2 September 2012
South African downhill mountain biking star Greg Minnaar claimed the biggest prize in the sport for the second time when he lifted the UCI Mountain Bike and Trials World Championships in Leogang, Austria on Sunday.
Minnaar has won more World Cup podium places than any other rider in the history of the sport, but until Sunday he had won the World Championships only once previously, in Lugano, Switzerland in 2003. Now aged 30, the victory means the Pietermaritzburg local will get to defend his title in his home city in 2013.
The Leogang course certainly has some similarities to the Cascades downhill course in Pietermaritzburg, requiring a lot of hard pedalling in the middle section especially, and Minnaar had enjoyed success on both previously, so he would have known he had a good shot at winning in Austria.
Dress rehearsal victory
Most recently, he raced to victory on the Leogang course in the iXS European Downhill Cup in May, which served as a dress rehearsal for the World Championships.
Back then, the riders were competing in team colours, while this time around they were wearing their national colours. And truth be told, as the time till Minnaar’s departure from the top of the mountain ticked down, there were some worrying omens for the tall South African.
His long time team-mate with the Santa Cruz Syndicate, Steve Peat, suffered a fall on the way down. That was followed by fellow South African Andrew Neethling slipping on a high, banked corner while on a course-leading time. Then, Josh Bryceland, like Peat a Santa Cruz Syndicate team-mate, lost his front end and crashed when going down the mountain in the last 10 riders.
Peat went on to finish 38th, to match his age, Neethling ended 19th, and 110th.
On the hot seat
At the business end of the competition, Steve Smith was on the hot seat after clocking exactly three minutes and 23 seconds, with only four more riders to go.
Three-time world champion Sam Hill couldn’t unseat Smith and moved into third place behind the Canadian and Australia’s Mick Hannah with a time of 3:25.19.
Next off, and the third last man to go, was Gee Atherton, the 2010 world champion. He looked smooth and pedalled strongly and was up at both check points before crossing the finishing line in 3:22.37 to snatch the lead from Smith.
Poetry in motion
Minnaar was up next and he was poetry in motion, his lanky frame making the technical sections look easy.
He was up and out of the saddle all the way down the mountain and 0.516 ahead of Atherton at both splits before sprinting over the line in 3:21.79 to move into the hot seat with only World Cup standings leader Aaron Gwin to come.
The tension was high, but it ended in an anti-climax as Gwin suffered mechanical problems, which took him out of the running.
‘This run was tough’
“It’s been nine years and, man, this run was tough,” Minnaar said when interviewed on the track after his victory was confirmed.
“I had a lot of pressure today. I sat in my hotel room and I was super nervous. I got to the track and I calmed down, which is normally the reverse,” he admitted.
“You know my run. to be honest, I tried to nail that top section and I slid off a bridge and I lost a lot of speed onto the pedalling and I just knew I had to pedal hard, same as in Maritzburg, and I managed to come back. I couldn’t believe I crossed the line in first.
Graciously, he added: “I’m a bit bummed for Gwinny. He seemed to have a mechanical out there. I’m not quite sure what happened. It’s not exactly the best way for me to win, although I’d like to win. We’re all out there trying our best, we all have mechanicals from time to time, but it’s been nine years [since my first World Championship win], man!”
Home town victory?
Questioned about the possibility of winning the World Championships title in his home city, Minnaar said: “It would be a nice way to end it, going onto my home track, to win there would be amazing. This is a track that I wanted to do well on as well, but I was thinking about that today.
“Three in Maritzburg would be great, but right now I hardly can believe I won this today.”
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