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Minnaar lives up to hype

South Africa’s Greg Minnaar responded well to the pressure of racing in his hometown when he won the men’s downhill event at the first round of the Nissan UCI Mountain Bike World Cup in Pietermaritzburg.

The 27-year-old reigning World Cup Series champion was the second-last rider to start after having been pipped in qualifying by Australian champion, Mick Hannah. Thousands of fans and curious Pietermaritzburg residents packed the forest-lined edge of the 2.8km course to cheer Minnaar on as he attempted, under great pressure, to secure the victory.

Minnaar’s smooth style and speed saw him clock a time of 3min 43.44sec to upstage his British Santa Cruz Syndicate teammate, Steve Peat from interim first place. He then waited anxiously for last starter, Hannah (GT Racing) to complete his run.

Hannah’s time splits on the course, displayed live on the big-screen television at the finish arena indicated that Hannah wasn’t likely to beat Minnaar, but only when the digital clock ticked past Minnaar’s time was the victory assured, with Hannah grabbing the runner-up place just over two seconds slower than Minnaar.

Peat finished in third place with Australia’s two-time world champion, Sam Hill (Monster Energy / Fox) and Britain’s current world champion, Gee Atherton (Animal Commencal) rounding out the top five respectively.

Minnaar was swamped by celebrating members of his fan club as media struggled to get near the popular former world champion. It was the perfect result for the event being held for the first time on the African continent and bodes well for a return in 2010.

ÔÇ£Man, I got great support today! All the guys up on the top of the course, and all the way down, they gave me the support I wanted. It was good to have so many home fans here, and they weren’t going to accept a second place,ÔÇØ smiled an elated Minnaar.

ÔÇ£It was most probably better to have qualified behind Mick Hannah. I had a different kind of pressure because I had something to aim for. I knew I had a time to better, rather than having a time to defend. It was hard pushing the whole way, really hard, but it was hard for everyone. To win here and get the response I got was just crazy!ÔÇØ