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World Champ Greg Minnaar (back) spends time with the six Pietermaritzburg friends preparing for the downhill leg of the UCI MTB & Trials World Championships which take place at Cascades MTB Park from 26 August-1 September. From left Tim Bentley, Alasdair Fey, Gregg Brown, Tiaan Odendaal, Hayden Brown, and Andrew Martin.

Photo: Dave Macleod/ Gameplan Media

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16 year old Pietermaritzburg downhill racer Gregg Brown training at the Cascades MTB park ahead of the UCI MTB & Trials World Championships which take place from 26 August-1 September.

Photo: Dave Macleod/ Gameplan Media

"I am so proud of this group of guys and I genuinely believe they are going to do great things at the World Champs," said Minnaar when he met up with the group of six local riders at the Cascades course this week.

Minnaar is clearly an icon and role model for the younger riders, who almost all rode for his cycle shop team at one stage in their emerging careers.

"I follow them all on Twitter while I am away competing, and I see that they are all out training together, and I think they will do really well next week."

"They were out at a training camp together last week and I feel they are getting a lot of benefit from the federation putting effort into downhill," Minnaar added.

"The selection for the juniors has produced a really strong team and I really believe the guys will shows them up and they have a good chance against the Americans and the Brits," he said.

The younger riders were quick to point out that Minnaar paved the way for them to enjoy the benefits of the increased awareness that has followed his international successes.

"We would never had got the World Champs in South Africa if it hadn't been for Greg Minnaar and Burry Stander," said 22 year old Hayden Brown, a member of the South African Elite downhill, team. "I started by watching Greg on TV - that's was got me hooked."

"Greg (Minnaar) has been unbelievably supportive, even though he is away travelling a lot of the time. He is such a cool guy and he is genuinely interested in how we are doing."

"He is a hero and an icon to all of us," added junior rider Andrew Martin, preparing for his first taste of international competition.

Fellow 16 year old Gregg Brown promised that despite their lack of experience at this level, they were not going be short of commitment. "You can be sure that everyone of us will be giving it our best shot."

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"This world champs is a chance for the local riders to get spotted and hopefully get some offers to join international teams," says SA downhill rider Tim Bentley, struggling to recover from fingers injured in a Moto-X accident.

Photo: Dave Macleod/ Gameplan Media

However Tim Bentley, who has substantially more international racing experience than most of the Pietermaritzburg core group, is quick to point out that the world championships represents a vital opportunity to be noticed by the international downhill racing community - and sponsors.

Bentley, who's preparations for the world's was rattled by a crash off his moto-cross bike, crushing two fingers beneath his brake handle and his handlebars, is striving to get back onto a recognised and sponsored international team.

"Two years ago I picked up an injury that set me back badly," says Bentley. "This world champs is a chance for the local riders to get spotted and hopefully get some offers to join international teams, so there is everything to ride for."

18 year old Tiaan Odendaal comes into the event as the newly crowned national downhill champion, but says that he fells this brings little added pressure.

"There is a great spirit between the Maritzburg guys but come race day, we have to put that behind us. There is a time to be friends and here is a time to race. It’s important to get that worked out!"

The UCI MTB & Trials World Championships take place at Cascades MTB Park in Pietermaritzburg from 26 August - 1 September and are preceded by the UCI MTB Masters World Championships from 21 - 25 August 2013. Tickets for the UCI MTB & Trials World Championships can be purchased via www.roag.co.za and more information can be found at www.mtbworldchamps.co.za