I would have achieved this if not for an untimely mechanical and food poisoning in the final race.
France, where I achieved my first podium (fourth place), was the turning point of my season. That gave me the confidence and belief that I belong at the front of the field - and enabled me to be far more aggressive tactically. I finished sixth overall in the UCI World Cup ranking.
An unexpected exit - before the Epic
My Cannondale Factory Racing team have been exceptional and have enabled me to perform at my peak. I have loved riding the Scalpel.
The last goal of my season would be the Cape Epic. Unfortunately, Mani Fumic injured himself a few weeks ago and was ruled out of the Cape Epic.
At the beginning of the year, our plan was for Simon Andreason and I to ride support for Mani and Avancini. Simon's emergency procedure, after arriving in South Africa for the Cape Epic, ended our riding ambitions for the event. The good news is that Simon is healing strongly and we are going to be a force at the Cape Epic, in 2022.
Candice's biggest season yet
Wow, what a season it's been. Looking back over the last few months, I can't say I've enjoyed a season more than this one.
The Olympics was always a primary goal and just being present was a victory in itself. Although I just missed my goal of finishing in the top 20 (finishing 24th), I felt that my performances post-Olympics were better, due to the experience and confidence I took from the Tokyo event.
This season's highlight was coming 11th in the short track World Cup event in Val Di Sole. I felt that I'd be able to pull off a top 15 in the XCO two days later.
I was well on my way to doing so but an untimely mechanical put an end to that dream.
The progression I've made over the season has been incredible and I couldn't be happier. Winning the South African XCO race in my home town of Pietermaritzburg last week was the cherry on top and I'll wear the South African jersey with pride over the next year.
An Epic chance to win at home
Mental maturity in respect of my professional mountain biking has been a substantial personal insight this year. I am finding the balance between riding my bike and enjoying life off the bike, too.
All focus now shifts to the Cape Epic, which I'll be riding with Mariska Strauss. Our goal is to win this race, and we are both in excellent shape to give it a proper crack.
Mariska and I know each other very well and our riding styles complement each other. It is an incredibly gruelling race with plenty of challenges but that's why we love this sport.