Santa Cruz Syndicate’s Greg Minnaar (SRAM/RockShox) places 2nd overall in the UCI World Cup Series with a 2nd place race finish today as he and Gee Atherton took their tightly fought season to the finale with Gee emerging victorious on the day in a nail biter all the way down to the finish line. Steve Peat was on a smoking run, but took a nasty spill near the finish, which caused him to place 55th, and 7th overall in the series. Josh Bryceland’s 12th place finish completed his season with a 23rd place series overall.
Greg Minnaar, Josh Bryceland and Steve Peat relaxing in the pits at Windham.
This was the first UCI World Cup held in the US in five years and the small, quaint Americana town of Windham, New York rolled out the red carpet for us. The town looked like a canvas was ripped off the frame of a Norman Rockwell painting and placed right here. The hospitality the town showed was unlike any I have ever seen before! All the townspeople were volunteers donating their time to make the event the huge success that it was. Even the liquor store was giving discounts to everyone associated with the race! And I was in heaven at Todaro’s Italian market with the wonderful fresh foods and the nicest people to help. I did find the colorful Santa’s everywhere a bit odd, then found out they were Rip Van Winkle statues, 55 of them around, which was still very odd and you could get a map to find them all. Must be the Catskills version of the Hollywood Stars tour map….
Greg gets a massage to prepare for his run.
The weather was rainy for the first few days upon our arrival, giving the perfect atmosphere for us to stay inside and have the annual Syndicate Christmas dinner complete with turkey, mashed potatoes and gravy, the lot, and silly white elephant gifts.
Since the mountain hadn’t had rain for some time the red, clay soil held the moisture long after the rain stopped. Maxxis High Rollers were the tire choice for the week and performed well in the wet to drying conditions. And Muc-Off cleaners whisked the red mud right off, keeping the carbon V-10’s looking brilliant.
Watching the action from the SRAM pit area.
The first day of practice was going well until the afternoon. Greg was following Steve down the track and got offline and hit a tree and his forearm near his elbow took the brutal impact and dislocated his elbow. Greg looked at his arm and his arm and hand was sticking out the wrong direction. Steve heard the impact and went to help him. As they went to the medics, Greg’s arm slowly worked its way back into place. I took Greg to the hospital in Albany, an hour’s drive, to have it checked out. After a long wait and some amazingly fresh sushi from the hospital cafeteria, Greg was examined and the x-ray showed no fractures. He felt the joint was stable and his strength was good and he was sure he would race the qualifier the next day, which was crucial to pick up valuable points towards the overall.
Going into this race Greg found himself out of the leaders jersey for the first time all year since winning in Maribor. Gee Atherton had 7 points on Greg and the monkey of the leaders jersey on his back to defend. On Friday morning Greg tested the arm and it was stable enough. After a few practice runs the guys went up for the qualifier. It went very well for the Santa Cruz riders with Steve winning it, Greg in 4th to Gee Atherton’s 5th, Josh was in 8th and Cedric Gracia in 10th. The points gained between Greg and Gee was only 3, so 4 points separated them, making it a dead heat going into Sunday’s race.
Race day practice went well and the boys left the pits to go to the top for the final World Cup of the season. Greg was focused and his elbow wasn’t on his mind, only the thought to take the hotseat from Gee…. As the SRAM crew watched the event live on Freecaster from the pits, Steve strolled over to the ice chest, cracked a cold Bud and shared it with John Dawson then off he went.
The race was unfolding and Brendan Fairclough was in the hotseat. Josh came down with a 12th place run which he was disappointed with after qualifying well, he just didn’t adapt well enough to the dry, changing track conditions. Then Swiss rider, Nick Beer had a very fast run and bumped Brendan out of the hotseat.
Greg rolls in with what was to be the second fastest time of the day.
As expected, Gee Atherton came down and eclipsed the time of Beer by nearly 3 seconds to take the hotseat. As he climbed up Greg was on course giving his all with the mental strength of the giant that he is. He was down .68 at the split and was sure to gain a bit more time, but it just wasn’t enough and he crossed the line in 2nd, just .37 seconds back of Gee. This placed him 2nd overall for the year in a tightly fought contest.
Fastest qualifier, Steve was on track exhibiting his regained form. When the split time flashed green, 1.4 seconds ahead of Gee the crowd went insane!! Just about to pop into sight, the crowd cheering him in, disaster struck and he went down hard, reminiscent of World Championships in Les Gets, France where he made a similar mistake. The crowd was aghast as Steve picked up his bike and jumped back on. Shaken but not broken, he crossed the line in 2:41.26 in 55th place.
Peaty was on pace for his first victory of the season when disaster struck.
Steve says, “It was great to be racing in American again. Windham was an awesome venue. Practice went will all week and I liked the track, my Carbon Santa Cruz V-10 was perfect all week with Ricky Bobby looking after it. The track reminded me of old school Mt. Snow, Vermont from back in the day. It was fast and flowing and hard to carry speed, but that was the key to a good run. I was stoked to qualify fastest! It’s been awhile since I did that. I felt at home with the fast guys. I was really confident for the finals, maybe a little too confident because I overcooked the step down coming into the finish and carcassed hard while leading at the split. At least I know I have some of my speed back and I’m looking forward to World Championships!”
The consummate sportsman, Greg congratulates Gee Atherton on his victory.
Greg was pleased with his race run and effort and talked about the week, “The first day of practice I crashed out and injured my elbow, dislocating it. I spent most the night at the hospital trying to get it x-rayed. I had some treatment from US Cycling’s physical therapist, Bernard Condaveaux, before Friday’s practice. It wasn’t too bad physically to ride, but just mentally to get over it. The qualifier that day went well and being ahead of Gee was important. I knew I’d have to step things up more for the final. My final went as good as it could and all I was aiming for was the hotseat as I knew Gee would be in it when I came down. Unfortunately I was .37 seconds slower than Gee which means I had to settle for 2nd best for the season. It’s been a good season racing with Gee. We battled all season and he beat me fair and square in the end.”
We are on a plane now to Quebec for the World Championships where Steve and Greg will be battling for the win. It will be a busy, exciting week and both are recovering from their crashes and should be just fine for Sunday’s grand event.
Gee consoles his countryman Peaty at the finish.
MEN’S DOWNHILL TOP TEN:
1ST: Gee Atherton 2:28.28
2nd: GREG MINNAAR (SANTA CRUZ SYNDICATE) 2:28.65
3rd: Sam Blenkinsop 2:30.19
4th: Aaron Gwin 2:30.88
5th: Nick Beer 2:31.66
6th: Marc Beaumont 2:31.71
7th: Steve Smith 2:31.76
8th: Brook McDonald 2:33.29
9th Brendan Fairclough 2:33.49
10th: Justin Leov 2:33.57
12th: JOSH BRYCELAND (SANTA CRUZ SYNDICATE) 2:34.02
55TH: STEVE PEAT (SANTA CRUZ SYNDICATE) 2:41.26
MEN’S DOWNHILL OVERALL TOP TEN:
1st: Gee Atherton 1229
2nd: GREG MINNAAR (SANTA CRUZ SYNDICATE) 1185
3RD: Sam Blenkinsop 864
4th: Aaron Gwin 757
5th: Marc Beaumont 633
6th: Brendan Fairclough 606
7th: STEVE PEAT (SANTA CRUZ SYNDICATE) 491
8th: Danny Hart 482
9th: Fabien Pedemanaud 480
10th: Steve Smith 478
23rd: JOSH BRYCELAND (SANTA CRUZ SYNDICATE)