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Podcast: Eliot Jackson Interviews Greg Minnaar About His Origins, Shoulder Reconstruction, Training & More

Apr 10, 2020 at 0:10
by EliotJackson  
Hosted by Eliot Jackson, Produced by Brianna McShane


FROM 51ST PLACE TO THE GREATEST OF ALL TIME

Greg Minnaar has won more World Cups than any other rider and is the person that most current downhill racers grew up watching. We have a wide-ranging conversation about where he grew up, how he got started, his injuries, his successes, his failures, and he even tells us what kind of hair product he uses.

How it all started for Greg Minnaar

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I started racing BMX when I was 4 years old. My dad started BMX in South Africa, I was young, had a BMX, he took me to a track for a year. I really hated it. I found it tough trying to pedal up the jumps. Went off to motocross from 5 years old and raced there for some time and then for some reason my parents bought a bike shop. I think my dad felt he'd been at Coca Cola working for 25 years or so and that was getting a bit much for him and I think he wanted to get back to his roots of starting BMX in South Africa with a bike shop.

Mini Greg Minnaar

Mini Greg Minnaar with Grant Langston
Mini Greg Minnaar with Grant Langston

My parents got this bike shop, my mum was working in it flat out, my dad would work weekends there with my mum. And I had no time to ride motorbikes or train so I got into riding mountain bikes on my own and going to the races because we had to go to the races to promote the shop. My older sister had started racing and I would just be hanging out watching and decided I may as well give it a go and kind of enjoyed it. And that’s what got me into mountain biking.

The moment he decided he was all in

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When I was 16, I won the South African junior downhill championship so I ended up going to World Champs in Château-d’Oex in Switzerland and raced my first world champs. I had a terrible race, I qualified really well, I qualified 12th and then in the final I had a crash and as I picked myself up and got my handle bars straight there was a rider coming down the hillside and I waited on the side for him to pass and I followed him down so I ended up 51st.

I got back, went to the beach and I said to my parents ‘‘I really feel I need to leave school and go race in Europe’’ and my parents didn’t really like that. I was quite persistent, kept nagging at them, looking back, that’s when I made up my mind that this was what I wanted to do. I had no doubt that I could get to that kind of level. I didn’t ever think I’d ever win anything but I thought I could be up there racing, that’d be kind of cool. Nothing bothered me about it, it was just quite a decisive thing.

At the time it was probably a pretty dumb, or risky thing to do. The following season didn’t go so great and it took probably a season and a half until things started to turn and maybe there was a bit of light at the end of the tunnel.

I think at the time maybe I’d bitten off more than I could chew but I was just so stubborn and so proud that I couldn’t turn back, I had to persevere and keep going with this dumb decision I’d made. My back up plan was to come up with a back up plan. I didn’t quite get it, I’m actually trying to come up with it now.

Finding the right terrain

When I was racing in Switzerland we were riding in these forests. Everything in South Africa is kind of forestry. The trees are too young, the roots are too small. We went to Château-d’Oex in Switzerland and the top section was fast, flowing meadow and it was unbelievably fast and muddy and wet. And you went into these forests with these natural roots. And it was alien to me, I had never ridden anything like this. I was grinning ear to ear, the fast stuff up the top, it was like a motocross track.

I remember there was a massive bridge half way down and you would send it off the top and float all the way to the bottom. It was incredible. That’s when I knew we didn’t have the terrain, we didn't have the industry, I needed to get to Europe and learn how to race this style of racing and terrain.

How a free meal with Martin Whiteley changed his future

In 98’ the World Cup came back to South Africa and I finished 28th. It was the opening round of the World Cup and Martin Whiteley was at UCI at the time. He came over to my father and I and said ‘‘the UCI has never given a medal to any African cyclist.’’ He thinks I’ve got a pretty good chance of doing it so he wants to set something up with the UCI for me to be on an African development program. So the UCI, through Martin Whiteley, helped fund some of my first trips to Europe.

