South Africa’s Greg Minnaar added another incredible chapter to his storied career when he won his fourth UCI Downhill World title in a tense final at Val Di Sole, Italy on Sunday. The win came 18 years after his first world title in 2003 and is his 11th world championship medal in a career that spans more than two decades.
Fourth last to start in partly cloudy, warm conditions, Minnaar faced a formidable challenge after Britain’s Danny Hart, Australia’s Troy Brosnan and then France’s Benoit Coulanges set the best times in quick succession, just minutes before the South African’s start.
South Africa’s Greg Minnaar wears the World Champion’s Rainbow Jersey for the fourth time. He’s flanked by silver medallist, Thibaut Diprella (left) and bronze medallist, Troy Brosnan (right). | Photo: UCI Mountain Bike
Looking regal in his national team kit with his Santa Cruz V10 bike impeccably painted in the colours of the South African flag, Minnaar posted the fourth best time at the first checkpoint and then dropped to the seventh fastest at the second checkpoint. But the ever-calm Santa Cruz Syndicate rider started to pull back in the second half, recording the fourth quickest time at Split Three and then third fastest at Split Four.
The final fast, steep, smooth section saw Minnaar squash the steep jump and boost the penultimate jump hard to land just before the left-hand berm. He then held his speed through that berm and the right hander that followed before pedalling like mad to the last jump, which he squashed before collapsing after the finish line having seen his fastest time of 3min 28.963 sec on the electronic board.
It was a superb performance by the 39-year-old Pietermaritzburg resident, but with two fast Frenchmen to come – Loris Vergier and Thibaut Diprella – South African fans were rightly pessimistic about Minnaar’s chances of securing the gold. So often in recent years, Minnaar has been beaten by flying Frenchmen at the very end of a major race! But a medal was certain and that would still have been an amazing achievement.
Vergier was up on Minnaar’s first two splits, but the Frenchman faltered on the rough, steep middle section and dropped behind. South African hearts skipped a beat as the prospect of the biggest threat faded into a maze of roots, ruts and rocks on an impossibly steep Dolomite slope. Vergier was unlikely to make that up on the fast, smooth final segment and the clock confirmed it, showing the Trek racer with the fourth fastest time.
Greg Minnaar was his usual composed self as he blitzed his way to the fastest time. | Photo: UCI Mountain Bike
Diprella, who was born in 2001, the first year Minnaar won his first World Cup Series, was the last starter and the young French ace seemed to feel the pressure clocking only the 18th fastest time at the first split. He pulled it back a bit by the second split, but then crashed. South Africans around the world cheered – not for his misfortune, but for the fact that his fall meant Minnaar was the 2021 World Champion.
Minnaar turns 40 on 13 November. He is the oldest winner of the Downhill World Championship, eclipsing former teammate, Steve Peat, who won his World Championship title in Canberra in 2009 at the age of 35.
This was Minnaar’s 24th World Championship participation – his first two were as a Junior – a remarkable feat in itself in a sport that sees riders normally enjoy a career that might last as long as 10 years, but seldom sees them able to win against more than one generation of rivals.
Interestingly, Minnaar doesn’t hold the most World Championship wins. Frenchman Nico Vouilloz retains that record with seven Elite titles and three Junior titles. His Elite World Championships wins came from 1995 until 2002, including five in a row from 1995-1999.
Minnaar won his first World Championships title in 2003, the year Vouilloz retired. However, Minnaar had defeated the French legend to win the 2001 World Cup Series two years previously, something Minnaar has mentioned as significant in previous TREAD interviews. Minnaar now shares the second-best Elite World Championships record with French ace Loic Bruni, who has also won four – 2015, 2017, 2018 and 2019.
Greg Minnaar holds his Santa Cruz V10 bike aloft after winning his fourth World Championship. | Photo: UCI Mountain Bike
We published it last week in our preview but it’s worth updating Minnaar’s incredible World Championships record:
|2021||Val di Sole, Italy||1st|
|2020||Leogang, Austria||27th crashed|
|2019||Mont St Anne, Canada||5th|
|2017||Cairns, Australia||61st spoke pierced rim tape, lost air|
|2016||Val di Sole, Italy||4th|
|2014||Lillehammer, Norway||30th rear rim broke|
|2013||Pietermaritzburg, South Africa||1st|
|2011||Champery, Switzerland||9th crashed|
|2010||Mont St Anne, Canada||3rd|
|2008||Val di Sole, Italy||4th crashed in practice, injured neck|
|2007||Fort William, Scotland||4th crashed in final, broke scapula|
|2006||Rotorua, New Zealand||2nd|
|2004||Les Get, France||2nd|
|2002||Kaprun, Austria||DNS crashed in practice, broke collarbone|
|2001||Vail, USA||3rd broke chain & crashed at finish|
|2000||Sierra Nevada, Spain||11th|
|1999 (Junior)||Are, Sweden||6th|
|1998 (Junior)||Mont St Anne, Canada||6th|
|1997 (Junior)||Chateau-d’Ax, Switzerland||51st|
Minnaar now has 11 World Championships medals – four gold, four silver and three bronze. His win on Sunday also crushes his Val di Sole bogey. At the two previous World Championships at Val di Sole (2008 and 2016) Minnaar finished fourth. He also suffered a World Cup defeat at Val di Sole in 2012 to American Aaron Gwin, by almost eight seconds.
Combine his four World Championship titles, 11 World Championships medals and three World Cup Series wins (2001, 2005 and 2008) with his 82 World Cup podiums and his 23 World Cup wins and you have the many chapters that make up the story of the legend that is Greg Minnaar. A World Championships win in 2021 at the age of 39 would be the perfect bookend to an incredible career. But Minnaar isn’t finished yet. He’s not ready to write the epilogue and we can’t blame him…