The fairytale becomes reality for Minnaar in PMB
Pietermaritzburg – Greg Minnaar, become only the third rider to win a men’s downhill World Championship title on home soil when the Pietermaritzburg local hero won an emotionally charged final in front of tens of thousands of fans at the Cascades MTB Park.
Minnaar, starting third from last, edged Australian Michael Hannah off the hotseat by less than half a second, and then had to wait and watch as first Steve Smith of Canada crashed, and then Gee Atherton struggled home, before his status as world champion was confirmed, and the delirious crowd started celebrations in earnest.
Minnaar came into the race hampered by a right leg and knee injury, and suffered a puncture to his rear tyre, and had to struggle to control his bike at high speed going into the closing stages of the Moneymaker jump into the finish.
As he started dealing with hordes of high-spirited supporters, Minnaar dedicated the win to the late Burry Stander, and to former president Nelson Mandela, whose image was emblazoned across his helmet.
The character of the downhill course changed significantly during the week, with rain, strong winds and dust all challenging the riders, and for Minnaar was important for him to keep his advantage once he had it.
“I started really loose,” the three time champion said. “It was pretty blown-up up there and I just had to find my rhythm up the top and when I found it I just tried to go as fast as possible.”
The pressure that was on Minnaar was fairly substantial due to the fact that he not only had to defend the title but defend it in his home town and he not only did his town proud – he did his nation proud.
“I had the whole of South Africa behind me, not only Pietermaritzburg.
“You can really feel the pressure, especially when you come out of gate and the first marshall on the course is shouting your name!” Minnaar mentioned.
It had been a tough morning for Minnaar leading into the race after he felt he had a poor practice session this morning and the recurring hip injury made him a little worried before his run.
“I have had a hip injury this year which has been a problem for me so after my practice run this morning (Sunday) I called in the chiropractor to have a look,” he said.
On a course that he is so familiar with he knew which sections were going to be good for him and where he was going to battle and with the puncture he managed to dig deep and pull off the victory that the country had been hoping for.
“I had a good first section which is normal but when I got to the table tops I was empty and I know I lost time on Mick.
“My legs were on fire but I knew I had to give my all and when I heard the crowd I just dug as deep as I could even though I flatted in the last rock section I knew the leak wouldn’t affect me at the end,” the elated Minnaar said.
Third place Jared Graves had the unique title of competing on an enduro bike instead of a proper downhill bike and he nearly pulled off the unlikely when he was in the hot seat for a fairly substantial period of time.
“The biggest part of the decision to stick with my enduro bike was that I’ve been on it all season.
“At Fort William I gave it a shot on my downhill bike but just didn’t feel comfortable so decided to stick with what I knew over here,” the bronze medalist said.
Second placed Hannah had a couple of issues with his old team and made the change to a new team with the focus being the World Champs in South Africa.
“I was having a couple of problems so when I signed with the new team the two year plan was always Worlds here in South Africa.
“I really enjoy myself here and have some seriously awesome support from the local crowd, probably second to Greg!” he added.
It was a bad day for a few of the top contenders with British rider Danny Hart breaking his chain and Aaron Gwin and Sam Hill both having big crashes which put them out of the race and set up the race for the final three riders.
SUMMARY OF RESULTS – UCI MTB AND TRIALS WORLD CHAMPIONSHIPS
MENS ELITE DOWNHILL
1. Greg Minnaar (RSA) 3:58.058
2. Michael Hannah (AUS) +00.396
3. Jared Graves (AUS) +03.333
4. Samuel Blenkinsop (NZL) +03.746
5. Matthew Simmonds (GBR) +03.939
6. Nick Beer (SUI) +04.041
7. Gee Atherton (GBR) +04.303
8. Marcelo Gutierrez Villegas (COL) +04.423
9. Johannes Fischbach (GER) +04.759
10. Troy Brosnan (AUS) +06.582