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PMB’s Greg Minnaar is MTB’s G.O.A.T

Flying high is “daring” downhill mountain bike racer Greg Minnaar, on a trail through the Cascades forest in Pietermaritzburg. Minnaar is widely regarded as the greatest of all time in this discipline of bike riding. Picture: Andrew Mc Fadden / BOOGS Photography

Flying high is “daring” downhill mountain bike racer Greg Minnaar, on a trail through the Cascades forest in Pietermaritzburg. Minnaar is widely regarded as the greatest of all time in this discipline of bike riding. Picture: Andrew Mc Fadden / BOOGS Photography

Published Jan 30, 2022

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IT’S been a lifetime of winding and bumpy downhill rides, including some bone-crunching falls, but it's all been worth it, said Greg Minnaar, Pietermaritzburg’s celebrated mountain bike rider.

After more than two decades of competing professionally, Minnaar is regarded as the world’s greatest mountain bike rider of all time.

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Flying high is “daring” downhill mountain bike racer Greg Minnaar, on a trail through the Cascades forest in Pietermaritzburg. Minnaar is widely regarded as the greatest of all time in this discipline of bike riding. Picture: Andrew Mc Fadden / BOOGS Photography

Even at age 40, Minnaar, who cycles in an elite league of downhill mountain racers, has no immediate plans to hit the brakes on a career that has brought him much success.

By clinching the 2021 UCI Downhill World Championship crown, for the fourth time in his career, Minnaar showed that his pedal power was far from declining.

Minnaar also has three World Championship titles to his name, and he seldom misses out on podium finishes at events.

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SOME of the downhill mountain bikers, pros and rookies, gathered at the Cascades forest in Pietermaritzburg recently to pit skills against star rider, Greg Minnaar. Picture: Andrew McFadden/BOOGS Photography

Understandably, his participation in a local developmental downhill event in his hometown last Sunday, which was formulated by Alistair Brand, chairman of the KZN Gravity Commission, and named in honour of Minnaar, drew a good response.

As their contribution to growing the sport locally, Minnaar and his business partner sponsored the event (Greg Minnaar Rookie Series).

“The local ‘gravity’ (downhill racing) scene needs backing. Alistair (Brand) came up with a wonderful concept to introduce youngsters to gravity. It was a great event.”

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A similar event, where novices teamed up with the pros, was held in December, in spite of rainy conditions.

Minnaar couldn’t ride along because he had a wedding to attend.

“I saw the excitement of all the kids and even the adults in the mud and rain…that’s when I said to Alistair we need to arrange another one before I return to Europe.”

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Brand said Minnaar was a huge drawcard as they had entrants from KwaZulu-Natal, Cape Town and Joburg.

CHAMPION downhill mountain bike racer Greg Minnaar presents a medal to a young enthusiast at the Greg Minnaar Rookie Series, held in Pietermaritzburg, last week Picture: Andrew McFadden / BOOGS Photography

Minnaar, who was in Pietermaritzburg for the holiday season, jetted out to Portugal on Thursday, for 10 days, to join the rest of his team (Santa Cruz Syndicate).

They will do pre-season testing, before filming a bike launch, ahead of the new season, which begins at the end of March in France.

Minnaar, who now lives in Andorra, a small European co-principality set in the Pyrenees Mountains, near France and Spain, will return to Pietermaritzburg for a few weeks, to prepare for the season’s start.

Mental toughness is a must for athletes of Minnaar’s ilk and his physical preparation includes a series of repetitive drills.

Minnaar, who doesn’t consider his routine tedious, said his body was in good shape and he felt blessed to be in a sport that he loved greatly.

Given his sporting profile, Minnaar enjoys a “braaivleis” whenever he can.

“It's the hardest thing to have braaivleis in Europe. My friend and fellow South African Brad Binder (MotoGP rider) lives up the road, and we meet often to enjoy a steak, brandy and Coke. These are traditions that don’t leave us.”

Minnaar said while he generally had a healthy lifestyle, the worst thing was to stress over eating something unhealthy.

“It is important to eliminate stress and enjoy life, but you could cause stress to your body if you are panicking over what you eat,” he said.

To be a downhill mountain biker, Minnaar rates having a certain amount of “daring” a must.

“Lots of people think the sport was a brainless attempt to go as fast as you can down a hill, you just let the brakes off and head for the finish line, but it’s a calculated algorithm on your way down.

Minnaar said there were lots of risks, referring especially to some of his “spectacular” falls over the years.

“The worst falls are not always the big ones. The small awkward ones usually get you. I separated my shoulder after crashing into a tree recently.

“I am a competitive guy and I find the challenge of coming back from injury as challenging as trying to win a race.”

He said the sport also had its rewards and although the finish post was the foremost thing on his mind during a race, taking in the sights was a part of getting there.

“We are usually racing in mountains, which are always beautiful.”

While his local Andorra track and Fort William in Scotland are the most scenic for him, Minnaar said he got the best surprise riding through the Cascades Forest in Pietermaritzburg recently.

“Once you’re inside, you’ll be blown away by the cliffs, rock faces and caves.”

For someone who continuously rides “in the wild”, Minnaar said he has never had any “scary” encounters with animals.

“My wildest experience was when I was chased by a giraffe at a Pietermaritzburg nature reserve. I was about 13 and riding my mountain bike with my sister,” he recalled.

Minnaar’s competitive riding journey began at age 4. His father Jeff started BMX racing in South Africa, and Minnaar also gave it a go.

But a year later he switched to motocross and competed until his early teen years.

“My parents did a full circle at the time and bought a bicycle shop in Pietermaritzburg and that’s how I got into mountain biking.

“I was already very competitive by then. I directed all my skills from motocross, love for speed and adrenalin toward mountain biking.”

He acknowledged the sport, especially gravity, has not gained the same traction locally, as it has overseas.

“I’m not troubled by that because I didn't get into it for the recognition.”

About wearing the “world’s greatest downhill racer” tag, Minnaar said it was not among the goals he set out to achieve.

“I am very humbled to be told that. I still don’t feel like I have mastered the sport. I think I would feel differently if I had. Perhaps that’s what’s driving me in my forties.”

SUNDAY TRIBUNE

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