Minnaar digs deep

2013-09-02 00:00

IT was a fairytale finish to the UCI Mountain Bike and Trials World Championship when Pietermaritzburg’s Greg Minnaar defended his downhill crown at Cascades MTB Park yesterday.

Minnaar, who didn’t set a fast time through the first split, recovered very well in the second section of the track to finish with a very good time of 3:58:058 — 0.396 seconds faster than second-placed Michael Hannah from Australia.

After Canadian Steve Smith — ranked second in the world — crashed on his run, the local crowd realised Minnaar’s position hinged on Brit Gee Atherton’s time.

Atherton, whose sister Rachel had just been crowned the women’s downhill champion, struggled through the second section and was three seconds off the pace.

He eventually finished four seconds off Minnaar’s time, leading to wild celebrations from the Pietermaritzburg crowd who had gathered to see their local hero.

“When Stevie went down, I didn’t want to get too excited, but when Gee’s first time came through, Mick [Hannah] said to me ‘it’s yours’,” Minnaar said.

Minnaar thanked Pietermaritzburg and those who had travelled from all over the country and said hearing their cheers helped him dig deep for the win.

“My legs were on fire, but I knew I had to give it my all, and when I heard the crowd, I dug as deep as I could,” he said, adding he realised he had a flat tyre in the last rock section.

“I knew that the leak wouldn’t affect me in the end.”

In a fitting end to the world championships Nkosi Sikelel’ iAfrica was the last anthem to be played after not being heard all week.

In the women’s race, it was a one-woman show as Rachel Atherton destroyed her competition, making the UK proud by winning the world championship by a massive eight seconds.

Rachel Atherton was delighted with her win. “It’s been a long time coming with me having won my last title in 2008, and so I was starting to wonder if it would ever come again,” she said.

Australia’s Paul van der Ploeg won yesterday’s men’s cross-country eliminator, beating Daniel Federspeil of Austria who finished second, and Catriel Andres of Argentina.

Alexandra Engen of Sweden won the women’s race, fending off the challenge of the Swiss duo of Jolanda Neff and Linda Indergand, who came second and third respectively.

Saturday was also a busy day at the championships.

Swiss cyclist Nino Schurter showed just why he was the reigning world champion when he defended his cross-country crown in emphatic fashion.

Schurter, like compatriot Jolanda Neff had done in the women’s under-23 race on Friday, led from start to finish and was never under any real threat from the rest of the field.

Germany’s Manuel Fumic finished in second place, seven seconds behind Schurter, while 35-year-old former world champion Jose Hermida did well to get the bronze medal.

Speaking of his world championship win, Schurter said: “It was a perfect race for me. The goal was to start fast and I had a gap of about five seconds after the first lap. I had the perfect bike for the race.”

The silver medallist in London 2012 said he treated the race like any other and didn’t put any added pressure on himself. “I knew that I was in good shape. And the pressure was no different from other races.”

To Fumic’s surprise, Schurter said he took a bit of a fall on the final bend on the last lap, but managed to recover to cross first.

South Africa’s top cyclist, Philip Buys, started the race well, crossing the line in 12th place after the first lap. However, as the race went on, he seemed to drop further and further down the field, and could only manage to finish in 53rd.

The highest placed South African was Renay Groustra who placed 47th, while Matthys Beukes finished in 49th.

Olympic gold medallist and reigning women’s world champion Julie Bresset also defended her crown, beating Poland’s Maja Wloszczowska by five hundredths of a second in second, and 39-year-old Esther Süss from Switzerland who came in third.

• lunga.biyela@witness.co.za

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