At the opening round of the 2012 UCI World Cup Downhill series, in Pietermaritzburg, South Africa, perceptions of what downhill mountain biking has become – and what it can be, left spectators and competitors alike awe struck. This sport has come a long way since the days when mountain bikes were made of carbon-steel tubing with a few inches of front suspension and cantilever brakes.
A record number of entries were received for this event – 447 of the world’s best mountain bikers entered the RockyRoads UCI MTB World Cup at ‘Maritzburg and the International Cycling Union (UCI) were delighted to confirm that the Red Bull Media House GmbH (RBMH) were the new official media partner of the RockyRoads UCI Mountain Bike World Cup presented by Shimano.
Highlights of the UCI MB World Cup Pietermaritzburg
Aaron Gwin was expected to walk away with all the top awards although Steve Peat, the downhill mountain biking legend, was considered a serious threat. At 38, a venerable Vet. Steve Peat can still pull out all the stops. This would be Peat’s 100th World Cup start. Through 19 impressive seasons, he has seen his sport change dramatically.
Former champion South African Greg Minaar was also a possibility as were England’s Gee Atherton and Australia’s Sam Hill, but all eyes were on Gwin and Peat. Gwin’s focused fitness regime and motocross experience had led him to throw down a new marker for the sport.
But, infront of an hysterical home crowd, it was local boy Greg Minaar who seized the downhill title at the RockyRoads UCI MTB World Cup. It wasn’t a faultless run. He missed a few key lines and went wide into the big drop at Cloud 9, leaving him off Gwin’s pace, but had this to say about the lines he missed: “Maybe those mistakes helped me because then I decided that I could not afford to sit down till I got to the finish. It hurt a lot and my legs were burning but I knew I had to make up that time. It was just a catch-up game, and I think that’s what got me down the bottom slightly quicker than these guys. I had to fight the whole way through to the end.”
“When you cross the line, you’re never sure where you are, there’s no scoreboard in front of you,” said Minnaar. “I normally look for Steve Peat because he’s the first to jump over anywhere. I just saw the fencing starting to move, and as I came closer and closer it just collapsed, and I knew I had won it.”
The win will be especially precious to Minaar as he very nearly pulled out of the event due to his father’s being in intensive care and Minaar not wanting to leave him. However, at his father’s insistence he decided to attend. It was his sixteenth World Cup victory in his 54th World Cup outing, and clearly one of the most significant and emotional of his illustrious career.
“Greg always finds another level at the bottom and digs deep, so it’s always tough racing him, especially on this track,” said Aaron Gwin. “It was awesome. I was really happy for him. He’s had a crazy couple of weeks, so for him to be able to pull it together here in front of his hometown crowd, it must be special for him, so I’m happy with second today, for sure.”
Tracey Hannah, the former junior world champ, made a stunning comeback to downhill racing after a four year layoff, taking first place in the women’s title race. Starting last after posting the fastest time in qualifying, Hannah scorched down the lower section of the course to complete her dream return to the gravity discipline after a four year layoff. Asked how she felt later, she said “Oh yeah, unbelievably happy! I knew I had to go hard the whole run because it was anyone’s race. There was one line down the hill, and you just had to push it to the max.”
You can read more about this race in the May issue of The Red Bulletin.
And if you want to see more than just the highlights, here’s another video with a bit more about the track:
UCI MB Downhill – Pietermaritzburg
At this, the first of the UCI World Cup events, the summary of results is as follows:
2012 ROCKYROADS UCI MTB WORLD CUP PIETERMARITZBURG
ELITE MEN DOWNHILL
1.Greg Minnaar 3:57.980
2.Aaron Gwin +0.632
3.Michael Hannah +0.994
4.Gee Atherton +1.303
5.Steve Smith +4.384
6.Jared Graves +4.436
7.Andrew Neethling +4.800
8.Troy Brosnan +5.017
9.Julien Camellini +5.604
10.Cédric Gracia +5.674
ELITE WOMEN DOWNHILL
1.Tracey Hannah 4:33.806
2.Manon Carpenter +0.949
3.Emmeline Ragot +2.810
4.Jill Kintner +8.492
5.Miriam Ruchti +10.896
6.Emilie Siegenthaler +11.402
7.Anita Molcik +12.123
8.Luana Maria de Sousa Oliviera +14.385
9.Petra Bernhard +15.112
10.Myriam Nicole +17.275