Michael Mechura (CZE) during the four Cross qualifying round at the UCI Mountain Bike World Cup in Pietermaritzburg.

South African Greg Minnaar won the men's downhill title in the opening leg of the Mountainbike World Cup in Pietermaritzburg on Sunday.

In the women's race, Australian speedster Tracey Hannah completed a fairytale comeback to downhill racing by winning in emphatic fashion.

Minnaar, 30, started last as the quickest qualifier, and initially looked to be behind the fast time laid down by seasoned Australian star Mick Hannah.

Hannah looked poised to make it a family victory after his sister, Tracey, had scooped the women's title.

However, Minnaar, the 2009 champion, dug deep over the tough final third of the course for the win.

“It was just a catch-up game, and I think that's what got me down the bottom slightly quicker than these guys,” said Minnaar.

“I had to fight the whole way through to the end.

“When you cross the line, you're never sure where you are, there's no scoreboard in front of you.”

The victory was an emotional one for Minnaar, who had spent much of the past fortnight at his father’s side in intensive care at a local hospital.

Minnaar's team had given him the licence to withdraw but his father had insisted that he carry on.

“I don't know how excited the staff at the St Anne's Hospital will be when we roll in to celebrate,” Minnaar said.

It was Minnaar's sixteenth World Cup victory in his 54th outing.

The women's race ended in a comfortable victory for comeback kid Hannah, who was racing for the first time in four years.

Starting last after posting the fastest time in qualifying, Hannah scorched down the lower section of the course to complete her dream return to the gravity discipline.

She was given a bear-hug at the finish by her brother, Mick, who had helped get her back into competitive racing.

“I was super nervous, so much so that I felt like vomiting before the start,” she said afterwards. – Sapa