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Blue Ribbon Banter: One Life, One Ride

Before we get into this first article, I'd like to say how stoked we are at Vital that Zach (aka "sideshow") has agreed to write his Blue Ribbon Banter column. This is the first of many. He already has five more fantastic musings in the queue and we will trickle them out over the coming weeks. They are a welcome addition to the site and I think they will provide all of us entertainment and discussion as we cruise the virtual MTB trails. Thanks Zach! -gordo

Blue Ribbon Banter: One Life, One Ride

By Zach Faulkner

Inspiring moments come along pretty frequently these days due in part to the immediacy of our need to know, and the rate at which news travels.  Each day online there is a new headline about a touching tale of adversity overcome, or some philanthropic gesture from one stranger to another.  It is great to see, don’t get me wrong.  But I think, like all other forms of news in this country, we are desensitized to the events we hear about, even the feel-good ones. ESPN’s Top 10’s bring us these similar moments from the world of sports, and Cam Zink actually made the cut a few years back when he 360’d the Icon Sender at Rampage.  But one component we sometimes miss when we hear about all of these terrific tales of human excellence, is the mental strength of the individuals who buck the norm and just send it; taking in a struggling teen, putting oneself in danger to help another, riding up to an actual cliff and spinning off it, etc.

What’s my angle here you ask?  It is actually the elite mind of Greg Minnaar, and how his third World Championship win was one of the greatest moments in the history of our sport.  This is a big claim, but I am willing to back it up. I will concede that it was not as spectacular as Danny Hart’s win, or one of Sam Hill’s displays of rainbow-winning chaos.  Another man who earned his stripes with pure grit, Steve Peat, made an interesting comment years ago that I think is relevant here: said of another ‘stripe-clad competitor, Vouilloz, Peaty called him, “boring” and not exciting.  Fair point, Palmer certainly stole the style show from that era.  I make note of this because a friend and I talked about Greg’s win the day after, and my friend remarked (something to the effect of), [the win was] expected and just not the most exciting outcome possible, and while still a great win, only garnered a “meh” reaction.  I can’t argue that it wasn’t a super flashy win, but there was something else going on there in SA that, to me, was truly amazing.

Photos by Sven Martin

Brandon Semenuk, in a recent edit, said that he hates riding in front of his home crowd at Joy Ride because of the pressure and associated feelings with having friends and family in attendance.  However, Greg seems to channel those energies with a different vigor: he has an amazing ability to focus on the task at hand, use the home crowd energy as fuel, and absolutely fire down the track in PMB.  The real race heads here on Vital might recall a few seasons ago when the WC circus arrived in PMB, that Greg’s dad was ill and not in top shape.  This was a big weight on Greg, something he only mentioned a once or twice pre- and post-race.  He was fighting a lot of emotions that weekend.  But what did he do?  He won.  He put down and amazing run, under the pressure of his hometown crowd, and also the weight of an ailing parent - that is mental fortitude, and on that level, it cannot be taught.

This is further relevant in 2013 when World Champs tumbled south of the equator and landed in PMB, right on Greg’s front steps.  Greg has The Stripes, so the pressure of earning them at least once is not there, but the pressure of proving himself once more never goes away.  He is on the older end of age in the sport. But 31 is not “old”, and he has plenty left in the tank and is still at the top of downhilling. So, all eyes were on him, and had been all year leading up to the fateful weekend.  The average person will not ever face this kind of challenge: pitted against the best of the best, a no-holds-barred event where all the tricks are brought out, at home - winning is the only goal.  Imagine that for a moment; be Greg.  Feel that?  That’s an entire city behind you, cheering your name, the hype machine working overtime.

Let’s not forget that part of World Champs is the equipment risks that the riders take.  Very often, single-run parts are used, or in the very least, components what serve no other purpose beyond the weekend are in play.  For those attentive Vital viewers, the sound bite and picture of Greg’s flat tire told a remarkable story: from the moment he chose to run the light-casing tire, he knew that after the rockgarden gap, he would no longer be racing the course, riders, or himself, he would be racing against a flat tire.  But, the benefits out-weighed the risk; he knew what he had to do to win.  Like the masterful tactician he is, he managed his race run perfectly.  He flatted.  He won.  Madness.

That is perfection.  Winning at home, weighing the risks, and making the odds end up in one’s own favor.  There was no sneaky line, no over-the-limit moment of winning risk; just calculated winning strategy.  Call it boring, call it whatever you want.  I call it an iron-clad race-mind - I call it winning.  The ability to be perfect when it matters most is what sets the best of the best ahead of the rest.  Greg, Gee, Gwin, Smith - these guys know what it takes, and it is thrilling to witness the outflow of emotion they display when it all goes to plan.  The ending to World Champs this year couldn’t have been better.  After the One Life movie premiere, to have Greg win...sublime.  Seeing the emotional value of the weekend in Greg, Roskopp, the whole Syndicate, Gary Perkins, the One Lifers, and Greg’s family, it really brought the context of racing to life - the endless training, self-sacrifice, mental games, and all the external factors.  Racing is more than just sport, it is more than entertainment, it is a way of life, and it is where we test our limits in a way only we know how.

About the author
[sound of can opening] You may know me as my online alias of “sideshow” - a well-worn nickname from my days as a teen with a huge head of hair.  I’ve been racing downhill since I was 14, after I realized I was too slow up the hills in XC.  I jumped straight in the Jr.X category and then right on into the Pro ranks once I’d weathered some wild years racing Neko before he could drive. I’m 23 now, so no one likes me, and I live post-grad in the most temperamental region in nature, a.k.a. Vermont.  The winters are cold and the summers are unpredictable, but we still have fun here. I decided to name the column "Blue Ribbon Banter" based on the best post-ride beer (science says so, no arguing), and the resulting conversations in the pits and parking lots that are fueled by the beverage.  I’ll try to keep things relevant and interesting for your entertainment.  Just remember: when people yell, “NO BRAKES” as you race by, you have to do it.

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