Going downhill fast is, metaphorically speaking, a very bad thing but for international champion Greg Minnaar the literal version has put him on top of the world.
After chalking up his second downhill world championship title in Leogang, Austria, in September, Minnaar finished off his season with a podium in the final UCI Downhill Mountain Bike World Cup event in Hafjel, Norway, to finish runner-up overall.
“I was happy to finish up second overall and would have liked to have won the race but third on the day was good,” says Minnaar.
“It was quite tough racing for second in the World Cup having won the Worlds.”
The Santa Cruz Syndicate rider first grabbed international headlines when he won his first world title in Lugano, Switzerland, in 2003.
The 30-year-old says taking the laurels a second time feels just as good as it did first time round.
“I don’t feel any different to nine years ago when I won my first world championship; the only thing that has changed is that I probably appreciate it a little more.”
With the 2013 event taking place in his hometown of Pietermaritzburg, Minnaar is already eyeing a title defence.
“It has to be my number one priority,” he says. “There’s no better race to win and now it’s at home . . . I have to be ready for it.”
As the poster boy for downhill racing, he admits that the heat is on. “The pressure is already mounting but I don’t mind. I just have to make sure I rise above it.”
Minnaar says the biggest challenges will probably come from the likes of World Cup winner Aaron Gwin of America, Canadian Stevie Smith, the Brit Gee Atherton or Mick Hannah of Australia.
Ironically, he says, his personal recipe for success is based on a lack of confidence in his riding.
“So I always put in more effort than the others. I’ve always done this and never think I have done enough.”
The philosophy has clearly served him well as Minnaar is also a three-time World Cup and double American national champion.
“The psychological aspect is a big part of being a champion downhiller. You can be the best rider but never the best racer if your mental game is not up to scratch.”
He says fitness, power and knowing how to strategize your run are also essential.
“I grew up racing motocross, so I always liked the speed and technical aspect. I rode cross-country a little but was more suited to downhill.”
A passionate advocate of the sport, Minnaar says downhill racing is by no means the redheaded stepchild of mountain biking.
“Downhill has its own following, which is very strong at the moment. It has grown a lot over the last five years.”
He attributes it to the growth in the number of foreign ski resorts opening up downhilling out of season. “Some of these bike parks are generating more money in the summer now through downhill racing than they do in winter.”
Now at the peak of his powers in a growing sport and with at least one more world title in his sights, it seems Minnaar won’t be sloping off into the sunset any time soon.
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