Saladini leads. World Cup 4X, Maribor, Slovenia

His race style is smooth and unfussy but always fast. Whilst other riders look on the edge Greg always appears calm and focussed, but when he wants he can turn on the style and be flamboyant. His World Cup overall victory is an outstanding result but taking the title with two rounds still left to go is almost embarrassing. With both the NORBA title and the much coveted World Champions Rainbow jersey still up for grabs Greg could make it his best year ever. We managed to catch a few words with him in July as he travelled to round 2 of the NORBA series at Idaho a couple of days after his World Cup victory at Angel Fire.

Dirt: It’s amazing that with two rounds to go you already have the World Cup title in the bag. How does that feel?

Greg: I actually feel relieved, because this was the main goal for not only the team but also myself, so having it now with some time to focus on the Worlds is a huge weight off my mind.

The result at Angel Fire was close, Jared Graves pushed you hard?

We knew since practice that on this course he was the man to beat, and not the other way round. His splits during training and his timed training run showed us that he was on form and had the course dialled.

Why do you think you have been so dominant this year?

Previously I’ve suffered a bit from a lack of self-confidence but this year I’ve been feeling a lot surer of my riding and my abilities. On top of that, there is no question that the RN01 is extremely reliable. I haven’t had a mechanical and that really helps mentally.

Do you think it would have been different if Peaty had been there? It would have been a good battle this year between the two of you.

For sure it would have been different; the bars would have seen their turnover doubled! Of course it’s always good for the sport when all the top riders are there, and there’s no question that having Peaty at the recent races would have been a good thing in many ways, because any time the very best riders are racing, I try to lift my game to the highest level I can.

And also Sam Hill dropping out with an injury meant that you could relax a little. With three rounds gone you guys were really close on points.

It’s true we were close on points, then he unfortunately got injured with five races to go, so there was still a lot of events left, three races into the series is still quite early so I wasn’t too worried about the points at that stage. Sam’s victory in Schladming was spectacular and I really respect him as an athlete. We got to talk to eachother a fair bit at Mont-Sainte-Anne at the after race party and that was good, as I’ve not had much chance to talk with him outside of the race arena. Obviously I’m looking forward to seeing both Sam and Peaty back at the next rounds.

You seem to have been Mr Consistency this year, what do you put that down to?

The bike. The RN01 is such a cool design that it eliminates many of the mechanical factors that take other riders out. I also have an excellent mechanic in Mike van Zyl, and I’ve worked with him for nearly my entire pro career and he just knows exactly how to set up my bikes perfectly. So that’s a big part. Like I said before, I think my confidence level has helped too, I really believe I can win which hasn’t always been the case.

Obviously the Honda set up that you are part of is super professional, it has taken downhill racing to another level. Having the support around you makes a huge difference. I’m really fortunate to have some of the best people in the business at my side. Martin’s (Whiteley, team manager) been with me for years now, as has Mike. And then there’s the support from Honda in Japan and their talented engineers. Showa’s crazy man, Toyoto, is such a genius with suspension set-ups; he walks the course with me at every race. This year we’ve also had in-house service from Formula Brakes, and as most riders know, brakes can help you go a lot faster if they work right. I have so much confidence in my equipment and team that race day is a lot easier than it could be.

How is the Honda RN01 holding up?

I think the results speak for themselves. Pretty extraordinary results for our first two years, including Matti this year who’s riding awesomely well.

Your teammate Matti Lehikoinen is having a great year. How is he finding life on the team? He has always been a great rider but this year he has started to get the results.

He’s such a talented little bugger! We get on great and as you know we were on Global together before so it’s nice and easy having him on the team. I think he’s really found the extra support a huge help for focusing on his racing, and he’s adapted to the bike really quickly, which is great for him. He’s really hungry for the podium, sometimes too hungry! And he’s always got a story or two that crack me up, like his big safari in northern Finland to find the flying squirrels of Lapland…he was so serious when he told me that, and I just pissed myself.

Are we ever going to see a production version that we will be able to buy?

I really have no clue about that…it’s not really anything to do with me. I’m hired to race the bike and do the best I can for Honda and the sponsors. I’m sure if they do decide to make a production version, you’ll hear about it pretty soon after I do!

And your 4X bike, how did that come about?

It’s something that was discussed at the beginning of my involvement with the team. 4X is something I really love doing but I knew that Honda’s main goals were downhill so in year one that’s what we focused on. Honda didn’t want to officially enter the 4X racing world this year with a Honda bike, but on the other hand, they wanted to support me in my wish to race 4X. We agreed that they would make a 4X bike for me in a design I had something to do with, and it would be branded with my GM logo. A bit like Intense have made bikes for other companies before, Honda made me my own bike. I’m really stoked to be doing 4X again.

Just out of interest, which has been your favourite race so far this year?

I would have to say Brazil. From a racer’s point of view I had a perfect final. I hit every line, carried speed just like I wanted, and it all came together with a victory. It was the best race win I think I’ve ever had from a technical point of view. I was pretty excited when I crossed the line and saw I had the win.

That race looked amazing.

Like I said the race was awesome. On top of that the location was pretty incredible. The finish line was literally 100m from a secluded beach. Apart from the gondola which I was scared shitless on, the beach, the lifestyle, and really cool fans who were super passionate and knowledgeable, and came to the race in their thousands, made it really worth the trip. We need to go there every year.

What are your thoughts on some of the younger British riders that have been making the podium this year for the first time: Dan Atherton, Marc Beaumont?

Dan has been hovering around the top ten for a while now so it wasn’t going to be long before he busted onto the podium like Gee-man has. I’ve been getting to spend more and more time with the Atherton’s this year and I really like the lot of them, wickedly talented and committed. Marc I’ve known for a while and he’s always had the potential. Something has just clicked this year for him and I’m super stoked that he’s doing so well, he really deserves it. Brendan Fairclough is also doing great.

What are plans now with regards to the rest of the World Cup and NORBA series? Are you going out for the win every time or will you be a little more cautious with the lead up to the World Championships?

I don’t think caution will play any part in the rest of my season! I want to win the Worlds for sure, and I’ll make sure I’m as hungry for that as anyone else out there. I like to win races and that’s what makes guys like us competitive, we’re almost addicted to wanting to win. So don’t expect me to ride any different in the lead up to the Worlds, or after.

With the World Cup title already yours you must now be looking to the World Championships in Livigno and those Rainbow stripes?

For sure, wearing the World Champion’s jersey is something we all want to do. I’ve been way fortunate to have that experience before, and it’s something I could get used to!

G-Cross Honda rider Greg Minnaar has been riding to near perfection this year. Whilst his main rivals have either fallen by the wayside with injuries or have just not been fast enough Greg has raced steadily and confidently on his way to World Cup victory.