Greg Minnaar wins downhill world cup opener

Gee Atherton, Brendan Fairclough round out top three

Greg Minnaar (Santa Cruz Syndicate) broke a streak of bad luck in Maribor, becoming the first World Cup Downhill leader in the 2010 series.

The opening round of the downhill saw a slight easing overnight of the rain that had turned the four cross into a mud bath, which wasn't necessarily a positive thing, since it made the course sticky and slower; especially for the top-seeded men.

Ben Cathro set the early fast time of 3:31.52, before being bumped by Joe Smith (3:30.35) then Aaron Gwin (Yeti Fox Shox Factory Race Team), who became the first to go under 3:30. Gwin's time held up until Fabien Pedemanaud (Scott 11) took the best time down to 3:25.84; good enough for fourth.

The course was becoming more rutted and beat up as the top seeds took to the course, and riders were having to pick their lines carefully. Gee Atherton (Commencal) was the next to take the lead, choosing different lines from previous riders in the top section of the course, attacking the roots and rocks but slowing in sticky mud at the bottom, to knock two seconds off the best time.

Minnaar rode next, but took the opposite approach - more cautious in the upper technical portion, but powering through the lower third to beat Atherton by a quarter of a second become the first World Cup leader of the season, after the final two riders Brendan Fairclough (Monster Energy / Specialized / Mad Catz) and Sam Hill (Monster Energy / Specialized / Mad Catz) slotted in third and fifth, respectively.

Hill, coming off knee surgery over the winter, had the fastest split for the upper half of the course, but a crash dropped him down to the final podium spot. Canada's Steve Smith (MS Evil Racing) had his best World Cup finish to date, qualifying fifth and finishing sixth, one spot off the podium.

"I have always liked Maribor, but I've always done bad on the track. So that has changed now," said Minnaar. "I knew it was going to be a tough race, but decided to take it a bit safe and easy at the top, and ride a bit smoother; but it is so hard out there.

"I had a few mistakes myself, but I guess a lot less than the other guys. I am overwhelmed; I came here wanting to do well and for me, on this course, in these conditions, I felt a top three would be good, but a win was out of the question. But I pulled it off."

For full results, report and photos, visit Cyclingnews.com.

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