I used to go do the French cups and then race in Pra Loup and all these different venues. That was the only way I could gauge against the juniors. World cups back then, there was no junior class, it was just elite. So I had to race all these French Cups to try just to get a bit of recognition and an understanding of my position racing against guys my own age.The French tracks are incredible and the competition is amazing. So that was a really helpful part of my career racing in Europe.

I was racing with Animal Orange at the time and I got two podiums in 2000 my first year elite, I was 18. Martin (Whiteley) came to me after my second one and was like “hey let’s go for a celebratory dinner” and I was like yeah cool, anything for a free meal. The same night he was like “I’ve been wanting this for so long, my dream is to have my own team called Global Racing and I’ve got all the riders picked out for every continent except Africa and I feel like you could be on a pro team, would you be keen to race on the team?” I finished off with Animal Orange that year and that was my transition to Global Racing.

In 2001, I won the World Cup, the first African to receive a medal from the UCI. The UCI had never given any medal in any discipline to an African rider. So that was quite cool.

Greg s first World Cup win in Kaprun.
Greg's first World Cup win in Kaprun.

The injury that hindered 7 seasons

I won the world cup that first year (in 2001) and it was a tough race against Nico (Vouilloz) and a tough season. Nico being such an icon of the sport, especially in France, I was now invited to this invitation race with Nico and all these French guys. I can’t really remember where it was so it’s end of season and I’m kind of enjoying myself after winning the world cup and I have to do this race in France so I head out there trying to come to grips with the track and it’s this really gnarly track.

I wasn’t quite sure what I was in for. As soon as I got there and I saw the brochure for the event, it was like this headshot of Nico and a headshot of myself and I was like this is it.. world champs, world cup, means nothing, this is to see who’s the fastest rider in 2001 and it was like a head to head.

I’m in practice, I was riding with David Vasquez and I crossed this road and I go over the handle bars, nothing major wasn’t even a tech section. I land on the base of this tree and I was like “shit I think I broke my collarbone.” So I get up and I pull my shirt down from my collar to ask David to see if the collarbone is broken and how bad it is and he looks at me and goes ‘‘ohhhh..’’ shakes his head and rides off. So I was like what help is that? I look and my shoulder’s sitting on my chest. My shoulder dislocated.

That injury probably hindered me from 2001 all the way to 2008. It’s one of those hidden things that wasn’t spoken much about until Fort William when it properly dislocated and ripped up everything. That was the chance to fix it.

The year after (the 2001 crash) in the opening round at Fort William, I had a huge crash coming into the finish area and, from then on, it was like battling with confidence. I ended up getting one podium the following year.

The shoulder reconstruction that set Minnaar up for success

At Fort William (2007) I flipped over the bars and my shoulder dislocated. I tried to keep racing all the way to the bottom. Fort William’s always been a good track for me. I crossed the line in 4th, pretty pissed off I crashed. As I was leaving, a friend of mine David from South Africa gave me a pat on the back and was like “bad luck.” Back then we were all in skin suits. He comes over to the pits and he goes ‘‘hey I think there’s something wrong with your back. There’s a bone sticking out.’’ I just crashed in the middle of the race and was trying to get to the bottom as quick as I could.

That’s when I had to get my shoulder reconstructed and that’s when I joined the Syndicate. So when I got on that V10, it was like a whole new me, a new shoulder that wasn’t going to dislocate and on a bike that was completely different to anything I’d ridden. That ended up being a great season, probably one of my most memorable seasons in terms of the amount of fun we had and that was like my second winter racing. It was an incredible experience.

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Winning worlds at home

2013 (winning a World Championship at home) was amazing. I’m sitting at my house, I am probably a kilometre as the crow flies to the forest. It’s a forest I ride, the forest I raced my first mountain bike race in. And I was lucky enough to have world champs right there in the backyard, literally.

