We Chat to Downhill Mountain Biking Pro Greg Minnaar
If you think careening down the side of a mountain at breakneck speed sounds like a manic thing to do, you’re not alone. But, for Greg Minnaar, it’s a way of life and it’s the sport that he loves and excels at.
Greg is a professional downhill mountain biker and races for the Santa Cruz Syndicate; his list of achievements is staggering, having won gold, silver and bronze medals at World Champs for the past fifteen years. He’s achieved to date, 75 Downhill World Cup podiums and does not look set to stop anytime soon. This is just the tip of the iceberg for this sportsman who competes in one of the most dangerous and hair raising sports out there.
Greg takes time off his bike to tell us a bit more about the sport and himself.
Can you explain what downhill mountain biking is?
Downhill mountain biking is a time trial – one rider at a time starts at the top of the mountain, negotiating rocks, routes and corners down to the bottom. The fastest time wins.
How did you get into the sport?
I got into the sport when my parents bought a bike shop in Pietermaritzburg. I was racing Motocross at the time. My sister took to mountain biking and I used to watch the events. I hate watching sports, I’d rather compete. I kind of enjoyed it and made the switch in my mid teens.
At what point does a sport like this become a full-time career? Was this always the path for you?
I think once I joined Honda in 2004 things became quite serious. I won the World Cup in 2001 and I was having a good time, but when I had a bad season in 2002, I realised that I would need to put a lot more effort into training and into working on my weaknesses, so it was actually in 2003 that it started to become like a full time career. It’s really become more of a career than it was because of social media.
It seems like a sport in which the participants would be very injury prone with lots of opportunities to fall; does this ever scare you, or is it part of the adrenaline?
I’ve had quite a few injuries – shoulders, legs and knees – but that doesn’t really phase or scare me and it doesn’t turn me away. I grew up racing Motocross, where you have massive crashes and you’ve got to get up, keep going and do the obstacle or whatever it was that caused the crash, again.
I think growing up with that has helped me to deal with the injuries – the hardest thing about injury is coming back from it. I see rehabbing properly and getting full movement and range regardless of the injury, as a challenge.
Speaking of falling, can you tell us about your gnarliest bail?
I’ve had a lot of big crashes but the most recent one happened when I was in testing in Val de Sol, Italy after the World Champs. The track was really blown out and rough and we were getting pretty tired towards the end of testing. Mid way around the course I came into a rock section which had a right-hand turn. I was coming in pretty hot and as I took the corner on the right hander I kind of hit a rock quite square.
My hands slipped off and I ended up riding the handlebars. I managed to avoid hitting a tree with my shoulder but hit a tree with my hip and while I was slumped over the bars I spun out and had this massive crash. I laughed as I got up with absolutely no injury –I couldn’t believe it, as I should’ve walked away with something.
Who was your sporting hero when growing up?
Greg Albertein – the South African Motocross rider – I used to love watching him and following his racing.
How does the downhill mountain biking experience differ in SA to those in Europe and North America?
Mountain biking in South Africa is really based around marathon and it’s more about how far or how long you ride, as opposed to what you’ve ridden. I find riding abroad is more about the quality of the ride and how good the trail is and not necessarily about how many miles you’ve clocked up, so it’s a very different experience.
You finished the last Fort William World Cup in a time of 4,40 minutes. Can you explain to us what goes through your head during a race like this?
My Fort William this year was super tough. It started to rain, so I had to think of where on track I’d be able to pull a tear (the clear film over my goggles) off. So, I was trying to plan the run in and to understand and figure out a safe place, not knowing what the trail would be like in the rain and not knowing how bad my vision was going to be.
I was planning to pull a tear off just before I got into in the rockier section. During the race run, I decided to push onto the next position because I was going to lose about a second at least pulling the tear off. My next area to take a tear off was before I went into the woods, which is a super tricky, and I wanted clear vision.
The section was a little rougher than I thought but I think it made me push super hard down to the bottom to regain the time I had lost. It was a really tough race for me, trying to catch up the time that I had lost pulling a tear off and riding the top with not super good vision.
Can you give us a bit of insight into training for an event like this; what your regime is, how you prepare mentally etc?
My usual pre season training day starts quite early. I meet up with a group of mates at 5 am, go for a 7-8 kilometre run and then have a coffee and a laugh afterwards. I then head home for breakfast and normally get out on the cross country or road bike at about 07h30 and ride for two to three hours. I gym in the afternoon three times a week and I ride Motocross once a week, so it’s a busy schedule.
Being a professional sportsperson means that you have a lot of discipline and determination. What would your advice be to someone who is less sporty but wants to be more active?
There is a lot of discipline and determination involved. I would say more determination on my side – I enjoy a good time, so my determination suits the discipline I have. When you are determined and you want to reach your goals or succeed at something, you are going to be naturally disciplined and will put all your attention into what it takes to get there.
In my opinion, I’m not the most talented rider ability wise on the circuit and because of this, I pay a lot more attention to the technical stuff and try to ride it faster than the other guys – I find it more challenging.
I challenge myself to hang with the guys where it is more technical or where the track is not supposed to suit me – that’s just the way I am. I’m not a very positive person but I find that not being so positive makes me put more into my racing training and everything else.
Actor to play you in a biopic? Harrison Ford.
Favourite way to relax? Surfing.
Guilty food pleasure? Burgers.
Last book you read? I don’t read.
Mountain bike trail still on your bucket list? There isn’t one really.
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