Monday, September 15, 2008

A Couple of Nice Surprises

Surprise Party I've never been thrown a surprise party before, so when Candice started preparing large quantities of food as soon as we arrived home on Friday evening, a surprise party was the last thing on my mind.

When my brother and his wife arrived for a drink and to wish me for my birthday last Monday, even Candice was surprised
, as it was a complete coincidence. However, half an hour later and the guests started arriving, the penny finally dropped. And I had been hoping for an early night...!
I hope everyone enjoyed themselves as much as I did, and Babes, thanks a million. I can't believe you managed to organise everything without me catching on!

Greg Minnaar - World Cup Champion


The World Cup Final for the Downhill in Schladming, Austria, was expected to be the most hotly contested final of the weekend, with upsets possible in both the men's and women's races. However, both Rachel Atherton (Animal Commencal) and Greg Minnaar (Santa Cruz Syndicate), the leaders coming into Saturday's races, were able to successfully hang on to the top spots in the overall standings.

Atherton did it by decimating the competition, while Minnaar had a little bit tougher time of it - finishing fifth behind first time World Cup winner Sam Blenkinsop (Yeti-Fox Shox).

The long and steep course was demanding of both skills and nerve to do well. Rain during the week leading up to the races also meant that large ruts were carved into the track, making it both bumpy and slippery - a tough combination.

In the men's race it was a newcomer to the top ranks who finished number one, in the person of the young Kiwi Sam Blenkinsop. Prior to this win, Blenkinsop had a fifth in Andorra this season, and a silver medal in the Junior ranks at the Worlds in 2006. However, he was consistently the strongest rider, winning both the semi-final and final.
In the semi-final, both Minnaar and his rival - defending champion Sam Hill (Monster Energy-Iron Horse) stumbled, with Hill taking fourth and Minnaar sixth.

This meant that Minnaar went into the final with a 116 point lead on Hill, and had to finish no lower than seventh to guarantee that he would win his first major title since 2005.
Neil Donoghue (Bike Radar) set the fast early time, which stood up until Andrew Neethling (GT) lopped off two-tenths of a second, followed immediately by Aaron Gwin (Yeti-Fox Shox) doing the same thing. Gwin kept the lead until his team mate Justin Leov took a more significant three seconds off, with seven riders remaining.

Fabien Barel (Subaru) was next, but couldn't take the lead, followed by Minnaar, who took the top time for a couple of minutes before his team mate Steve Peat bumped him to second by almost four seconds. Then it was Hill, who knocked another second and a half off the leading time.
At this point, with three riders remaining, Minnaar could finish no lower than sixth, and so the pressure to win the title was over.

But the battle for the final big win of the season was still underway. World champion Gee Atherton (Animal Commencal) slotted in just behind Hill, and Hill's young team mate Brendan Fairclough was fastest at the halfway point, but crashed further down. So it was up to Blenkinsop, and he proved decisively that his semi-final win was no fluke, beating Hill by over a second and a half to record his biggest victory and moved up to the final podium spot for the overall World Cup.

"It feels good to be back on top," agreed Minnaar. "I had a feeling that a lot of people were writing me off, but I got through some injuries, got healthy and now I'm back." "Today was hard, but I did what had to be done. I didn't start to have a conservative run, I was pushing hard. In the fifth corner I washed out a bit, so at that point I backed off a little bit. Honestly, I'm not particularly happy with my ride, it was a bit of a crap ride for me. That was disappointing, but to win the overall is pretty fantastic."

Blenkinsop was at a bit of a loss to explain why everything came together so perfectly. "Something must be working! The training has been better, and I'm on a way better bike now, so it has made everything awesome for me. This is major for sure."
"I had no idea that I could even win the semi, it was weird ... I was hoping for a top-5 if I was lucky. But I love coming to this place [Schladming], it's always good for me. In the final I had a few little mistakes, but nothing major, and I knew it was going good coming to the bottom, so I just 'let it go' to try and gain any extra time.

Well done Greg!

Thanks for reading.