SA cycling showed signs of a comeback on Sunday after a difficult 2018 as Greg Minnaar took second in the UCI Downhill World Cup in Leogang, Austria, while Edvald Boasson Hagen of SA World Tour team won the first stage of the Criterium du Dauphine.
Minnaar struggled with injury in 2018 and at the age of 37 there were concerns that he was the last of his generation of downhill mountain bike superstars. But in Fort William, Scotland, last weekend, he finished sixth.
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On Sunday, the Pietermartizburg resident and Santa Cruz Syndicate rider started last having qualified fastest, and lost out by a slither of a second, finishing just 0.324sec behind Frenchman Loic Bruni.
Australia’s Troy Brosnan was third. Bruni had set a blistering time of 3min 16.132sec, almost 3sec faster than Minnaar’s qualifying time. Minnaar had to contend with a track that was showing signs of wear and tear, with some of the dustier berms and corners “blown out”, causing a lack of traction.
But Minnaar, who won the second of his three World Championships at Leogang, stayed in touch with Bruni’s time, getting faster as he went down the hill. Minnaar is now fifth overall in the UCI World Cup standings.
There was some relief to complement the joy on the face of Boasson Hagen after his sprint victory in Jussac, France on Sunday.
It has been a long time between drinks at the World Tour for the Norwegian and for Dimension Data. The Criterium du Dauphine is seen as a traditional warm-up for the Tour de France, and for Boasson Hagen and his team the win could not have come at a more opportune time after a tough 2018 Tour.
Boasson Hagen held off 2012 world champion Philippe Gilbert (Deceunick-Quickstep) and Wout Van Aert (Team Jumbo Visma), who were second and third.
“I am really happy with today’s win,” said Boasson Hagen, who leads by 4sec overall. “It has been a while since I have won in the World Tour, so this is great win for me and for Team Dimension Data.
“I was really suffering on the climb, but I managed to stay there in the group while the best sprinters were dropped. That worked out really well for me. I had good speed in the sprint and am just really happy to have won and to take the yellow jersey, even if only for a few days.”
SA champion Daryl Impey had been in the mix in the sprint, but was bumped and lost the wheels of the frontrunners and finished with the front bunch.