Lenzerheide: Minnaar's masterclass in risk management

Magnanimous in victory, Minnaar’s Lenzerheide win should never be discredited by tyre issues.

This past Saturday was a testing one for friends, family, pets and neighbours. Ordinarily mild-mannered mountain bikers across the country exploded from their sofas, rising into postures of fist-pumping delight, crowing with approval, as Greg Minnaar cemented another victory to the foundation of a legacy which will never be equalled.

 

Lenzerheide Greg Minnaar 4.jpg
Greg Minnaar. Bartek Wolinski/Red Bull Content Pool

 

Minnaar’s riding at the Swiss round of this year’s UCI Downhill World Cup was typical: a masterclass in impeccable risk management and almost imperceptible speed. The great South African’s size (1.93m) creates a definite optical illusion, masking his pace on course. Smaller competitors appear quicker, but when the times are collated, Minnaar is inevitably faster.

 

There is but one man who is Minnaar’s true rival, American Aaron Gwin. Believed to be possibly the fastest downhill racer currently rolling up to the start gate of UCI DH events, Gwin’s the complete antithesis to Minnaar: unpopular, unconcerned with his image and nuggety in proportion to Greg’s tallness.

 

Although both graduated to DH racing from the world of motocross, their styles are hugely different: Minnaar’s graceful, Gwin is brutal. On Saturday, the American appeared to be brutalizing the Lenzerheide track to a victory that would be well clear of Minnaar’s leading time; Gwin was 1.5 seconds ahead with the finish-line in sight, when his rear tyre failed. Spectacularly.

 


Lenzerheide Aaron Gwin 1.jpg

Lenzerheide Aaron Gwin 2.jpg

Bartek Wolinski/Red Bull Content Pool.
Gwin eventually limped home in 51st place, a flailing Flat Tire Defender foam tube testament to what could have been. In his post-race interview, Minnaar admitted that Gwin’s run was by far the weekend’s quickest, but there’s a tremendous difference between what could have, and should have, been the result.

 

Racing is risk management


During Friday’s qualifying, Minnaar managed to destroy the spokes on his rear wheel after misjudging a landing zone, descending onto – instead of clearing - some rocks. During Saturday’s race run, he adjusted his strategy, altered lines and finish fastest. On the same course, Gwin made different line choices, one of which destroyed his rear tyre – and tyre failures are not mechanicals, in DH racing, they are rider errors.

 

If a chain snaps, that’s a retrenched team mechanic. If fork or rear shock fails halfway through a run – that’s one factory suspension technician who’s never going to a UCI DH race ever again. Bar or stem failure? Almost irreparable consumer confidence damage for the brand involved.

 

Tyres are different. The contact patch is every rider’s own to manage, place and manipulate. It’s risk versus reward and unless the entire field flats in a race, tyre failures must be classed as individual rider responsibility. At this time, it would appear that available tyre technology simply isn’t commensurate to the lines choices Aaron Gwin is capable of taking, but understanding the limits of your equipment in the relation to the terrain you are presented with, is racing: because to finish first, you first have to finish.

 

Lenzerheide Greg Minnaar 3.jpg
Bartek Wolinski/Red Bull Content Pool

 

Covet no component. Have no excuses


A unique appeal of DH racing is the open formula applied to component choices and bike configuration. Riders can never table the excuse of being denied access to a specific component, gifting unfair advantage to a competitor. The option of changing sponsors or ‘stealthing’ a rival component for own use is always an option. Nor is there a series tyre sponsor, limiting all riders to roll the same rubber.

 

Gwin might be riding his own signature series of tyres, but off-season testing and the 11/10ths reality of his race runs are proving to be two very diverse realities. Amongst the most committed riders regarding his strength training, Gwin has the physiological ability to hold on when others are flailing, pinballing off technical features, and the resolve to take monumental risks.

 

The American is boundlessly spectacular to watch, but there’s a difference between creating a remarkable video segment and winning races. It’s a difference Minnaar understands better. Their contrasting styles and gallant quality of their rivalry, is crafting this 2017 season as being one of the most memorable yet. Greg won’t take full credit for a win where Gwin flatted, but the American would never approve of ‘should-have’ sympathy either.

 

*Stealthing: the act of using a rival component, in possible contravention of your sponsors, and therefore removing all recognisable traces of its graphics and branding

 

Lenzerheide Greg Minnaar 5.jpg
Bartek Wolinski/Red Bull Content Pool

 

Lenzerheide World Cup Downill Highlights:




14 Comments

ichnusa, Jul 10 2017 12:20

Brilliantly written - I wholeheartedly agree, particularly with

 

"On the same course, Gwin made different line choices, one of which destroyed his rear tyre – and tyre failures are not mechanicals, in DH racing, they are rider errors."

SEANSTEP, Jul 10 2017 02:19

Anonymous author? Who wrote article? Thought provoking. Tend to agree. Would like to see a name to article though. 

Beefy, Jul 10 2017 02:19

Brilliantly written - I wholeheartedly agree, particularly with

 

"On the same course, Gwin made different line choices, one of which destroyed his rear tyre – and tyre failures are not mechanicals, in DH racing, they are rider errors."

 

Have to agree and with 75 podiums it shows the consistency of his speed. 

Hairy, Jul 10 2017 04:44

would be interesting to see Gwin's strike out rate for mechanicals or flats percentage wise compared to the other top riders.

