MTB World Cup: Greg Minnaar’s not just into downhill

2009-04-10 00:00

IF you were in the Cascades area over the last week or so, you could easily have crossed paths with a world champion — and not even noticed.

For those in the know, Greg Minnaar is one of the world’s best downhill racers, with three Mountain Bike World Championships to his name. And he is back in his home city, competing in this weekend’s UCI Nissan Mountain Bike World Cup.

“It’s great to be competing in my backyard, and the course is in great condition,” the 27-year old former Carter High pupil says.

Minnaar left Carter in 1997 as a 16-year-old hellbent on world success, and after a few years learning his craft on the demanding tracks of Europe, he has gone on to become one of the world’s best.

His current base is in Santa Cruz, California, but his career has taken him to some interesting corners of the world. “I have travelled quite a bit, and one of my favourite spots is the Arai mountain course in Japan.”

Minnaar, a self-confessed adrenalin junkie, has also dabbled in other extreme sports — much to the surprise of some of his sponsors.

“I had just come back from a shoulder injury last year and our season was over, so I took part in the Roof of Africa.”

The epic rally, which is held in Lesotho, is notorious for its relentless strain on motorbike and body — hardly the way to recover from recent injury!

“When I told my sponsors, I don’t think they realised what it was. But when they saw some of my action pictures, they were very concerned!” Minnaar says.

Despite being a novice, the ultra-competitive Minnaar was still amongst the lucky 19 who finished the race, and ended a commendable fifth in the 200 cc category.

“Just finishing was great, but I think I want to get into more of that when my downhill career ends.”

That is not going to be anytime soon, however, with Minnaar setting his sights on another World Championship title and a World Cup triumph this year.

“I’ve raced the World Cup course before, so it’s just about putting it together on the day,” he says.

“The thing about downhill is that you are racing the clock, so you just have to go flat out and post your best time.

Anyone who has sneaked a peak at the treacherous Cascades mountain course will immediately think of battered bodies and broken bones. “Ja, I have been lucky with injuries so far,” Minnaar says, before quickly adding; “Touch wood.”

“I had that shoulder injury and also buggered my scapula, but it’s not been too bad so far. It’s like any sport, an injury can always happen, so we just tend not to think about it.”

Minnaar’s personal website reveals a passion for outdoors and adventure, but he also finds time to unwind with his fellow racers after meetings.

“There is a nice vibe within downhill, and we all usually let our hair down a bit after a tough week of training and then competing.”

Minnaar lists “beer tasting” as one of his hobbies, and reveals that he has found a few amber nectars on his excursions around the world.

“There is a very nice one from Belgium, but I am also quite partial to Heineken,” he says, adding that they label it as “carbo-loading” to their sponsors!

Downhill mountain biking has built up a niche market, but Minnaar is still a relative unknown in these parts. “It’s big in Europe, and Euro-sport is actually broadcasting live throughout the weekend. I guess it’s growing into other markets too, but I am a bit surprised that SABC or SuperSport aren’t here even when it’s in South Africa.”

But the adulation and fortune is not what inspires the Chase Valley resident.

“Of course I don’t do it for the fame. I just love racing, the sheer thrill of it and just being out and about on great tracks.”

Minnaar is also excited about Maritzburg becoming a regular fixture on the biking calendar.

“I think the area just lends itself to the outdoors lifestyle, and the people here are real enthusiasts.”

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