How long is the shadow of Greg Minnaar? Very long. Any South African gravity racer will confirm this. No matter how much talent they have, rising stars from South Africa will spend a lot of time in the shadow of Downhill racing’s GOAT. But Theo Erlangsen is one rider that’s peeped from out that shadow recently and his top 10 at the Red Bull Hardline last weekend confirms he’s the real deal.

By Sean Badenhorst

His first name isn’t pronounced Tee-yoo (the Afrikaans way) or Thee-Oh, (the phonetic way); it’s Tay-Oh, the European way. Better get to know how to say it because we’ll be saying it a lot in future. And shouting it as we cheer the Capetonian on live racing coverage in big events.

Happy days in the Alps. | Photo: Ryan Franklin

It’s very difficult not to like Erlangsen. I have never personally met him, but, like thousands of others, I have got to know his online persona via various videos and his Instagram account and I see someone that’s hugely talented, highly ambitious, heavily committed and who doesn’t take himself too seriously. The first time I saw Theo ride was a video of him riding down a section of the trail on Table Mountain – on a hardtail. Dayum! It left an impression for sure.

Fast forward a few years and Theo is one of the handful of riders invited to compete at the annual Dark Fest, presented by Monster, an extreme dirt jumping extravaganza at Hellsend Dirt Compound, Stellenbosch that sees less than a dozen riders conquer some of the world’s biggest dirt jumps. He was there in 2020 and again in 2021. Flying high – and far – with some of the biggest names in the game.

Theo hits the massive step-up at Red Bull Hardline 2021. | Photo: Samantha Saskia Dugon/Red Bull Content Pool

The Commencal South Africa team racer has been contesting the 2021 UCI Downhill World Cup. At Round 1 at Leogang, he was 68th in qualifying. The top 64 make the cut for the final. At Round 2 at Les Get he qualified 25th. That might not sound impressive, but it’s a big leap for a guy that’s been finishing just inside or just outside the cut for the final.

Yes, the weather, which began to worsen just after his run, had an effect on the final at Les Get. Regardless, the fact that he finished 23rd was still impressive. It’s likely that as his career progresses, he will look back at that result being a breakthrough performance.

What separates the top finishers from the rest in gravity racing? They’re all seriously skilled. They have incredible spatial awareness and ridiculously rapid reflexes. They’re one with their bikes and they have an intimate relationship with physics. How then can some riders finish more than 10-15 seconds ahead of others on a downhill run? Confidence. Confidence and self-belief are under-rated qualities in gravity racers and they clearly got turned up a few notches for Erlangsen in Les Get.

The current South African Downhill champion then headed to the Red Bull Hardline in Machynlleth, Wales. It’s an annual timed event that combines downhill and slopestyle. Massive gap jumps, sketchy drop-offs and gnarly gradients that are rough, rutty, rooty and rocky.

Theo getting steezy during practice at Red Bull Hardline 2021 | Photo: Samantha Saskia Dugon/Red Bull Content Pool

Twenty-four of the world’s best gravity riders were invited and Erlangsen was among them. The gutsy South African didn’t disappoint and had a solid, if slightly safe, run to finish ninth in mercifully dry conditions.

“Had such a sick week at Hardline! Was my first year here. Was so much fun getting to ride a track like that! My goal was just not to look like a dickhead on the livestream and case something, so I’m pretty happy I didn’t do that. In hindsight I could have pushed a bit harder, but pretty happy with ninth for my first year!” he wrote on his Instagram post after the event.

Check out Theo’s point-of-view race run here.

The exciting thing is that you just know there’s more to come for Erlangsen as he gains experience and confidence and edges his way out of the long shadow and into the limelight.

If you don’t already, follow him on Instagram – @theo_erlangsen. His posts are insightful and his stories are always entertaining.