 

agree with the above RE a great article to read!

bologniusmaximus, Jul 10 2017 05:27

Brilliantly written - I wholeheartedly agree, particularly with

 

"On the same course, Gwin made different line choices, one of which destroyed his rear tyre – and tyre failures are not mechanicals, in DH racing, they are rider errors."

I was thinking the same thing as I was ogling this article.

Boerklong, Jul 10 2017 06:50

Great read. Well written

Nick, Jul 10 2017 09:13

Anonymous author? Who wrote article? Thought provoking. Tend to agree. Would like to see a name to article though. 

 

Glad you enjoyed it.

 

The author is Lance Branquinho. You'll find his name just under the title.

NicoBoshoff, Jul 11 2017 08:54

Gwinn slashed his tire in a rut that literally 90% of the field rode.  It's the far outside one that dropped you into the steep descent before the little climb.

 

Then, because his tyre was flat when he landed an otherwise innocuous rock huck, his rim snapped and that was the end of his flat protection and tire staying on.

 

Sorry, but that's nothing to do with rider error.  Minnaar hit the same line in fact.  What is more likely at fault is track integrity.  Go and check the YT Mob episode after Lenzerheide - after every run there was so much sh*t and debris in the track that it was nearly futile to go by memory for line options.  So fairly good chance that in the preceding runs something landed in that rut that wasn't there before and that sliced his tire.

 

Sorry.  Not rider error.

 

Also, never is a helluva long time.  There will be another Minnaar.  His name might even be Aaron. 

Piston ZA, Jul 11 2017 11:02

As much as I don't like Gwin, Nico is right. He has 17 WC wins, just 4 behind Greg, and is also 6 years younger than him. So he might have a lot more opportunities to reach and even pass him in future.

Odinson, Jul 11 2017 01:25

Dafuq is this BS?! 

 

 

 

Gwin’s the complete antithesis to Minnaar: unpopular, unconcerned with his image and nuggety in proportion to Greg’s tallness.

 

Gwin is immensely popular in the public sphere. Compare their following on Instagram: Gwin 292k vs Minnaar 159k. It's a stupid metric, I know, but Gwin is not unpopular. Minnaar probably pips Gwin in terms of popularity in the pits. Further, I guarantee you that he is very concerned about his image. Listen to VitalMTB's recent 'Inside Line' podcast with Gwin. He takes himself quite seriously and knows how to manage his public persona. Lastly, Gwin is 1.78m. That's pretty average. Minnaar is a tall bloke. Irrespective, I'm not quite sure why a height comparison between the two is in any way relevant.

Stretch, Jul 11 2017 02:20

As much as I don't like Gwin, Nico is right. He has 17 WC wins, just 4 behind Greg, and is also 6 years younger than him. So he might have a lot more opportunities to reach and even pass him in future.

 

I think the difference between greg and gwinn right now is not the 17 vs 21....its the 75 podiums greg has. Add to that the 3 World champs vs 0. 

 

Not sure I do agree with Nico - but I need to go watch the video for clarity first

Piston ZA, Jul 11 2017 03:09

I think the difference between greg and gwinn right now is not the 17 vs 21....its the 75 podiums greg has. Add to that the 3 World champs vs 0. 

 

Not sure I do agree with Nico - but I need to go watch the video for clarity first

Good point. Irrespective, Greg will always be the GOAT to me

Lance Cruz, Jul 11 2017 04:54

Dafuq is this BS?! 

 

 

Gwin is immensely popular in the public sphere. Compare their following on Instagram: Gwin 292k vs Minnaar 159k. It's a stupid metric, I know, but Gwin is not unpopular. Minnaar probably pips Gwin in terms of popularity in the pits. Further, I guarantee you that he is very concerned about his image. Listen to VitalMTB's recent 'Inside Line' podcast with Gwin. He takes himself quite seriously and knows how to manage his public persona. Lastly, Gwin is 1.78m. That's pretty average. Minnaar is a tall bloke. Irrespective, I'm not quite sure why a height comparison between the two is in any way relevant.

"Lastly, Gwin is 1.78m. That's pretty average. Minnaar is a tall bloke. Irrespective, I'm not quite sure why a height comparison between the two is in any way relevant." For the same reason BB height is considered a crucial unit of analysis for bike performance, if you want to be strangely pedantic, Minnaar would possibly have a greater frontal area, or even tucked, more aerodynamic drag - due to the difference in height between them.  

"
 He takes himself quite seriously and knows how to manage his public persona." Curation is one thing, certainly, but he does not become a slave to people-pleasing, he is very much his own man. In their different approaches, Minnaar and Gwin gift downhill racing a great spectrum of appeal. 

Squier, Jul 14 2017 09:04

I think the difference between greg and gwinn right now is not the 17 vs 21....its the 75 podiums greg has. Add to that the 3 World champs vs 0. 

 

Not sure I do agree with Nico - but I need to go watch the video for clarity first

 

Look, Gwin is an exceptionally talented rider and time is on his side to overtake Greg in terms of number of wins. Whether he does or not, it's a spectacular rivalry and makes for great viewing. Thing is, Greg's done it. He already has the wins and doesn't look to be slowing down. Aaron still has to go out there and do it. Not saying that he can't, but your reputation isn't based on what you're still going to do.

 

That being said, one can be forgiven for complete and utter biased favouritism towards Greg. Whether there's another Minnaar or not, chances of us ever seeing another rider of that class from our very own country is somewhere between zero and extremely remote. He's a special talent and I hope people appreciate what they're seeing whilst they still can.