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Hannah sets early pace
- Updated: April 11, 2009
Mick Hannah made a winning return to top-flight racing when he posted the fastest time in downhill qualifying at the first round of the Nissan UCI Mountain Bike World Cup in Pietermaritzburg.
The 25-year-old Australian, racing for Team GT, and currently ranked 103rd in the world, upset hometown hero and current World Cup champion, Greg Minnaar (Santa Cruz Syndicate), who appeared to have set the fastest time with the very first run of the afternoon.
As the top-ranked rider, Minnaar got to start first and was enthusiastically cheered all the way down the 2.8km course by his friends and fans, stopping the clock in a fast 3 minutes and 50.31 seconds. The South African was followed down by 2006 and 2007 world champion, Sam Hill (Monster Energy / Specialized) who clocked 3:57, with current world champion, Gee Atherton (Animal Commencal) getting a slightly quicker 3:56 that secured him fifth best time.
A short while later, Australian Chris Kovarik (Chain Reaction Cycles / Intense), who won the test event last weekend on the same course, was predictably quick with a 3:53, giving him third best, while Minnaar’s British teammate, Steve Peat recorded a solid 3:54 and fourth fastest.
ÔÇ£I was a little surprised with my result but it feels good to come out in my first big race in more than a year and beat all the world’s top riders,ÔÇØ smiled Hannah, who won the Australian championships in January in his first competitive outing after taking a racing sabbatical in 2008.
ÔÇ£This course requires a good balance of skill and fitness and yeah, it’s quite pedally in the middle. But this is bicycle racing, so pedalling is part of the deal,ÔÇØ added Hannah.┬á
A year off for the former World No. 1 resulted in him dropping outside the top 100 in the world rankings, which is why he only started 84th on Saturday. But his fastest time in qualifying will ensure he’s last rider to start in Sunday’s final, a position akin to a Formula One driver starting a grand prix in pole position.
Minnaar, who held the fastest time for almost an hour was surprised at Hannah’s result, but said that it would make a difference in the final.
ÔÇ£It’s more a mental thing now. If I had the fastest time today I would have had a defensive mindset in the final. But now I’m forced to go out with an attacking mindset. I think this suits me. I believe I can go faster, but now I have to go faster.ÔÇØ
The course is regarded as one of the most ‘pedally’ on the World Cup circuit, not the kind of course that suits Hill.
ÔÇ£I thought I had a pretty good ride today. I pedalled as hard as I could but I’m not in the same league as Greg and Mick on a course like this. I’ll still give it my best shot on Sunday, but I’m not expecting to get close to those guys.ÔÇØ
In the women’s event, Great Britain’s Tracy Moseley (Trek World Racing), was by far the quickest, clocking a rapid 4:29.34, a full nine seconds quicker than Frenchwoman Emmeline Ragot (Suspension Centre). Canada’s Claire Buchar rounded out the top three.