By Bardy the Downhill Action Scribe

Former downhill world champion Greg Minnaar (Santa Cruz Syndicate) will add some depth to the start list at the 2008 Mazda MTN South African mountain bike championships, which take place in Pietermaritzburg on Sunday.


Minnaar’s first foray back into top-flight racing, following a five-month injury-induced layoff to repair a broken shoulder, is appropriately in his hometown, on the very same slopes that helped nurture his skills that took him to overall victory in the World Cup in 2001 and 2005 and the world championships title in 2003.

A multiple winner of the South African championships, Minnaar has opted out of competing in the national showpiece for the past few years, but still usually appears at the event to support the competitors and do a couple of demo runs for his fans.

But this year Minnaar will officially enter the event as a test to see how his shoulder has mended following major surgery in November 2007.

“The shoulder isn’t 100 percent yet, but the operation was a success as I’ve been riding for three weeks now and it’s holding up well,” said Minnaar. “I raced in the KwaZulu-Natal provincial championship two weeks ago on this same course. I’m struggling to lift the bike still, but am using my body weight more to compensate. I think I need to race a bit to help strengthen the muscles.”

Minnaar, who is one of the top downhill racers in the world, will start as the clear favourite on Sunday, but the 26-year-old says he’s far from peak form and that victory isn’t a given.

“The Neethling brothers, Jonty and Andrew will find this course suits them for sure. Others like Johan Potgieter and Gary Barnard are also likely to put in a good performance. It’s going to be really interesting,” said Minnaar.

Other top finishers in the 2008 Mazda MTN SA Cup Series that are sure to challenge for podium places are Greg Saharin, Wesley Augustyn and Travis Browning.

“Travis is one to watch too,” said Minnaar. “He’s only in his first-year of racing Elite but he’s quick and he’ll be comfortable on his home course too.”

Like the cross-country route, which will host racing on Saturday, the downhill course has been designed to international standards in the hope of securing a round of the UCI World Cup in the near future.

“The downhill track is just over 2.9km in length,” explained MTB SA’s Mike Bradley. “Greg Minnaar’s average speed at the provincial champs was 41kph. It’s got quick start, a longish pedalling section in the middle. There are rock drops, road jumps, wall rides, ski jumps and a frighteningly fast finish!”

Minnaar agreed with Bradley’s description: “I’ll say it’s a fast finish! It’s steep and narrow and you get up to around 75, 80kph. Not for the feint hearted and great for spectators!”

The Elite women’s title is expected to be fought out between Gina Nixon, winner of Round 1 of the SA Cup in Stellenbosch and Rika Olivier, who claimed the victory at Round 2 in Johannesburg.

The racing takes place at Cascades and starts at 10h00.