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South African National Championships - CN
Pietermaritzburg, South Africa, March 16, 2008
Race 3 - March 16: Downhill
Minnaar makes a triumphant return
Greg Minnaar, South Africa's most successful mountain bike racer, made a triumphant return to competition at the weekend after a long injury layoff to capture the 2008 Mazda MTN South African Downhill Mountain Bike Championships title. A slightly stiff-shouldered Minnaar, who races for the US-based Santa Cruz Syndicate team, lacked some of his usual fluidity, but was certainly not lacking any speed or class as he completed two virtually identical runs down the tricky 2.9km plunge through the forest at Cascades on the western slopes of his hometown, Pietermaritzburg.
The 26 year-old Minnaar underwent major surgery to repair a troublesome shoulder, which he broke during a crash at the world championships in Scotland last October. The national championships event on Sunday was his first real taste of competition after having been back on the bike for only three weeks.
On his first run in wet conditions, Minnaar clocked a fast 4:38.76 to give him a substantial cushion over his rivals going into the second run. Only defending national champion, Andrew Neethling (Mongoose), was able to join Minnaar in breaking five minutes in the first round with a time of 4:51.34.
Wind and sunshine ensured the course dried out substantially for the second round and Neethling's second run of 4:41.03 was almost 10 seconds quicker than his first, bringing him close to Minnaar's time and confirming his world-class pedigree. But Minnaar, a two-time overall World Cup winner and the 2003 world champion, was a model of consistency, clocking a fractionally quicker 04:38.09 to secure his first South African title since 2002 when he lasted contested it.
"To be honest, it was quite a relief to win today," smiled Minnaar. "I'm always expected to win in South Africa and when I'm home, I'm not super focused on racing so went into the race a bit under-prepared. But it all worked out okay and my shoulder never bothered me at all, although I was a bit stiff from practising in the mud on Saturday."
Neethling's younger brother, Jonty, was significantly quicker on his second run, clocking a rapid 4:51.51 which was good enough to give him the bronze medal in one of the highest quality downhill fields ever assembled at a South African national championships.
In the Elite women's event, Gina Nixon made a big improvement over her first run of 7:04.96 with a second run of 6:42.13 to give her the gold medal by a slim margin over Victoria Phillips, whose 6:43.04 was less than a second slower. Rika Oliver just completed one run to secure third place.
For a thumbnail gallery of these images, click here
Images by SA MTB
Overall 1 Greg Minnaar (Santa Cruz Syndicate) 4.38 2 Andrew Neethling (Mongoose) 0.03 3 Jonty Neethling (Morewood) 0.13 4 Johann Potgieter (Cannondale) 0.18 5 Wesley Augustyn (Mongoose) 0.23 6 Chris Nixon (Cannondale) 0.26 7 Travis Browning (Morewood) 0.26 8 Greg Saharin (Giant) 0.31 9 Andrew Guess 0.32 10 Dirk van Schalkwyk 0.32 Elite Men 1 Greg Minnaar (Santa Cruz Syndicate) 4.38 2 Andrew Neethling (Mongoose) 0.03 3 Jonty Neethling (Morewood) 0.13 Elite Women 1 Gina Nixon 6.42 2 Victoria Phillips 0.01 3 Rika Olivier 0.17 Junior Men 1 Hayden Brown 5.10 2 Pierre van der Merwe 0.02 3 Ryno Fourie 0.12 Youth Men 1 Timothy Bentley 5.11 2 Kenneth Sinclair 0.21 3 Andries van Schalkwyk 0.22 Sub-Junior Boys 1 Tiaan Odendaal 5.25 2 Sven Pottow 0.49 3 Kyle Davids 1.09 Sprog Boys 1 Alan Hatherly 6.11 2 Christopher Rigby 1.01 3 Luke Evans 1.29 Sport Men 1 Devin Perry 5.58 2 Marnus Swanepoel 0.21 3 Matthew English 0.26 Sub-veteran Men 1 Myles Kelsey 5.17 2 Leon Pieters 0.34 3 Norman Hatherly 0.41 Veteran Men 1 Chris Nixon 5.04 2 Kim Phillips 0.46 3 Don Duffy 1.24