GREG Minnaar recently became the winningest downhill racer in the history of the UCI MTB World Cup when he won his 18th title in Lenzerheide, Switzerland.
He is also a three time world champion and heads into this year’s UCI MTB Mountain Bike and Trials World Championships in Vallnord, Andorra, at the beginning of September, in excellent form, ready to challenge for the world champion’s rainbow striped jersey for a fourth time.
Apart from Lenzerheide, he also added to his record as the most successful rider in the history of the Fort William track in Scotland, when he won there in June.
It’s been a stunning return to form for the Pietermaritzburger, who came into the season off of an operation on a thumb, and who the previous season had struggled for form after undergoing surgery on his left knee, having suffered a near full rupture of his anterior cruciate ligament and a meniscus tear at the 2013 UCI Downhill World Cup in Leogang, Austria.
Thanks to his successes this year, Minnaar is riding with high confidence. “I’ve had a good run,” he told The Witness yesterday. “I think it is a combo of the feel on my bike and training.
“I’m in a happy place and I’m gonna try let the good times keep rolling.”
Minnaar’s first world champion’s title was achieved in Lugano, Switzerland when he dethroned Frenchman Nicolas Vouilloz, a five time overall World Cup winner who had reigned as world champion for two years at the top, and who had won the rainbow stripes seven times in eight years, albeit in far less competitive times than those of today.
Minnaar followed his first World Championship title with a runner up finish in Les Gets in 2004, third place in Livigno in 2005 and another silver medal in Rotorua in 2006. He was back among the top three in Canberra in 2009, finishing second to his Santa Cruz Syndicate teammate and good friend Steve Peat by a mere five100thsofasecond. At Mont SainteAnne the following year, he was third.
Then, in 2012, the great South African won his second world title at Leogang. The next year, under immense pressure, racing at home in Pietermaritzburg, he delivered what the hordes of home fans wanted by successfully defending his title. He’s well prepared for another crack at gold in 2015.
“Vallnord is a great track, probably one of the steepest tracks we race on. We beef up the bike a lot for this track, bigger brakes, the lot,” he explained.
“I did my preseason testing out there, so I could get a better feel for things. I’ve raced okay there in the past, but I feel we have pushed our bike in the right direction, giving me more confidence going into this race.”
While the World Championships is about representing one’s country, downhill mountain bike racing remains an individual sport and South Africa has been blessed to have, for well over a decade, one of the sport’s all time greats proudly wearing its colours, putting the country in with a shout at a win each and every year.
Minnaar remains a real patriot. In 2013, when he won his third World Championships title in Pietermaritzburg, that was underlined when he wore a striking helmet with beautiful artwork depicting late president Nelson Mandela. And not even a back wheel puncture prevented him from doing the legendary leader proud.
“I’m always proud wearing my South African colours, and World Champs is that time to show it off,” Minnaar said.
Then, showing that the fierce competitive fires still burn powerfully within his 33 year old body, he concluded: “But at the end of the day I compete to win, regardless of whether I’m in my syndicate or South African colours.”
Source: Brad Morgan/The Witness
Photo: Kathy Sessler/Santa Cruz Syndicate