Greg Minnaar has stormed to victory taking first place in the opening round of the World Cup on home soil in Pietermaritzburg!

Photo by Kathy Sessler

Last year’s World Cup winner Aaron Gwin was just over half a second behind Minnaar’s time, and Mick Hannah who finished in third was only a second back, with Gee Atherton and Steve Smith rounding up the podium.

As the top 30 gathered at the top of the hill, Brendan Fairclough was sweating it out on the hot seat. Fairclough will be the first to admit that this isn’t a track that suits him, and it was a crash on this track last year that plagued his season, but with a new knee and a new bike, the Scott Gambler, he was able to come away finishing 20th.

It was Gwin’s team mate Neko Mullaly who knocked Fairclough off the hot seat, only to have to make way for next rider down Julien Camellini. Camellini qualified third here last year but disaster struck in his race run when his gear cable snapped and he was forced to ride single speed, destroying his chances and leaving him absolutely devastated.

With this being the first race of the season we were going to see many riders on new teams or with new bikes, and Camellini is one such rider, going it alone this year on his own race program. Lots of big names set out, but it wasn’t until South African rider Andrew Neethling crossed the line that Camellini’s time was bettered, although he had done enough for a top ten finish.

Needles looked to be tucking between the jumps for speed and to conserve energy, and it paid of, with the home crowd going wild. Needles’ time at the top was short lived with Yeti/Fox rider Jared Graves just edging him off the hot seat. This year Graves is focussing purely on racing downhill, completely changing his training regime and it paid off, with Graves finishing in sixth place, just half a second off a spot on the podium.

Sick Mick famously qualified fastest here last year, only to crash out so hard he snapped his stem bolts in his race run. There would be no repeat of that today, and no doubt spurred on by his sister’s earlier victory Mick set off. Mick is an incredibly powerful rider and was nearly four seconds up at the second split after the gruelling pedalling section of the track, and was the first rider of the day to beat the qualifying times, with a 3:58.97 run.

Gee Atherton had a disappointing top section, but was able to make up time mid-track to finish in fourth. Steve Smith is another dangerously strong rider and was down at the second split, but was able to buck the trend of losing time on the bottom section and managed to sprint into fifth place.

Pietermaritzburg was the venue for Gwin’s first victory last year, and the start of his campaign for domination. Qualifying was so close between Gwin and Minnaar, with just eight hundredths of a second separating them.

Today saw more of the same, and Minnaar shot into the lead beating Gwin by just over half a second. Greg’s home crowd went wild as he sprinted past the line, taking his 16th World Cup victory greeted by team mate Steve Peat, then swamped by his One Life crew!

1 Greg Minnaar 3:57.98

2 Aaron Gwin 3:58.61

3 Mick Hannah 3:58.97

4 Gee Atherton 3:59.28

5 Steve Smith 4:02.36

In the women’s race Tracey Hannah made one hell of a return to World Cup racing giving Morewood bikes their first podium on the World Cup stage. Last Year’s junior World Champ and Madison Saracen rider Manon Carpenter was just a second off Hannah’s time in second place, with World Champ Emmeline Ragot in third spot.

1 Tracey Hannah 4:33.80

2 Manon Carpenter 4:34.75

3 Emmeline Ragot 4:36.61

4 Jill Kintner 4:42.29

5 Miriam Ruchti 4:44.70

With both Tracey and Mick Hannah both on the podium, along with the efforts of Fabien Cousinie in 16th, Tim Bentley in 48th and Guillaume Cauvin in 71st putting the Hutchinson United Ride top of the team league.

Full results can be found here. Team videos to follow as they filter through.

Sun 18th Mar, 2012 @ 3:46 pm

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Greg Minnaar

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