Greg 'The G.O.A.T' Minnaar ripping track through the clouds, and the cows in Les Gets, France... and, hopefully, into the history books once more. Photo: Fraser Britton
The sun is shining in Les Gets, France and Greg Minnaar is about to take his first track walk on the Crankworx Les Gets Downhill presented by IXS
course. But first, he patiently indulged us in a walk down memory lane.
Same town, same track, different Greg Minnaar. Before all the World Cup wins. Before World Champs. Before people started referring to him as the G.O.A.T—the Greatest Of All Time—a teenage Minnaar hit Les Gets geared for racing. The year was either 1998 or 1999—"It was a long time ago"—and Minnaar launched into this downhill course for one of his first international races. “It was probably one of my worst memories of racing."
He didn't give up. By 2004, he was back—older, wiser and more seasoned. Now the reigning World Champion from the 2003 race in Lugano, Switzerland, he finished second in what would become one of the more storied, if infamous, races in mountain biking: the 2004 World Championships. Pulling over the line less than half a second behind winner Fabien Barel, who beat out Steve Peat for the win, he would be ensconced in mountain bike folklore, privy to a podium finisher's view of one epic moment in the Peat-versus-Barel rivalry. (Peat, incidentally, has returned from retirement to race Les Gets this weekend, following in the footsteps of Barel, who did the same last year.)
Since then, two more World Champion titles and countless World Cup wins, including Fort William earlier this month. He’s been called the most decorated rider of all time, and yet still, at 35 years old, he’s on top of his game.
We've touched on then. Now takes us back to this historic Les Gets course, so much a part of Minnaar’s history, for the Crankworx Les Gets Downhill presented by iXS
. It’s a track that’s seen him struggle, progress and podium, and it's had the downhill world buzzing during practice all this week. His take?
During the CWX Les Gets, France round. Photo: Sven Martin
Here he is, pre-race, in his own words: When was the last time you were here in Les Gets racing the downhill?
I think World Champs, right? I think, when was that, in 2004? That’s quite some time ago. Did you race at the UCI World Cups in Les Gets before that as well
I did, yeah. Actually, it was one of my first World Cups I ever raced out of South Africa was here. It was terrible. It was probably one of my worst memories of racing. Then again, it’s kind of nice to come back to the place where it kind of all kicked off in Europe for me. What was so horrible about that race?
I was 16. Travelling to Europe at 16… it’s not always easy. And then just getting onto a World Cup track was completely different from anything I’d ever raced on in South Africa, and was harder than anything I had ever ridden. And in the mud. It was just a nightmare for me. But I learned a lot, and I got to watch Steve Peat win, which was amazing. But besides that, it was really a terrible time. UCI vs. Crankworx Downhill races. Where does Crankworx fit into the grand scheme of things for you?
I think there’s definitely room for another series. For us, we’ll be testing stuff and trying out some new things. It works really well. I think it fills in some gaps. Rotorua is a great season opener. It gets you kind of prepared for the season. UCI haven’t been the greatest at scheduling races. We seem to travel from Scotland down to Leogang through to Andorra then back to Lenzerheide, which is super close to Leogang, so the scheduling could work a bit smoother. And then if we throw in these kind of races, it throws us in another spin. So it would be kind of nice if Crankworx worked with UCI and they came out with a more flowing schedule. I think a lot more people would support it. But I don’t think the UCI have made it super easy with their scheduling. For us, as riders, we hop on a plane and get to the next venue; but for the guys driving the trucks, it’s tough.
I think there’s definitely room for another season, and this is probably just as much of an event as a World Cup, I think. It’s got great publicity, it’s got a great event, and there’s also a social aspect to it too, so it’s a full weekend.We’re super stoked to have you at Crankworx Les Gets—we don’t see you often. Our last podium finish we have recorded for you was almost 10 years ago in the 2008 Air DH at Crankworx Whistler. What made you decide to come see us this year?
I’ve always enjoyed going to Crankworx. It’s just always hard getting out to Whistler. We went to Rotorua a few years ago, but I ended up getting injured. This one, I was supposed to go back to San Francisco, but I had a bit of a change in plans, and decided to stay in Europe. I followed it last year and it seemed pretty cool, barring the weather, but you can’t be in control of everything. So I’m pretty excited to be here. Let’s talk about some of the murmurs that have been coming out of the downhill world recently. We’ve been hearing talk from some riders who say downhill tracks are getting too easy. They want to see the return of more old-school tracks. What are your thoughts?
Yeah I think there’s definitely room for more technical tracks. They say they want more technical, but then the guys, they have some issues with it, and it’s really hard to maintain some sections, like we had in Scotland. A lot of guys end up crashing because of some holes which, you could argue both ways, some of it’s just natural and some just could have been filled. So it’s really tricky. But I’ve been racing for some time now, and the courses haven’t necessarily changed that much. We just ride them a lot faster. We ride better lines. We’ve got better equipment. Some tracks have got more technical than they used to be, like Mont-Sainte-Anne. There definitely is room for more natural, technical sections. But I think it’s also important that we go to classic events, like Fort William maybe, where it doesn’t have that natural style but it’s a great venue and great event for us, so there’s a fine line. But I think in a series of races you need a mixture of all kinds of race tracks. What type of track would you say suits your riding style?