It was a great race to win but it wasn’t .. the sensation wasn’t amazing. I was so stressed going in because there was no option, I had to win it. Second place would not have gone down with the locals, it’s just one of those things ..there is one opportunity to race at home, you have to win it.

I must be honest, it’s probably one of the least celebrated races I’ve won. It was just, I had no energy, I was drained. It was more an honour than a great sensation.

The time he was asked to see a sports psychologist

I don’t know how to deal with it (pressure) I’m not exactly sure what it is. I’ve put it down to just zoning in a bit more. And just being so obsessed with the focus of it and switching off to everything around.

I do battle on smaller races to elevate myself. Once we get back to Santa Cruz after a race and Rob Roscoe goes ‘‘I’m taking you to a sports psychologist.’’ So I was like shit what do you mean. “I mean you’re 20th …” and I was like you know I battle in these events..and he’s like “no, no you need to see a sports psychologist I’m taking you..” so I was like ok Rob, just give me one more chance.

I don’t know what I do, I’m scared if I go to one of these psychologists they’re going to mess up what I know I do so just give me one more race to rectify things .. if I’m bad the next race maybe I’ll go for like 10 minutes or something we’ll figure it out. Give me one more chance. I think I did alright so he left it. He never brought it up again.

How Greg Minnaar trains

When Nico decided to retire in 2002, I thought the best person to get on my team would be his coach. So since 2003, and still today, I use Stephane Girard as my coach. I’ve added Alan Milway to help with my strength training and that’s new for this season.

My training usually kicks off in December. December, January are always quite wet. So it’s really hard to ride mountain bikes around here . The Cascades Forest is clay-based so you go nowhere in the mud. So I normally spend a bit of time on the road bike December, January.

Come February I do more mountain biking and normally start riding downhill about February. I always take a big break off my downhill bike. We don’t always have great downhill tracks to ride so there’s not anything exciting to ride. I’m just riding to keep fresh on the bike or to test something, I’m not riding to have a good time unfortunately.

And I enjoy running. Since I had my ACL knee replacement and I was limping quite bad, I decided to run out my limp. All the muscles around my knee didn’t feel great because I was wearing knee braces so I decided I’d get into running, now I run up to 10 k’s. I don’t do much more than 10 kilometres and I probably run at the most 35 kilometres a week.

The worst thing about being a pro mountain bike rider

Everything is structured which is probably the worst part of the sport. For the last 20 years ...let’s go back to 2003, 17 years, you’re not always riding to have a good time. Last year I went for my first mountain bike holiday with Jordi (Cortes) from Fox. We went to Dunkeld in Scotland. And if it wasn’t for the great Scottish people it would’ve been a hell of a crap holiday hanging out with Jordi (haha). No, it was super cool and it was the first time we were riding trails. I’d had an off week and I could just go ride what I wanted to.

I think that’s what people don’t understand when you have to ride, it’s not always fun. That’s the hardest thing you’re always riding to train, not just riding to have a good time.

Keeping fresh

I think I’m really lucky in many ways, but in South Africa there’s not a great gravity scene. It’s not massive. If anyone’s going to talk mountain bikes they’re going to talk marathon. So in October whenever I leave Europe or the US and I head back to South Africa there is no talk of bicycles. There’s no gravity talk at all. Come March I want to get this downhill stuff going. I haven’t ridden a great downhill track in a while. There’s no chairlifts to be riding such nice stuff.I get this five month complete break from the gravity and downhill scene. I think that’s what’s kept me fresh.

But the training does get hard. Come December, January, you look down and go wow dad bod - you’ve grown. So I get excited to train. Come February and you’ve ridden most of the routes multiple times and you’re tired, that’s tough. I remember there’s a rider Cadel Evans and he had a great saying which I do think of quite often. “As professional mountain bikers we don’t get paid to race, we get paid to train. And racing’s what we do for fun.” Keeping that mentality is really important.

