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MTBUSAMay 23, 2004
NORBA Series Downhill Round 1
Big Bear Lake, California, USA

Greg Minnaar Qualifies Fastest in a World Class Field at the Opening Round of the NORBA Downhill Series

The opening round of the prestigious national series of the USA, the NORBA Series, took place this weekend at the high altitude venue of Snow Summit Resort, at Big Bear Lake, California. The opening round was unique in that it was run as a 4-man downhill, or “Downhill Mania.”This meant all riders rode a qualifying time and then got seeded into 16 heats of four riders. In each heat, the best two went through to the next round, while third and fourth got eliminated. The organizers decided that 50% of the points would be awarded for the qualification, and the other 50% for the downhill mania race results.

Greg Minnaar

Greg Minnaar

Practice for the event was held over two days prior, and for both Greg Minnaar (RSA) and Cyrille Kurtz (FRA), the training sessions went extremely well with no major issues for the new 2004 Honda RN01 bikes. For Cyrille, however, getting used to the very dry and dusty conditions, which are so different to the European Alps that he’s most used to, was the biggest challenge. Both riders benefited from being at the venue for two weeks and adjusting to the high altitude.

While this was Cyrille’s first race in the US, Greg was here to defend the NORBA Series Title he won in 2003, and was quite used to the Big Bear Lake venue (in 1999 Greg finished top 10 in a World Cup here, as a junior rider).

The qualification started at 11h30 with Semi-Pro men starting first, followed by Pro Women and then Pro Men. Greg Minnaar started as the last rider because he is the reigning NORBA Champion from 2003, and therefore had the prestigious number 1 race plate. Cyrille started 30 minutes before Greg and when he crossed the line with a time 2m 28.99secs, he was sitting in 4th place. By the time Greg came down the hill, the times had steadily got faster with 2002 World Cup Champion Steve Peat (GBR) setting the fastest time of 2m 22.31secs. However, when Greg crossed the line he blitzed the time of Peat’s by half a second, and was confirmed as the fastest qualifier with a half second advantage over Peat and the rest of the field. Out of 78 starters, Cyrille finished a strong 22nd, and was the fastest junior in the field.

In the first heat of the finals, Greg had an easy heat, and even found time with his long lead to execute a dramatic jump in front of the fans before scoring a solid win, to move into round 2. In Cyrille’s 1st round, he found himself in third place with 4 corners to go and knew he had to try and make a pass. He did so in a very difficult high speed corner and the crowd cheered as he moved cleanly into 2nd place and then moved through to round 2. In round 2 Greg had another convincing win showing that his qualifying time was no fluke, as he had excellent speed on the Honda bike. Cyrille had a tougher race against experienced riders like eventual winner Eric Carter (USA) and Jared Rando (AUS). After the start he found himself in 4th place, trailing the other three riders. Half way down he moved into third, and then once again, in front of a cheering crowd, he made another great move up to second. This now meant both Greg and Cyrille were in the final 16 men. However, the luck ended here for both riders as both were eliminated in the 3rd round. In his 3rd round heat Greg found himself in 3rd place after being beaten out of the start gate by Bryn Atkinson (AUS) and former NORBA Champion John Kirkcaldie (NZL). Despite a desperate sprint against Atkinson, Greg missed by half a wheel from moving into the semi finals. Cyrille was beaten by stronger experienced riders and finished th in his heat of round 3.

Winning the finals was the experienced 34 year old Eric Carter (USA), with second place going to David Klaassenvanoorschott (USA) and 3rd to Steve Peat. Greg finished 9th and Cyrille finished an impressive 14th for his first race outside of Europe. The combined points for the qualifications and the finals were not released by the end of the day, however, it’s expected that Greg will be in the top 5 overall going into round 2 in West Virginia in 3 weeks.

Greg Minnaar

Cyrille Kurtz

Greg Minnaar (9th -place finisher)
“This downhill format is quite different, and in fact it’s the first time I have ever tried it. My goal was really to ride the qualifier like a World Cup Downhill, and then see how far I could progress in the 4-man format, without taking unnecessary risks. It’s a long season and I want to be there at the end, and I know some guys can get a little desperate in these type of events, but to ride the fastest downhill time of the day, on my new Honda, well I think it proved that we have a competitive race package already for season 2004.”

Cyrille Kurtz (14th-place finisher)
“Coming to America to race has been such a new experience for me. The tracks are really different, and this 4-man format is also very new to me. I was pushing for a top 20 qualification result, so 22nd was very close. The finals were great fun. It was tricky making the passes I made to get up to second, in one race I was in last place and had to move up two spots!But overall I’m really happy to finish 14th in my first ever NORBA, considering I am a junior rider racing against the best elite men.”

Team Director Martin Whiteley
“I’m really impressed with both riders today. Greg’s fastest qualification answered a lot of questions being asked about whether he had made the right decision to move to a new bike after winning his World Title last year. It was a strong solid ride beating the two riders who have had early season form, Peat and Hannah. He was unlucky not to progress further in the finals, but we all knew that this race was not the most important of the year and so unnecessary risks were not going to be taken. Cyrille rode aggressively in the finals and impressed many people who had never seen him race before. His clean smooth style, and his bold passing, made him one of the most talked about riders after the race. It was a great start to our NORBA Series campaign for 2004. We look forward to round 2 in West Virginia.”

NORBA Series Downhill Round 1
Big Bear Lake, California, US


Final Results
1 Eric Carter (Mongoose Hyundai)
2 David Klassenvanoorschott (Intense Fox)
3 Steve Peat (Team Orange)
4 John Kirkcaldie (Team Maxxis)
5 Jared Graves (Yeti Cycles)
6 Mick Hannah (Haro Adidas)
7 Joel Panozzo (Progessive)
8 Bryn Atkinson (Iron Horse)
9 Greg Minnaar (Team G Cross Honda)
10 Jared Rando (Giant USA)
14 Cyrille Kurtz (Team G Cross Honda)


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