Downhill World Champion Greg Minnaar (Santa Cruz Syndicate) took his World Champs rainbow jersey to his local track and claimed victory in his first race since his knee operation late last year, posting a winning time of 3 minutes 17.631 seconds in the opening round of the Southern African MTB Cup Series in Pietermaritzburg, KwaZulu-Natal, today.
The Western Cape’s Stefan Garlicki (Investec) finished in second place, just 1.351 seconds off the pace, with Samuel Bull (Team Sportsnut) claiming third place, 2.572 seconds off the pace.
Kathryn Fourie claimed the women’s victory convincingly, with a 30-second advantage over second-placed Kate Stephenson in 04:33.714, with Michane Viljoen claiming third place.
Minnaar injured his knee when he bent it backwards and tore his anterior cruciate ligament as well as a lengthwise tear in his medial meniscus (knee cartilage) in the practice run during the final round of the UCI Downhill World Cup Series in Leogang, Austria in 2013.
Being back in the action, Minnaar said that he did not feel 100% just yet, but that he felt better than he expected to whilst racing today. “I’m always happy with a win. The guys have whipped up a really nice fresh track. They couldn't avoid the middle pedal though. But it was still a fast track, still tough though. I think my fitness is good, I’m just lacking a bit of power, but that will come. Technically I was okay, a bit rusty here and there, but it’s my first week back on a downhill bike after about 6 months, so it’s to be expected. The gate (start) was terrible, I lost a bit of time there, but once I was rolling up to speed, it felt fine.”
Garlicki was pleased with his run: “My run went very well, I couldn’t have done much more. I didn't make any mistakes and I felt really strong – it’s tough when you’re racing the World Champion. I mean, to be just over a second behind Greg… I know he’s coming off an injury but even so, I am very happy with that.”
Bull enjoyed the changes to the track, and a successful weekend with his mates: “I had a really solid run, I’ve been having fun on the course the whole weekend. The changes to the course have been good; the new top section is awesome. It’s a nice change to the Cascades that we normally race; it was a lot of fun. I am happy with how the weekend went.”
Fourie, who usually races in the sub-veteran category, raced in the Elite category with the only other two competitors today: “I made one error on the way down – I decided to try a different line and rode straight into a tree stump. Fortunately I got it together for the rock garden.”
Speaking about encouraging more women to compete in downhill, Fourie said, “Most people think that downhill involves all these huge jumps and these scary drops, but there is always a green line (easier route) around it so you can develop yourself straight from a cross-country background into downhill pretty easily.”
The second round of the Southern African MTB Cup Series takes place at the Afriski Ski and Mountain Resort in Lesotho on 19 and 20 April.
Summary of results: SA DHI Cup #1 (Cascades) 16 March 2014
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1 Greg Minnaar 03:17.631
2 Stefan Garlicki 03:18.982
3 Samuel Bull 03:20.203
4 Tiaan Odendaal 03:20.661
5 Timothy Bentley 03:22.035
6 Adi van der Merwe 03:28.232
7 David Hogan 03:28.723
8 Ryan Frerichs 03:29.136
9 Gregg Brown 03:29.482
10 Travis Browning 03:31.632
1 Kathryn Fourie 04:33.714
2 Kate Stephenson 05:03.129
3 Michane Viljoen 06:13.081