Managing his relationship with Marshy (Greg’s mechanic Jason Marsh)

We have so much fun together (Marshy and I) at racing. It’s not like we spend a lot of time together now. He’s in France, I’m in South Africa. We catch up on a few text messages here and there but when we’re texting or at an event, it’s super cool we really have a good time.

It can mesh and it can clash too. I can see when Marshy’s getting frustrated. I didn’t know Marshy until he joined the Syndicate. The first time I met him was when he started. I’d seen him at a few races, I didn’t know him well, we kicked things off going to Brazil together and had a great time out there.

We have a great time but it’s also a managed relationship. We work together so we’ve got to manage things together. I can see sometimes when I’m frustrating him because I’m not making a call on which direction to take or what we need to do. I can see that he gets frustrated with me and I know I’ll be puzzling and say we need to try this and he’s like I know you’re going to go back to what you’ve got so why don’t you just keep it on.

But it’s all part of the process of trying to eliminate all the doubts you have before you race so that when you’re on that start line you have zero doubts. And you know that you’ve got the best possible setup.

Adapting in tough times

It’s tough because we’re training to be ready for Portugal, then training to be ready for Slovenia and then we’re training to be ready for Fort William. And now we don’t know what we’re doing. I’ve been in isolation, in lockdown now for 7 days. South Africa took a really strong hard stance against this Covid-19 that’s spreading so we’ve been in lockdown for 7 days. And everyone’s going “how are you dealing with that” and it’s actually been really nice. I’ve never spent so much time at home. I’ve never eaten so many meals at home.

I’ve set up my Stigmata, my cyclocross bike on a Zwift trainer and doing all my training on that. And I’ve got a gym on my terrace, rubber bands and everything else so I can work out and for once I don’t get up super early because normally if I ride in the mornings I get up at 4:10am and I ride quite early just to avoid traffic, so it’s nice sleeping in till 6 or 7am.

So I feel like for me at this time you’ve got to work with what you’ve got. I’ve found I’m so busy with racing and everything else in my life I don’t get a lot of time to just relax and so we’ve taken this time to do a bit more stretching, more training with movement, rather than just build up strength, recover and feel things out.

It’s been nice this last week but what else can we do? We have to make the most of it. It’s really hard when you’re down and out to find positives. But you need to. We’re getting quite deep now Eliot.

When he’s not on a bike

My hobbies are surfing, I absolutely love surfing and I also play golf but golf’s like a love-hate relationship because I really feel like I can get my head around this thing and then I feel I've got it and I go play and it's really shit. All I need is one shot that’s good and I feel I've got it again.


Greg playing golf

I do enjoy surfing. This year I’ve surfed more than most. I got another new surfboard, so I’ve been trying to go once a week. It’s so funny because I go surfing, wash and rinse them, pack them neatly, stack them nicely in their place with rash vests here and wetsuit there, all set up and my bikes are dirty and muddy in the corner, the neglected step-child.

I like the challenge of surfing and golf but I still ride motocross. I still ride once a week. Tuesday afternoon is my day to go to the track and have a good time with the youngsters. That’s probably one of the sports that I would’ve loved to have gone further but at the same time I was still really young and I don’t know if I would have enjoyed going further, it’s a tough sport.

What he’s watching on Netflix...

I don’t really watch a lot of TV but I started watching the Tiger thing (Tiger King). I watched the first one and thought it’s a bit slow, day 2 it starts to heat up and I think this is incredible. And then it just flattened out so I stopped.

I’m not a big TV person. I went on to watch One of Us which is pretty wild but it’s kept me glued. And now the Unabomber, what a crazy person. But I’m only 20 minutes into the first one.

The question you all wanted answered

I couldn’t tell you what it (his hair product) is called. I’ll look, it’s like creamy stuff. I wake up and my hair is just everywhere and I feel a bit insecure. I’ll take a photo for you in the morning. I don’t know what I do when I sleep but I know I toss and turn a hell of a lot but it’s like if you could imagine the wildest Maheekan cross afro that’s kind of what I wake up to every day. It’s like virtually impossible just to run with it.

