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Record World Cup win throws Minnaar into the limelight… at last!
- Updated: July 21, 2015
By Mark Etheridge
The number 18 is a particularly lucky number in China… it seems it’s also proving of extra significance in South Africa for Greg Minnaar.
The Pietermaritzburg phenomenon recently raced to a world record 18th UCI Downhill World Cup title in Lenzerheide, Switzerland, overtaking the sport’s legend, Steve Peat of Great Britain.
Until now Minnaar’s extraordinary exploits around the globe have received, lets be honest, minimum coverage in the mainstream media in his home country.
But No18 seems to be something of a game-changer. ‘I can’t believe how much the last two wins, and especially the Swiss one have meant to South Africa,’ Minnaar, pictured above in action during his 18th World Cup win, told Road to Rio 2016 as he juggled between packing for the next leg of the World Cup series, recovering from Oakley X-Over and the business of building a new house in his KwaZulu-Natal home town.
Referring to the added interest in his helter-skelter capers he said: ‘After I got back to SA I went down to the Oakley X-Over event down in Jeffreys Bay. A lot of high profile sportsmen were there… popular guys like Dale Steyn, John Smit, Butch James, Gareth ‘Soldier Boy’ McLellan, and fellow mountain biker Kevin Evans. But it was suddenly me that there was a lot of interest around my last win in Switzerland, public recognition is very rare in South Africa and especially the knowledge of whats going on in my season and my results. That just doesn’t happen here in SA but now all of a sudden things have changed.
‘Maybe it’s the TV coverage SuperSport have been showing, its the only thing I can put it to, but definitely that 18th World Cup win has suddenly reached South Africa in a big way.’
Good news that nothing has changed much for Minnaar. ‘No, it hasn’t changed me a bit. I’m the same person I ever was but it has made me realise that I’ve still got a couple more wins in me before it’s time to step aside.
‘I’m having a good run, it’s just that thumb injury that set me back a bit. I told the doctor that I HAD to ride the first round in Lourdes, France. He just laughed but I designed my own caste to protect it. I couldn’t really open my hand open but I still gave it my best. I rode it a few times in practice then in practice I was 61st and the points only start at 50th spot and i was about 14-16 seconds off the pace. But I gave it a crack and got 22nd so got some points and was only 12 seconds off the fastest time.’
Minnaar’s next mission sees him heading back to the United States before the next World Cup event in Mont-Sainte-Anne in Canada.
Going into that event and Minnaar is third on the overall standings, his 633 points slotting in behind Loic Bruny (645) of France and series leader Aaron Gwin (749).
‘My two wins have now helped me reel in Aaron a bit. I love the track in Canada but it’s one track I haven’t really been able to seal the deal, I’ve had a bunch of 2nd’s and 3rd’s but only one Win, I’ve been racing in MSA since 1998. Having said that though I feel with the momentum off my Win in Lenzerheide I’m now in the position to challenge for the Win . But of course it doesn’t help that it’s one of Aaron and Loic’s favourite tracks.’
After Canada it’s across to Windham in New York, not one of Minnaar’s favourite tracks for more than one reason. ‘My first year there I crashed in practice and dislocated my elbow… I still got back on for third spot that year. Every time I’ve gone back though it hasn’t worked for me, I’ve had results like a joint seventh and 14th… it’s just ‘flat’ and horrible and I can’t get it going.’
This year’s final race in the series, at Val di Sole, Italy, excites Minnaar though.’That’s the gnarliest, steepest track that we race on and I’ve had some good results there. Some people like to think that I suffer on the really technical stuff but my performances here don’t back that up.’
Can he make up the 113 points difference between him and Gwin and make it a fabulous fourth overall World Cup title? ‘Look, Gwin is still the guy to beat but even he has still got to put that run together. And of course, Loic, the guy in the middle has nothing to lose. Also, some of the guys have had a bit of break but will come on strong in the second half.’
And does that thumb injury till bug him. ‘I don’t think it will ever be 100% That’s difference between breaking bones and tearing tendons. The bones heal hut the tendons never really recover 100%.’
And Minnaar is as excited as ever, even though this is probably starting to look at the twilight years of his careers.
‘I’ve made some great improvements on my bike and am starting to gel very nicely. Being six foot three inches (in the old language) compared to many guys a who are around 5′ 7′ means my bike is always a bit bigger but we’ve made it ever bigger, about 40mm longer than the rest now and it’s really feeling good now.
‘I suppose when I finish a year ranked in the 20-30’s and start losing it then I’ll hand over to the youngsters but not yet.’
And what else is there to keep him busy. ‘Well I’ve got the bike shop in Pietermaritzburg which I’ve taken over from my folks and then I’ve also started a jewellery business called Misahara with two friends. We’re launched in December in the Plaza Hotel, NYC and now our focus is in the Adriatic where we’ll be opening another two stores soon.’
Clearly SA’s own MTB gem will be looking to shine brightly in more than one aspect in years to come…