Greg ‘The GOAT’ Minnaar On Longevity, Back Flips & Brandies
4 x Downhill World Champion
3 x DH World Cup Overall Winner
19 World Cup wins
Nicknames: GM, The Fresh Prince of Big Air, GOAT, Puzzler
Current nickname: Father Abraham, World Champ
After Greg Minnaar won this fourth world title at the age of 39 at Val di Sole, Italy, last weekend few could argue that he is the greatest male downhill racer in history – and he’s shown that age doesn’t have to be a limiting factor in a discipline dominated largely by younger riders.
Even at 39, Minnaar is showing no signs of retiring or even believing that he should.
“I’m still a pretty competitive person,” he says. “That in itself is what motivates me. But also, I don’t feel that I’ve really mastered downhill. It’s such a complex sport, and I’m still learning ways to get faster and ride better. I’m not dominating and winning every weekend; so until I do, there’s always a lot to learn.”
Minnaar admits that it’s hard to stay at the top; and as he’s got older, he’s learnt that body management and strengthening have become more important.
“I don’t feel that I’ve really mastered downhill. It’s such a complex sport.”
“I’ve always had an issue with my left shoulder, so I’ve had to work to open up my back and thoracic area and try and get better movement throughout my body.”
He’s also had his fair share of crashes; he struggles with an old injury to his left leg, which has meant plenty of rehab work to correct the muscle imbalance so crucial to his success.
“I always feel like I’m working. Working towards goals in the off-season around keeping my body strong, and then focusing on the racing when that part of the year comes around.”
Despite being ‘old’ in downhill mountain-biking terms, Minnaar hasn’t lost his nerve on the demanding downhill courses.
“It’s all about risk management. I love the adrenalin rush, and trying something that hasn’t been done yet. I still believe I can do sections of a track that others can’t do.”
To keep his thrill levels up during lockdown, Minnaar and an old friend challenged each other to do a backflip on a heavy e-bike.
“Yeah, I gave it a go – and did it. There is some element of risk; but if I didn’t feel I could do it, I would have a go with a water landing first. It didn’t feel that crazy. Although we did hit the brandies pretty hard afterwards!”
For Minnaar, his ability to compete at the top level is grounded in a fundamental belief that he can compete with anyone and win on a good day.
“A race is a race. You have to go into it 110 per cent, but weigh up the risk in some areas. At the end of the day if someone goes faster than you, then good luck to them.”
Minnaar admits that modern racing is far different from what it was when he first started competing at the top level. He’s had to adapt his training, and deal with the changes in riding styles and bike set-ups.
“There’s been a new era of pace since 2011 because the bike set-ups have become far more aggressive. Rebound speeds are faster, the suspension is harder, and the tempo of the runs is higher.
“The bikes are a lot harsher and harder than five or six years ago, so you need to be fit – really fit! The training I do is quite complex, because it needs to combine raw strength with endurance.”
Minnaar works with US-based South African chiropractor Lawrence van Lingen to help him with his all-round body mobility.
“He really helps me keep my back and hips in balance.”
Although Minnaar has a strict strength-training regime, he admits that being in the gym is a grudge session.
“I hate the gym. I hate that whole vanity thing… seeing people looking at themselves doing bicep curls, or spending more time socialising than doing the work. But I know I have to do it to stay competitive.”
Shy and retiring
So when does Minnaar think he’ll retire?
“I don’t have a timeline. I’m pretty motivated to race, and I just want to be up there mixing with the guys. When I feel I don’t want to race, perhaps then I’ll consider retiring.”
Minnaar admits that as the older guy on the circuit he gets teased by the younger crowd, but he uses that as motivation.
“Sometimes they’re a bit cheeky, and call me Gramps or Father Abraham. But when I straight-up smoke ’em in a race, it’s pretty good fun.”
Age really is just a number
Attitude is everything
Do something that scares you once in a while
Greg Minnaar’s Typical Training Week
Monday: 2½ hours riding (73km), 1 hour 20 gym (3 x 5 sets low reps including half squats, bench press, box half squats, bench press, box jumps, lat pulldowns). Finish with core work and stability.
Tuesday: Sprint intervals. 1-hour warm-up. 30 minutes Zone 2. 8 x 50m sprints from dead start with 5-minute intervals.
Wednesday: AM: Ride 2½ hours. PM: Gym session.
Thursday: Interval session
Friday: Ride 70km on road
Saturday: DH training
Sunday: Rest day
Minnaar’s World Championships Record
Gold: 2003, 2012, 2013, 2021
Silver: 2004, 2006, 2009, 2015, 2017
Bronze: 2001, 2005, 2010