South African racer shines bright beneath the lights | AspenTimes.com

South African racer shines bright beneath the lights

Nate Peterson

Colin Mabbett of Aspen navigates the downhill course Friday at Snowmass Friday at the finals of the NORBA National Mountain-Bike Series. The men's and women's pro mountaincross finals start at 7 p.m. tonight. (Mark Fox/The Aspen Times)

The lights were too bright to ignore.Greg Minnaar came to Snowmass to race downhill at this year’s NORBA National Mountain Bike Series finals. But after he saw the new dual slalom course Friday, he decided to sign up for the race.It was a spontaneous decision rewarded with a first-place trophy.”They built such an awesome course, and it was such a good atmosphere,” said Minnaar, who hails from Pietermaritzburg, South Africa. “I just couldn’t miss it.” Under the lights, Minnaar seemingly had nine lives. He avoided a near-fall in his second semifinal run to push past countryman Andrew Neethling. In the finals, Rich Houseman nipped him in the first run by .34 seconds. In the deciding second run, the two were within a tire-length of each other as they entered the final series of six jumps at the bottom of the course. Houseman lost control on the second-to-last jump, however, and plowed into the dirt head-first.”It looked a lot worse than it was,” said Houseman, who walked away from the fall with a few scrapes and bruises. “Greg just had a little bit of an edge on me on the last turn, and I tried to push it harder than I had all night. I got a little wide and just ran into the soft stuff and it pitched me over the bars.” Minnaar last raced a slalom in 2003, the same year he won a world championship in downhill. Even though Houseman had never faced Minnaar in slalom, he knew what to expect.

“He’s just a really good rider,” Houseman said. “Slalom just takes a lot of linking up turns and being smooth, and he’s really good at that.” Minnaar said racing under the lights wasn’t very difficult, other than the last section on the course, which was covered in shadow. It’s a place where a number of riders took falls, Houseman among them. “I think the shadows actually made it a better race,” he said. “You couldn’t really see where you were going, and it mixed things up a little bit. The last corner was the worst. Taking that into the dark section was a mystery. I messed up the section, too. We were both close to crashing, but I managed to hang on.”

Houseman, who stands in second in the National Mountain Bike Series mountaincross standings, will have his chance to win the overall title tonight, again under the lights. Minnaar, who has split the summer racing in the NORBA series and in World Cup races in Europe, is a favorite in the pro downhill Sunday.Flores win men’s semi-pro finalHouseman wasn’t the only top seed to get eaten up by the course. In the men’s semi-pro bracket, top-seeded Kyler Geraci looked unbeatable until he took a hard fall in his first semifinal run against Chris Flores.Geraci made a strong push in the second run to make up the maximum one-second penalty, but came up short. Flores, who was the fourth seed, then easily won against sixth-seeded Brian Buell in the final.Geraci finished third after he beat second-seeded Mark Clemens in the consolation round.

BMXer wins women’s finalArielle Martin seemingly came out of nowhere to take the women’s final Friday. Turns out, she was actually in Brazil. Martin, a professional BMX racer from Provo, Utah, just finished up her season after competing in the UCI BMX World Championships in Sao Paolo, so she decided to head to the NORBA finals at Snowmass for fun.Friday’s race was only her third mountain-bike race this year.”The slalom has been a challenge for me, but I was focused tonight,” Martin said. “BMX does translate quite a bit, especially on a course that has lots of jumps like this one.”

Martin easily beat fourth-seeded Joanna Petterson in the final. The women’s bracket was full of upsets, including eighth-seeded Katie Holden’s first round knockout of top-seeded Lisa Myklak.Nate Peterson’s e-mail address is npeterson@aspentimes.com

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