Enter a game reserve in Africa and Disney’s The Jungle Book. Rhinos, lions, giraffe, zebra… you name it. At Lion’s Valley lodge, we even had an elephant dip his trunk into the pool for a refreshing late night drink. We stood by on the pool deck, encouraged by our guide to obey rules. He gently reminded us “this is not a zoo, eh.” I was guest of a True Collection excursion to Lion’s Valley Lodge while Santa Cruz bikes’ Syndicate team unwound and rested up for the UCI world cup stop this Sunday. It is imperative for the team to escape from the hustle and bustle of media anticipating the World Cup race in Pietermaritzburg, beat the jet lag, sleep hard and soak up some vitamin D. This applies in particular to Greg Minaar.
Greg is the youngest child of Jeff Minaar, a BMX and MTB racing pioneer who raised a tightly knit family in Pietermaritzburg, South Africa, just a few minutes walk from the race course that will play host to the 2011 UCI World Cup of Downhill mountain biking this Sunday. Greg’s world Cup victory in PMB in 2009 catapulted him into stardom. He lives a life backed by full-time management, and all encompassing support from his chief sponsor Santa Cruz bikes. He enjoys the success of several non-endemic business ventures as well as a bike shop and a pro-model shoe from Five Ten that proudly boast his name. More than simply the pride of his home town or province, the South African Sports Federation and Olympic Committee have big medal-winning plans for him in the 2012 Olympic games.
About dodging the swarms of local fans that are an inevitable part of his home life, the approachable Minaar tells the South African Mercury news “It might sound strange, but I really try to stay away from them in the build up to a big event. Its not that I’m ungrateful for their support- it means a great deal to me- but I have so many responsibilities and people that I have to deliver for that I have to stay focused.” Minaar is of the rare breed of extreme sportsman that uses the words “please” and “thank you” more than “dude” and “rad.”
He qualified 2nd today, same as he qualified 2 years ago when he took the podium, but the chatter of the day was of the qualifying run of one Cedric Gracia.
I walked the course yesterday with Cedric, the young Josh “Rat Boy” Bryceland and credible icon, Steve Peat. Outside of coveted mentorship, Steve is best known for his uncanny ability to carry speed on a race course, finding transitions where no one else does. His long legs and his refraining from the use of brakes has kept him on top the scene for the better part of a decade. It is fascinating the contrast between his and Gracia’s strategy. Where Steve admits to backing off slightly in order to glide through the next section, Gracia’s strategy is as profound as (with french accent) “I land here and then after, I close my eyes and point it until there.” Gracia, a freerider at heart, qualified 4th today. This is higher than he has in years, and is evidence of a veteran who has redirected himself toward race results by prioritizing fitness, gear choice and the discipline of riding for speed over hedonism. As for Peat’s protegee, Rat Boy, he sees all the lines, has the skills and the balls, but has
yet to find his identity on the World Cup tour outside of a young gun who is not to be counted out.
Anticipation his high going into Sunday’s race, and one might wonder, what the hell is JT Holmes doing here? I am here to jump a True Collections and Santa Cruz logo’d parachute into the ever shrinking finish corral. “Do you mind if we put a mega tron over here? A banner over there?”
It is all good though. Since I arrived, I have achieved a South African pro rating, and had a spot on landing on a practice jump into the finish corral during the practice yesterday. I’m feeling confident adding 16,000 plus people to the equation and eliminating some of my “outs” for the jump on Sunday which will kick off the start of the big race. I will be amongst the most eager fans and will keep you posted as to who takes it.