Greg Minnaar celebrated his 27th birthday last week while inspecting the course for the first round of the 2009 UCI Mountain Bike World Cup to be held in his hometown of Pietermaritzburg, South Africa. Minnaar, who was crowned the 2008 World Cup Champion, was all smiles as he chatted to media and local dignitaries at a launch function that gave a glimpse of what the midlands city can expect next April, when the world's best and their entourage arrive to contest the prestigious cycling event.
"It's awesome to be able to race a World Cup event right in my hometown and I'm looking forward to it. I will of course be under a lot of pressure as the current World Cup champion, but I relish the prospect of racing against the world's best riders in front of my friends, family and home fans," said Minnaar.
With heavy overnight rain making the downhill course extremely muddy and slippery, Minnaar opted to serve as a tour guide to local media, international and local cycling officials and Pietermaritzburg city officials by walking them through sections of the downhill course, nestled on the steep forested slopes to the west of the city, just above the Cascades Shopping Centre.
"It's a fantastic course that's going to offer a very solid all-round test to riders," said Minnaar. There is no time to recover really, and there are some spectacular drops and jumps that will definitely thrill spectators!"
Burry Stander, who finished second at the 2008 UCI World Championship U23 cross country race, also offered praise. He was as thrilled as Minnaar in looking forward to such a high profile international event coming to his home province.
"I rode sections and it felt no different to being on any other World Cup cross-country course I've raced overseas" said Stander, who lives in Port Shepstone, just 100km from Pietermaritzburg. "What it does have is a lot of short steep climbs and is quite similar in toughness to the Beijing Olympic Games course, which most riders rated as the best 'and hardest' in 2008."
Rising local stars Travis Browning and South African junior champion, Hayden Brown, also gave their feedback on the downhill course while South African national junior champion Rourke Croeser and elite national champion Brandon Stewart joined Stander in checking out the cross country course.
"There will be a junior category on the World Cup circuit from next year and I'll be contesting that" said Croeser, a talented 17-year-old from the KwaZulu-Natal province. "The fact that the first round is starting right here in our backyard is like a dream. Today I just got a sample of this course, but you can bet I'll know this course better than anyone by April!"
"Hosting such a high profile international event is a wonderful way to showcase Pietermaritzburg to the world," said Rob Haswell, Msunduzi municipality strategic executive manager. "It's also great to have sporting heroes coming to Pietermaritzburg to inspire a new generation of Greg Minnaars and Burry Standers."
With the downhill and cross-country courses virtually complete, construction began last week on the 4X course.
The 2009 UCI World Cup series will kick off in Pietermaritzburg and run from April 3 to 12.