Three-time Downhill World Champion, Greg Minnaar, completed a flawless run to post the fastest time with a winning margin of more than three seconds to claim his historic 19th World Cup victory at Fort William, Scotland, on Sunday.
Minnaar’s qualifying run on a dry and blown-out course was a nightmare, as he broke his wheel resulting in a loss of air pressure and ultimately a flat tyre after halfway. This meant that he didn’t have a good judge of speed in the bottom section of the track ahead of race day. He started the final on Sunday with 17 riders still to go.
“Up until then, I knew I had the fastest midway split and so I could build on that. I knew I had a couple of seconds on the guys then from qualifying before my wheel broke,” he said.
Having previously won five times at the popular UK venue, it didn’t mean that Minnaar’s run would be any easier on Sunday and he acknowledged that the dry conditions made the course one of the roughest tracks that he had ever raced at Fort William.
“It was super hard on the equipment for everyone; we all took strain trying to get our bikes down the hill in one piece.”
Minnaar’s UK roots go back 16 years when he started racing for a professional UK-based downhill team. “To me the venue is quite special because it's the only World Cup in the UK. The UK is where I started my racing career on Animal Orange in 2000, so it’s like my home away from home, which is what makes it so special for me.”
Using the smooth and flowing style that has become synonymous with Minnaar’s racing action on the bike, he posted the quickest times at the splits by going as hard as he could during Sunday’s final.
“When I get into some sections, like the woods, I back off to be smooth and to nail a really good line. But then out in the open, I have to push a lot harder. I do ride conservatively so I find if I am really on edge then I ride at a good pace. Fitness has never been a problem for me because this is what I train for. You never really save energy on a downhill run because you are pushing all the time,” he said.
The anxious moments in the hot seat while watching 17 riders descend the track with the sole objective of knocking him off is not one of Minnaar’s favourite positions to be in. “It is horrible. I’d rather try and have a better qualifier so that I don't have to sit for that long. But then again I’d rather be in the hot seat than in the crowd watching, to be honest. When you come down early, you almost expect to go into the hot seat – that is the aim. But to try and hold it is nerve wracking!”
One crucial adjustment to Minnaar’s XXL Santa Cruz V10cc bike in the lead up to his historic race was that of his handlebar, with the new Minnaar Bar from ENVE. “That was the biggest change and we changed the cockpit quite a bit to make the bars fit. The bars really helped my hands and wrists out after having both thumbs operated on; I really take strain with that.
“We did some suspension stuff as well, and although in Lourdes we went a little backwards, we pulled ourselves back on track in Australia and I had an unfortunate mechanical in the final, which didn't help us. But then we went back into testing and really built the bike up around that. Going into Fort William, we made one adjustment to the rear shock and then went back to the standard set up. Our test sessions have been key to get a good result,” he said.
Minnaar’s South African fans, and fans the world over, will sit glued to their screens for this Sunday’s fourth round of the 2016 UCI MTB World Cup Series where the Downhill race takes place in what appears to be a muddy Leogang in Austria.