Well, Fort William seems to be the one. I don’t really know if it’s the track or just... you know, I grew up racing in the UK, so for me it’s kind of my home race away from home. So I don’t know if I’m just able to step it up a bit more. I enjoy riding most tracks, and to me, as a racer, you’ve got to be good on every track. You can’t be picky and just be good on tracks you want to be good on. There’s no challenge in that. But Fort William is one that seems to stand out.
You mentioned before a bit of a struggle-fest that happened when you first came to Les Gets. How are you feeling coming back to this track? Are you feeling confident?
In Leogang, Austria, where he took just took third. Photo: Fraser Britton
I mean that was my first World Cup. Back then there wasn’t a Junior category and I was racing against Elites, so that also didn’t really help, but I’ve come and raced World Cups, and I was second here at World Champs in 2004. So it’s cool coming back. It’s nice to see the little village and how it’s grown. It’s a great venue to ride. This track has got some really cool sections. It’s kind of raw, from what I can see from the bottom. I haven’t walked it just yet, but it looks like they’ve taped a pretty old-school style track, which is raw and open. I think it’ll be cool. I’m excited to ride it really. I heard last year they had a great track and I’ve heard it’s really similar. You’ve said that your muddiest ever race was in Les Gets in 1999…
That’s the one. I think it might have been ‘98 though. Yeah, that was horrible. I couldn’t get down. So on that note, talking about weather. Last year at Crankworx Les Gets it was one of the muddiest races we’ve seen in recent memory. Maybe the muddiest Crankworx event ever. As you say, weather’s not something you can ever control. A lot of racers just say “well, that’s racing.” We saw earlier this year in Lourdes the weather was a really big factor. Would you say it’s still fair when something like what happens in Lourdes happens, where it’s essentially a completely different track when different people are racing.
Back in Lourdes, there was nothing you could do. There’s nothing the organizers could do. You can’t change the schedule. TV time is all set up, and it’s impossible to change it. It’s just really unfortunate. Fort William was almost affected by rain. I think the last two of us that went down had rain. I can’t speak for Loris, but when I saw him shoot off the track, I knew the bridges were pretty slippery. So maybe he took one for the team and I was able to slow down a little bit on the bridges before getting on them. But it’s been like that for years and there’s nothing you can do about it. I mean, what can you do about weather. You can’t cover the whole track with tents. It’s impossible. It’s not really fair for some, but it’s a series so, I don’t know, you can’t do anything about it. Just go with it, right? Lots of talk about wheel size these days. Having ridden the course in Les Gets before, do you have any sense on what the track might favour?
It favours a guy who can put it all together in that final run, no matter what size wheel. If you’ve got a 30-inch wheel bike and you can’t put a run together, you’re not going to win the race. The wheel size has been around for like 17 years. It’s nothing new. It’s just we’ve managed to put it on a downhill bike, which not a lot of other companies have been able to do, and are struggling to do. I’m not sure what it was that created such a crazy media blowout and all kinds of forums and everything… It was intense.
It still is intense. We’re three World Cups in and now we’re at Crankworx and we’re still talking about wheel size. To me if a bikes fun and great to ride I don’t see why you should worry about wheel size.
You’re known as the G.O.A.T (the Greatest Of All Time). What did you think when you heard this for the first time?
In practice in Les Gets this week. Photo Fraser Britton
I didn’t really think much. It’s nothing that I’ve set out to do, so it’s not like I’m stoked that I’ve achieved what I have. It’s just come along the way. If people call me that, I guess it’s kind of cool. At the same time, I think there are other guys that are just as deserving. They’ve won just as many accolades in the sport. So yeah. I just go with it. You have that reputation, but then you’re also in the midst of a pretty incredible season, with first in Fort William and third in Leogang. How do you stay on top of your game after 18 seasons?
Is it my 18th? Geez. I don’t even know. I really enjoy racing. I’m really competitive. And I enjoy the challenge that the other riders bring. Trying to keep up with the changes and development in bikes, as well as training and everything else. It always changes. I kind of enjoy it. I just enjoy racing. It’s something I love to do. I think that’s what’s kept me going. It’s obviously working for you. Amazing season so far.
Ripping it up on Mont Chery. Photo: Fraser Britton
Catch Greg Minnaar in the Crankworx Les Gets Downhill presented by iXS
live today on Pinkbike and Crankworx.com.
Saturday, June 17, 3:30–5:30 p.m. CEST
Saturday, June 17, 6:30–8:30 a.m. PST
Sunday, June 18, 1:30–3:30 a.m. NZST