Local ace fastest down

2012-03-17 00:00

HOME-TOWN hero Greg Minnaar started the RockyRoads UCI MTB World Cup on just the note the local fans were asking for at the qualifying runs for the season-opening downhill title decider at the Cascades MTB Park yesterday.

He posted the fastest time in cool and overcast but dry conditions.

Minnaar, who won here sensationally in 2009, and was narrowly edged off his throne by U.S. star Aaron Gwin in last year’s World Cup, started second and was just one of a handful of riders who raced sub-four minutes on the boldly reshaped downhill course.

“My run was pretty smooth. It was good, but I know technically I made a couple of mistakes.

“I didn’t expect it to be so dry,” said Minnaar.

“Unfortunately, there were a couple of corners where I came in and I ran a bit late, but it happens.

“It’s a good start to the season. It shows my fitness is there. I know everyone is going for it.”

The popular Pietermaritzburg star is racing on the encouragement of his ill father, Jeff, who is in intensive care in a city hospital. Minnaar's Santa Cruz Syndicate team gave him the latitude to choose to be at his father’s side, but his father insisted that that he race the World Cup instead.

Defending champion Aaron Gwin was second fastest, setting the stage for a thrilling showdown in the downhill finals tomorrow afternoon. The field of 135 downhillers was cut to 80 for tomorrow’s final.

The qualification runs were safely negotiated by most of the world top 20 riders, but Kiwi star Brook McDonald fell heavily on his run, hitting the hip flexor on the Money Maker jump, badly injuring his left knee and right cheek in the fall.

African champ Andrew “Needles” Neethling started his 2012 season on a solid note, posting the tenth fastest time of the day.

“That was really good for a quali, really solid. I hit pretty much all my lines. I was probably cautious in bits, and over-cautious in others, but I am very happy with a lot of it,” said Neethling

“I’m nursing a hand that I gave a good bump yesterday, so I’m really glad,” he added. “I think it’s going to hold up just fine. It was frustrating because I was worried it was going to hamper me.”

Australian Tracey Hannah, now racing with the Hutchinson United Ride team, started her comeback in spectacular fashion by blitzing the women’s downhill qualification with the fastest time of the day by almost four seconds, followed by world champ Emmeline Ragout and top-ranked Floriane Pugin.

Sister to Mick Hannah, Tracey is a former junior world champion, and after some success on the international circuit show bowed out of competitive riding for four years before refocusing her energies on the 2012 season.

“I was a little nervous, but I just made sure I warmed up, so my heart rate was up,” said Hannah.

“I was more excited to see where I was at with my time. I was more anxious. I was looking forward to this race for seeding, so I could get a feel of where I was at after the race.

“I was surprised! I had a great run and I knew it was good,” she added.

“I knew my time was going to be good for me — it was the best that I could do. I guess I just surprised myself how much further ahead of the other girls I was.”

Today sees the long-awaited showdown for the RockyRoads UCI MTB World Cup cross-country titles in the junior, U23 and senior ranks. The big crowd expected on course will be rallying behind local MTB icon Burry Stander, whose race in last year’s World Cup on the same course ended in heartbreak when he first bent a derailleur and then crashed in the Rapid Rocks rock garden in the dying stages of the race.

“That rock garden deserves respect!” said Stander, who prepared for the World Cup and Olympic season with the SA Sports Science Institute in Cape Town and used personal trainers as well as dieticians to fine-tune his regime.

“It’s going to be tough, but then this is what it is all about— the best riders on a tough course.”

Stander will start with the Specialized team that was rampant last season, with world champ Jaroslav Kulhavy and Stander’s friend and ally, Christoph Sauser, in the team line-up, ready to take on the class of Swiss Nino Schurter, who won here last week, and Frenchman Julien Absalon, Spanish ace Jose Harmeda Ramos and every other rider in the world top 15 rankings.

The women’s title race will see a showdown between world champ Catharine Pendrell and number one ranked Julie Bresset, one of 17 national champions in the women’s field.

— Own Correspondent.

RESULTS

MEN’S TOP TEN: 1. Greg Minnaar 3:59:620, 2. Aaron Gwin +0.008, 3. Steve Smith +0.871, 4. Gee Atherton +1.767, 5. Troy Brosnan +2.270, 6. Michael Hannah +4.385, 7. Cédric Gracia +5.055, 8. Aurélien Giordaengo +5.901, 9. Jared Graves +5.908, 10. Andrew Neethling +6.347

WOMEN’S TOP TEN: 1. Tracey Hannah 4:36:853, 2. Emmeline Ragot +3.556, 3. Floriane Pugin +3.660, 4. Sabrina Jonnier +3.984, 5. Jill Kintner +6.436, 6. Myriam Nicole +11.381, 7. Luana Mariade De Sousa Olivieria +13.465, 8. Miriam Ruchti +14.760, 9. Emilie Siegenthaler +15.371, 10. Manon Carpenter +15.914

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