Cycling

Minnaar's best is yet to come

Greg Minnaar (GamePlan Media)
Greg Minnaar (GamePlan Media)

Johannesburg - He may be considered a legend of downhill mountain biking, but Greg Minnaar believes that title is best reserved for those who have reached their sell-by date.

Winning his third World Championship Downhill title in his home town of Pietermaritzburg earlier this month at age 31, he proved he still had a long shelf life ahead of him.

"I don’t feel like I’ve reached that age yet. I know that I’ve had some great results but there are more to a legend than just results," Minnaar said after successfully defending his world title.

He may be reluctant to adopt his legendary status, but he is still regarded as one of the sport's greatest. His accomplishments on the bike include three overall world cup titles and 15 world cup victories.

Minnaar claimed his first world championship title in 2003 and had to wait nine years before he took the top step of the podium in 2012.

As the Cascades Mountain Bike Park erupted as Minnaar claimed the crown for the third time, the pressure of months' anticipation lifted and was replaced by relief.

"It was a different feeling because I had so much pressure coming into the race and I was more relieved once I had won," Minnaar said.

"Just being at home and having everyone wanting you to win and the pressure of losing at the same time. So this one was more a relief than enjoyment."

Minnaar believed he would have had a better season on in the world cup circuit, had he not been so careful to avoid injury before the global championships on home turf.

"I really wanted to make it my focus because you only get one chance to race the world championships in your home town or in your own country really.

"Back in the beginning of the year I put all my focus to make sure that I peak at the right time, but I think it also hindered my world cup season. "I’ve been riding with the thought in the back of my mind not to crash and I didn’t want to come into Maritzburg with a broken collar bone and not be able to ride."

In his first race since Pietermaritzburg he finished fifth at the penultimate downhill world cup in Hafjell, Norway, on Sunday. Compatriot Andrew Neethling came third.

Minnaar said while nothing could eclipse the exhilaration of winning the world title in his home town in front of his fellow South Africans, he still had a major milestone in his sights.

"It is such a special race and to win it in Pietermaritzburg... I don’t think I am going to have a better experience than that. But at the same time I am close to catching Steve Peat’s record win of 17 world cups. I’d like to have two more world cup wins. I don’t feel like I am 31, and I still am enjoying racing and riding and it is not going to slow down."

Minnaar added Enduro mountain bike racing to his repertoire and claimed his first podium finish with a third place at the Enduro World Series in Val d'Allos, France in June.

"I think I am going to continue for more than two years. I haven’t had as much fun as I am having now on the bike," Minnaar said.

"I am really enjoying the environment of mountain biking and where it is taking me, so that is pretty cool. I’ve also turned to enduro racing now, which is another kind of discipline of mountain biking."

While Minnaar is revered worldwide for his achievements in downhill mountain biking, he has not received the same amount of attention in South Africa.

His successes have not translated into significant endorsements in his homeland, but Minnaar says recognition was not the driving force behind his achievements.

"It doesn’t really slow me down because I don’t do it for the recognition, I do it because I love racing and if I did it for the recognition it would hurt me a lot," he said.

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