Pietermatizburg played host to the UCI Downhill Mountain Bike World Championships which took place for the first time in South Africa. Concentrating on the Elite Downhill MTB, we were lucky enough to spend the weekend chatting to riders, joining the Santacruz Syndicate team on a track walk and experience the finals in what was the biggest downhill race to rock the small town and South Africa for that matter.
Sunday finally saw the main event, the elite finals, hit the downhill course which had now changed over the 3 days of practice and timed runs starting off dry and very dusty to damp conditions after it had rained on the Friday night to a dry track that was now holding up pretty well. Thousands of fans lined the course in anticipation of a great days racing.
The Elite Women got underway and the first good time posted came from current BMX World Champion, Caroline Buchanan from Australia with a time of 4:41.655 and saw her take the hot seat for quite some time. USA’s Jill Kinter would later on dethrone Buchanan with a close time of 4:41.468. Tracey Hanna, another rider from Australia came in with a time of 4:40.438 and took the hot seat for another 11 riders runs until France’s Emmeline Ragot started her run posted a blistering time of 4:36.675.
Rachel Atherton from Great Britain would be the last rider to come down the mountain. Fans screamed as she made here way through the peddling section and into big jumps crossing the line with a massive 8.632 second lead over 2nd place with a time of 4:28.043. Rachel Atherton is the new World Champion! Sortly after crossing the line Rachel stated “I am just so happy right now, It’s been a long time coming with me having won my last title in 2008 and so I was starting to wonder if it would ever come again.”
Elite Women Results:
1st Rachel Atherton (GBR) 4:28.043
2nd Emmeline Ragot (FRA) 4:36.675
3rd Tracey Hannah (AUS) 4:40.438
4th Jill Kintner (USA) 4:41.468
5th Caroline Buchanan (AUS) 4:41.655
6th Morgane Charre (FRA) 4:43.680
7th Emilie Siegenthaler (SUI) 4:46.312
8th Casey Brown (CAN) 4:46.568
9th Floriane Pugin (FRA) 4:48.812
10th Micayla Gatto (CAN) 4:48.949
The big show then got underway, the Elite Men. Fans waited anxiously to see how the racing would play out and if local hero, Greg Minnaar would be able to defend his world title. Australia’s Jared Graves started early on in the field and posted a brilliant time of 4.01.391 which saw him take the hot seat. The time Graves posted was unique because he had decided to ride his enduro bike instead of his downhill bike as he felt more comfortable on it, the time he posted kept him on the hot seat for a very long time and even looked like it could take the win. That was until fellow Australian rider, Michael Hannah came down the hill smooth and fast and posted a substantial time of 3.58.454.
3 more riders would take to the course unable to beat Hannah’s time. Greg Minnaar was then set to start his run, hordes of high spirited supporters where now standing and shouting for the local hero. Minnaar came through the first sector faster than anyone else, through the second sector he had dropped some time and was now just behind Hannah’s time. The crowds started shouting louder as he made his way through the final sections, anxiously keeping their eyes on the timer. Minnaar crossed the line and it was green! 3:58.058 was his final time, only 00.396 seconds ahead of second place rival. His rear tire was completely flat from a puncture he got close to the end of the run.
It’s not over until the fat lady sings. Two riders still had to complete their runs, namely Stevie Smith and Gee Atherton, both huge threats to Minnaar’s time. Stevie Smith’s chance of winning ended early as he crashed in the first turn and threw it away. Gee Atherton, who is currently leading the Downhill World Cup Series, was the final Elite to go down the hill. Through the first sector he was behind, through the second he was even further behind and by the time he crossed the line he was 04.303 seconds behind Minnaar’s time putting him 7th overall.
Fans blew up in celebration of Greg Minnaar’s win. He turned the imaginable into reality by defending his title and taking the World Championship. Greg is only the 3rd rider to ever win a world championship on home soil. We briefly chatted to Greg after his run and he said he was completely tires but the screaming fans kept him going, he put everything in but still didn’t think it was enough. He got the puncture in the last rock section but it didn’t bother him too much as he was so close to the finish line.
Elite Men Results:
1st Greg Minnaar (RSA) 3:58.058
2nd Michael Hannah (AUS) +00.396
3rd Jared Graves (AUS) +03.333
4th Samuel Blenkinsop (NZL) +03.746
5th Matthew Simmonds (GBR) +03.939
6th Nick Beer (SUI) +04.041
7th Gee Atherton (GBR) +04.303
8th Marcelo Gutierrez Villegas (COL) +04.423
9th Johannes Fischbach (GER) +04.759
10th Troy Brosnan (AUS) +06.582
Watch the full replay of the UCI Downhill MTB World Championships here.