Racing in his hometown of Pietermaritzburg, South Africa, Greg Minnaar won the UCI Downhill World Cup season opener on Sunday with an exhilarating final run that had the hill alive with the roar of thousands of fans.
"It's a great feeling to do well in front of all my family and friends and their support is amazing!" said Minnaar, who also won the Pietermaritzburg World Cup in 2009.
Minnaar and his Santa Cruz Syndicate teammates Steve Peat and Josh Bryceland enjoyed the local crowds and improvements to the track. Training went well all week and the trio came into the season fit and lean.
Minnaar was fastest in qualifying by a slim margin of 0.008 seconds over Aaron Gwin (Trek World Racing), and he picked up max points for his efforts. Peat was 11th fastest and Bryceland was 17th.
Rain was on and off during the week, with quite a bit coming down on race night. It dried up quickly and turned out to be a beautiful day for the finals.
Minnaar started into his final race run and made a few mistakes and was two seconds down at the first split. He gained some time by the second split and was only one second off the pace. As he neared the finish, the volume of the hometown crowd was at a fevered pitch and boosted his effort into overdrive. As the leader board went green, fans flooded into the finish area to congratulate Minnaar while Peaty lifted him off the ground in victory.
"I made a few mistakes on the top part of the track and I knew I had to make up some time. On the bottom section I had to stand and pedal hard and I fought all the way to the finish," said Minnaar. "And then Steve jumped over the fence and grabbed me - I knew I had won."
Peat finished 15th while Bryceland was 21st.
Former world champion Peat also made history at the race. He took to the World Cup start line for the 100th time.
"Although I wasn't too happy with my 15th place result, I was over the moon for Greg," said Peat. "He dug deep and took the win for the home crowd!"
Minnaar's latest win brings his career tally to 18 on the World Cup circuit. His podium tally is up to 53 appearances, thereby besting Peat's 52 podiums. By virtue of winning the opening round, Minnaar now leads the World Cup overall with 250 points to Gwin's 200 points.
The next World Cup is in Val di Sole in Italy in May.