PMB's hero returns

2014-03-21 00:00

HAVING suffered a serious knee injury towards the back end of the 2013 mountain bike season, Pietermaritzburg’s hometown hero, Greg Minnaar, is back home and trying to get as fit as possible in the build-up to the first leg of the 2014 UCI MTB World Cup in Pietermaritzburg when it starts at his beloved Cascades MTB Park from April 11 to 13.

Having stormed to a memorable win in Pietermaritzburg last year at the 2013 UCI MTB and Trials World Championships, the weight of expectation on the 32 year old from the local crowd is something that he has come to terms with and having a couple of wins on his home course means that the pressure is always to succeed.

“Winning at home always adds a bit of pressure,” the three-time men’s Downhill World Champion said. “Coming home to friends and family adds a little bit of stress and pressure, but I still think that the majority of pressure comes from me and always wanting to win in front of my home crowd.”

Being a three-time world champion in his discipline brings celebrity status in many circles, but Minnaar feels that being in Pietermaritzburg gives him a chance to lay low and avoid a bit of the hype that comes when the World Cups come to town.

“Pietermaritzburg is a place that does not praise celebrities,” he mentioned. “The locals around here don’t really take notice, which, I think, is a good thing and it is something that keeps a person sane and grounded, which is what I want.

“If you go to Cape Town, there is so much hype and the people are pretty dramatic about the whole celebrity thing. Maritzburg is very real,” Minnaar added philosophically.

Being the poster boy of South African downhill, it could be argued that he has become the man that all young and aspiring downhill riders look up to — and with a number of up-and-coming riders in the Pietermaritzburg region, and throughout the country, Minnaar has played his part.

“I really don’t see myself as a role model at the moment. I think I might look back in a few years and think that I did something to encourage people to try different sports as opposed to the mainstream sports we have in the country, but not a role model.

“I went for a ride the other day and saw a group of youngsters doing sprint interval training with Dave Louw, and I thought that it’s great that these kids have been able to get advice and guidance from a young age. I think I only got on a mountain bike for the first time at 14,” added Minnaar light-heartedly.

The Cascades Mountain Bike Park has grown into a world-class facility and is one of a handful of venues in the world where cross country and downhill can be ridden at the same venue. The evolution of the Cascades facility has been an important factor in growing mountain biking in the region.

“Cascades has been so important for the sport in Pietermaritzburg. The riders can come out here and ride on some world-class tracks and Nick Floris has does an incredible job in creating such a quality venue.

“For me, personally, it has been awesome because I hate having to drive somewhere to ride and here I have the Cascades about one kilometre from my house, which is great,” Minnaar said.

Having been born and raised in the City of Choice, splitting his time between San Francisco and Pietermaritzburg is quite important and he can safely say that there is no place like home when he returns back for about half the year.

“I am always comfortable here, and with my friends and my family here, it is always a pleasure being back home. Although I am comfortable in San Francisco as well, having the comforts of being home is always great.

“There are great gyms around here and, especially after my knee operation, great physiotherapists and biokineticist who have helped in my recovery.

“Also not having to drive to ride makes it a lot more appealing coming home,” the local star added in jest.

Getting the local people to the event in April is always something that the organisers have to push, and Minnaar feels that the uniqueness of the event and the hype that one picks up on when you enter the Cascades MTB Park is something that you don’t quite get at other events.

“The event is really exciting and you won’t see the type of emotion that you do here at other events. It is a whole day activity where you can stroll up into the forest to see the riders early in the day and then head down to the finish for the last few riders — and the hype that you experience is something special.

“After I injured my knee last year, I was able to be part of the crowd for the last world cup event and it is something special being part of such an enthusiastic crowd,” he concluded.

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