From pretty speechless to pretty bummed. Greg Minnaar finished a truncated and compacted UCI Downhill Mountain Bike World Cup season with a win and the narrowest of second places in Lousã, Portugal this past weekend.
After a stunning win in the first of the double header races on Friday, Minnaar, who was the second-last man to go down the hill, was pipped by Frenchman Loic Bruni by 0.170 seconds on Sunday.
“I’m pretty bummed,” said Minnaar. “To be so close and have a good battle with Loic. We had good battles in race one and race two. He’s just got me at the bottom. It was super close. My run was good. I nailed everything I wanted to. I felt good on the bike.”
At the age of 38, Pietermartizburg’s Minnaar gives up 12 years to the 26-year-old Bruni. Matt Walker, the Brit who won the World Cup overall after Minnaar’s Santa Cruz Syndicate teammate Loris Vergier had punctured on his run on Friday, is just 21. Minnaar is the Benjamin Button in a sport that is hard on the body and the nerves, and demands high levels of strength, fitness and no small amount of skill.
Vergier had been leading the World Cup until Friday’s puncture, and Minnaar, despite having taken his 22ndWorld Cup win, the most by any rider in the competition in its history, had a word for his French friend.
“I had a great ride down. It is one of those bittersweet wins when one of your biggest rivals – who is also your teammate and good friend and is leading the World Cup – punctures on the way down. I feel real sorry for Loris to have that happen today. I can’t believe it. I’m pretty speechless really,” said Minnaar.
Minnaar has been testing in the region for ages, but he didn’t feel like he was going to win. His run looked smooth – it always looks smooth, and he was on the pace hard from the off.
“It didn’t feel like (he would win). I had a good timed session and then in qualifying I was back a bit. I lost a lot of time in the bottom pedal, and so today I just tried to focus on neatening up my run and my line. I knew that in the middle section I was lacking time. Once I got down to the bottom I thought, jeez, I’m not going to lose this race here, so I just went as hard as I could.
“I’ve got some ruthless friends at home who have been demanding wins, so I’m glad I’ve done it for them. It is hard. You’ve got a long week with another race coming up tomorrow. You try to rest as much as you can, draw it out. I was pretty tired going into today, so I am glad I had the legs to push through it. You just push yourself when you are racing to another mindset, another level, and I think that’s what the addiction of racing is.”
Minnaar spent the first part of the year in hard lockdown in South Africa, not able to train on the Cascades track he can see from his house in Pietermaritzburg before restrictions on exercise were eased and then, thankfully, lifted. He eventually got over to Europe in July, with much of the season’s races having been cancelled or postponed. With the downhill circuit having been dominated by Frenchmen recently, Minnaar was happy to get one over on them this weekend.
“It’s been a couple of years now that I’ve been battling these Frenchies,” laughed Minnaar. “I gave them a few jabs last year. Walker’s up there now and we are starting to topple them for once. It’s a great feeling. Jokes aside, we’ve had a pretty tough year. There’s this virus going around. I was in lockdown in South Africa. My wish is that this will give hope to the guys back there and spread a little positivity around the world.”