Santa Cruz Syndicate’s South African cyclist Greg Minnaar (SRAM/RockShox) ended second overall in the UCI World Cup Series in Windham, New York with a second-place race finish at the weekend.
Minnaar and Gee Atherton took their tightly fought season to the finale with Atherton emerging victorious on the day in a nail biter all the way down to the finish line. Steve Peat was on a smoking run, but took a nasty spill near the finish, which caused him to place 55th, and seventh overall in the series. Josh Bryceland’s 12th place finish completed his seas on with a 23rd place series overall.
This was the first UCI World Cup held in the US in five years and the small, quaint Americana town of Windham, New York rolled out the red carpet for the cycling entourage. Since the mountain hadn’t had rain for some time the red, clay soil held the moisture long after the rain stopped. Maxxis High Rollers were the tyre choice for the week and performed well in the wet to drying conditions. And Muc-Off cleaners whisked the red mud right off, keeping the carbon V-10’s looking brilliant.
The first day of practice was going well until the afternoon when there was a big injury scare. Minnaar was following Peat down the track and got offline and hit a tree and his forearm near the elbow took the brutal impact and dislocated his elbow. Minnaar looked at his arm and his arm and hand was sticking out the wrong direction. Peat heard the impact and went to help him. As they went to the medics, Minnaar’s arm slowly worked its way back into place. After Minnaar was examined and the x-ray showed no fractures. He felt the joint was stable and his strength was good and he was sure he would race the qualifier the next day, which was crucial to pick up valuable points towards the overall.
Going into this race Minnaar found himself out of the leaders jersey for the first time all year since winning in Maribor. Atherton had seven points on Minnaar and the monkey of the leaders jersey on his back to defend. On Friday morning Minnaar tested the arm and it was stable enough. After a few practice runs the guys went up for the qualifier. It went very well for the Santa Cruz riders with Peat winning it, Minnaar in fourth to Atherton’s fifth, Josh was in eighth and Cedric Gracia in 10th. The points gained between Minnaar and Atherton was only three, so four points separated them, making it a dead heat going into Sunday’s race.
As the race unfolded and Brendan Fairclough was in the hotseat. Bryceland came down with a 12th place run which he was disappointed with after qualifying well, he just didn’t adapt well enough to the dry, changing track conditions. Then Swiss rider, Nick Beer had a very fast run and bumped Fairclough out of the hotseat.
As expected,┬á Atherton came down and eclipsed the time of Beer by nearly three seconds to take the hotseat. As he climbed up Minnaar was on course giving his all with the mental strength of the giant that he is. He was down .68 at the split and was sure to gain a bit more time, but it just wasn’t enough and he crossed the line in 2nd, just .37 seconds back of Atherton. This placed him second overall for the year in a tightly fought contest.
Fastest qualifier, Steve was on track exhibiting his regained form. When the split time flashed green, 1.4 seconds ahead of Atherton the crowd went insane! Just about to pop into sight, the crowd cheering him in, disaster struck and he went down hard, reminiscent of World Championships in Les Gets, France where he make a similar mistake. The crowd was aghast as Peat picked up his bike and jumped back on. Shaken but not broken, he crossed the line in 2:41.26 in 55th place.
Said Atherton: ÔÇ£It was great to be racing in America again. Windham was an awesome venue. Practice went well all week and I liked the track, my Carbon Santa Cruz V-10 was perfect all week with Ricky Bobby looking after it. The track reminded me of old school Mt. Snow, Vermont from back in the day. It was fast and flowing and hard to carry speed, but that was the key to a good run. I was stoked to qualify fastest! It’s been awhile since I did that. I felt at home with the fast guys. I was really confident for the finals, maybe a little too confident because I overcooked the step down coming into the finish and carcassed hard while leading at the split. At least I know I have some of my speed back and I’m looking forward to World Championships!ÔÇØ
Minnaar was pleased with his race run and effort and talked about the week, ÔÇ£The first day of practice I crashed out and injured my elbow, dislocating it. I spent most the night at the hospital trying to get it x-rayed. I had some treatment from US Cycling’s physical therapist, Bernard Condaveaux, before Friday’s practice. It wasn’t too bad physically to ride, but just mentally to get over it. The qualifier that day went well and being ahead of Gee was important. I knew I’d have to step things up more for the final. My final went as good as it could and all I was aiming for was the hotseat as I knew Gee would be in it when I came down. Unfortunately I was .37 seconds slower than Gee which means I had to settle for second best for the season. It’s been a good season racing with Gee. We battled all season and he beat me fair and square in the end.ÔÇØ
Next up are the World Championships in Quebec where Atherton and Minnaar will both be battling for the win.
MEN’S DOWNHILL TOP TEN:
1st: Gee Atherton 2:28.28
2nd: Greg Minnaar(Santa Cruz Syndicate) 2:28.65
3rd: Sam Blenkinsop 2:30.19
4th: Aaron Gwin 2:30.88
5th: Nick Beer 2:31.66
6th: Marc Beaumont 2:31.71
7th: Steve Smith 2:31.76
8th: Brook McDonald 2:33.29
9th Brendan Faircloug h 2:33.49
10th: Justin Leov 2:33.57
MEN’S DOWNHILL OVERALL TOP TEN:
1st: Gee Atherton 1229
2nd: Greg Minnaar (Santa Cruz Syndicate) 1185
3rd: Sam Blenkinsop 864
4th: Aaron Gwin 757
5th: Marc Beaumont 633
6th: Brendan Fairclough 606
7th: Steve Peat (Santa Cruz Syndicate) 491
8th: Danny Hart 482
9th: Fabien Pedemanaud 480
10th: Steve Smith 478