Bed hair

What suspension sag Greg runs..

I try to run about 20 per cent, 20, 22 somewhere around there. It's not more than 25. I don’t like running too much sag.

Who’d be the big spoon between himself, Loic Bruni and Brook Macdonald


If I was in bed with Loic and Brook, I would say Loic’s going to be a little spoon because he’s a bitch and Brook’s such a tough guy I’d hate to argue with him so he’ll take the big spoon if he wants.

Greg’s advice to his younger self

Come up with plan B. Even if you don’t use it, it’s worth having.
Everything needed to be done, I was rushing. And even now I’m rushing ahead too far and I feel like I need to slow things down and really absorb what’s going on.

I just kind of bounce through life from 16 through till now. And sometimes you need to just relax a bit and soak it all in rather than keep moving and bouncing through things. I think to slow down would have been good.

So much has happened and I'm so blasé generally in life and you think back to all these places you’ve been to and not in my wildest dreams I’d ever think this would happen. And it’s all happened and I’m sitting here talking about it as if it’s a common thing to do.

I think it’s important and maybe that’s a positive of being isolated for seven days you start going crazy and speaking to Wilson the ball. But definitely slow down and take it all in because it’s really cool what we do and where we get to go.

Reggy Radio is available on Apple Podcasts and Spotify.

Photos supplied by Greg Minnaar.


Author Info:
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Member since Apr 23, 2013
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17 Comments
  • 17 0
 What a legend. Would love to be able to ride mtb, moto and surf all in the same week.
Also, Cedric Gracia's skinsuit! Looked bad then; looks worse now.
  • 12 0
 "Loic’s going to be a little spoon because he’s a bitch" lmaooo. Interview Loic next week
  • 5 0
 Agreed. This is the best thing on PB right now and it has no web traffic.
  • 4 0
 Hope you're subscribed. You could be in luck Wink
  • 10 0
 This is epic - the spoon question, and the skinsuits. Legendary dude.
  • 4 0
 Volvo skinsuit is not right. We need to interview Loic and Brook and see what their answer to spooning is
  • 1 0
 Great podcast. Highlights for me were Greg talking about his shoulder dislocations mid-race, his ability to finish the race in a good position, and what that may say about his toughness, dedication and focus. I also loved the comment about working with a sports psychologist and Greg's fear around messing with what has been working. As someone who has worked with athletes in that capacity, it was a really interesting perspective and I appreciated how candid he was with that fear. So many pieces overlap to create performance at that level and the fear that if you reshuffle those in the hope of gaining something that you may also loose something makes sense. I could see this happening- especially from clinicians who have a positivist idea of what works without reflexivity to the athletes experience. I would hope that those working with athletes in this capacity recognize what is working as well as what isn't and thoughtfully preserve the elements that work for them and collaboratively chip away at those that don't. Thanks for the interview and look forward to more. Eliot is a good interviewer and I liked the more candid off-the-bike aspects of this interview as well.
  • 4 0
 Dat skin suit tho!!! What up Volvo?!
  • 4 0
 Let's bring back that skeleton suit.
  • 4 0
 22 percent sag? Tall guy problems.
  • 1 0
 Is this on itunes or somewhere else that I can download from and listen to it away from my computer?
  • 2 0
 “Reggy Radio is available on Apple Podcasts and Spotify.”
  • 1 0
 Seach up GoReggy. You can stream it from their website.
  • 2 0
 Is Eliot not racing anymore or what?
  • 2 0
 I think I remember seeing he stopped racing because he has a really bad case of asthma that makes it really hard for him to compete.
  • 3 0
 I did have some health issues back in 2012, ended up racing World Cups till 2017. Now I just do Crankworx and other cool things like this Smile
  • 1 0
 Elliot a legend as well







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