PIETERMARITZBURG, RSA - The UCI World Cup Downhill Series kicked off in the southern hemisphere in Greg Minnaar’s backyard in Pietermaritzburg. Minnaar had only been on a downhill bike for five weeks since recovering from ACL reconstruction and meniscus surgery last October. He didn’t have any idea where his fitness would be leading into the race, but after a timed run, which was four seconds faster than the others, his curiosity about his chances turned to confidence. Josh and Steve were feeling strong, having just come off good performances at the first BDS round.
The first World Cup is the marker for your winter training. Have you done enough? How do you rank with the others? Qualifier day would reveal the answers. Crack student Josh Bryceland astounded everyone with a smoking 2nd place qualifier with Greg on his heals in 3rd. Steve went steady for a 17th place qualifier. Josh was buzzing with his performance and eager for the race the next day. Greg knew he lost a lot of time in the first section (6 seconds to Josh), so he was on the hunt in the track walk to find some time.
Race day, Mick Hannah came down early. He smashed out a time of 4:01.38 that held for dozens of riders. Steve set off and slid out in a corner in the first section and then steadily went faster in the sectors down the course and placed 16th. Mick’s time was holding and his danger men were coming. Greg was on course now with just Josh and Aaron Gwin left.
Greg was up at the first split, and the second. With the crowd going mental Greg dug as deep as he could, yet he uncharacteristically lost time in the last sector to come within .7 seconds of Mick. Josh set off attacking the course and in the first rock garden hit a rock so hard it bent his chain ring. He rode the rest of the race chainless, whipping it up in style to please the fans and placed 43rd. Gwin came down and took the win, 2 seconds ahead of Mick and Greg.
Greg was pleased with his result and said, “I’ve been recovering from the knee injury and it will still take time to heal, so my right leg is overcompensating and is sore from the race. I didn’t expect to do as well as I did, but I’m really happy that I was 3rd!”
The next round of the World Cup takes place in Cairns, Australia where the 1996 World Championships were held. Steve will be the only downhill rider to have raced in 1996 and 2014.
All copy and photos courtesy Kathy Sessler/Santa Cruz Syndicate