Konny Looser – using South Africa as a training paradise
01 January 1970
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Gerald de Kock: Welcome to another edition of our Old Mutual Live Mountain Biking where we talk all things mountain biking in South Africa and indeed beyond our shores. Because it is a global sport and, I suppose growing everywhere else, including here in South Africa.
South Africa’s become a bit of a destination for riders from around the world to come and spend their summers predominantly here training, racing. Generally just getting in the miles and the kilometres that they need to prepare for their big competitions, big races in Europe.
One of those riders is Swiss rider Konny Looser who joins me now. Konny is getting towards the end of his time in the summer sun in South Africa. Konny, welcome and when do you head back to Europe?
Konny Looser: You’re welcome. I’m heading back next Monday so it’s a short time now.
GDK: How long have you been out in South Africa this time?
KL: I stayed here since end of October or beginning of October but I also was in Namibia for two months between. So I didn’t spend like, six months in total in South Africa.
Why riding over skiing?
GDK: Just take us back to when you started, firstly mountain biking. I know Switzerland has got a great history of mountain bikers but it’s also great ski country. Did you start skiing or was cycling always in you?
KL: No, I also ski’ed when I was younger but I love cycling. I was looking for the best opportunities during the winter because in winter I don’t like the snow or the cold on the mountain bike. It’s nice for cross-country skiing, I’m not that much a fan of skiing so I prefer to cycle.
Then I was looking for a sport and I found South Africa because the weather is always great and also I like to have some opportunities for competitions during the winter months. Because in Europe it’s quiet, the season ends in October and it starts only in April, so it’s almost six months without racing. South Africa there are so many nice races which I can do the whole year and that’s why I’m loving it.
Doing marathon over cross country
GDK: Obviously now you’re sponsored by Wheeler and BiXS and the sponsorship side of it, you became a pro rider. When did that happen?
KL: Yes, that happened when I was 20 years old, so it’s already my sixth year as a professional. I started my pro career with another team, where I was riding three years with Stöckli team, which is also a Swiss team. Then they changed plan, they changed to cross country sport.
Then I had to move to another team and luckily I found another team in Switzerland which I could ride for and I’m very happy that I can ride still with Wheeler. They gave me the opportunity to ride also in South Africa during the winter and that’s very great.
GDK: Cross country and marathon are obviously the two major disciplines and Switzerland have a whole list of great cross country races, was it never a thing for you, cross country?
KL: I started with cross country when I was young and I was also joining the national team until on the 23 category. But then I did some marathon and I always loved to train a lot, many hours on the bike. Then when I did my first marathon it was clear for me that I want to go on this sport and also the races.
I mean, Cape Epic, it’s a nice race, Transalp is a nice race and for me it makes a bit more sense to fly to South Africa and then you spend eight days on the bike. Than only one race with an hour and a half to go and so for me marathon is also beautiful. Because if you do a loop of 120km you see a lot of the area and not only a loop which is 6km in the forest and it’s always the same. So for me is kind of a nature sport and I really enjoy it.
Cross country for more elites in Switzerland as well
GDK: In South Africa we’re very heavily focused on marathons and stage races amongst the sort of fun riders and recreational riders and indeed the pros in a way. In Switzerland what’s it like there, are there more people doing cross country than marathons?
KL: No, cross country is definitely like the formal one in the sport. All the fun riders are not doing cross country, they’re doing marathon. My dad for example, he’s not a cross country rider any more with 50 years old. So I mean, it’s also in the past, let’s say five years that the sport has changed.
I mean, before you could go on cross country and you could ride marathon and now it’s all specific also, the training is specific and you see it in the stage races. I mean for a fun rider also it’s too technical, I think and it’s dangerous in cross country. You have to go with a lot of risk to make any results now if you see the course. I think all the fun riders they can’t take it anymore.
Career highlights so far
GDK: Talking about, firstly results, if you had a look back now you’ve been a pro for six years. What would you look back and say that was my best moment so far as a professional rider? Be it a win or whatever it might be?
KL: First when I took twice the European champion, that was a big goal for me and a great achievement. Then for sure Transalp, that was my main, yes I could win it with all silver in 2011. I mean 8-day stage race and it’s a prestige race. Then I was young, I was 22 years old, still under 23.
That was probably my biggest victory until now, and also it showed me that I made the right decision to go on marathon. Because I have much more opportunities in marathon than on cross country. You see, in Switzerland it’s even, they are very difficult to qualify for the national team. In marathon it’s much more opportunities for me.
GDK: So marathon and cross country as I say, we’ve talked about it, are different disciplines but it seems that the marathon riders are maturing later. Quite a few of the older marathon racers, Christoph Sauser, Carl Platt, there are quite a few others who are a bit older. Do you feel that you’ve still got many years and you’ll reach maturity or get stronger and stronger?
Time is on my side
KL: Yes, that’s a good question. I mean what I said, I started very early with marathon. I started with 20 years, I went to the marathon discipline and now I’m 27. I mean, I’ve done a lot of races already and I still have, let’s say 10 years ahead of me if I stay healthy.
I saw that the sport changed a lot in the past three years, the level increases every year. The competition is much bigger now, also in South Africa. I always need some new adventure to stay focused or to have new goals which motivates me in training. That was one of the main reason also why I came to South Africa, because I’ve done all the races almost, in Europe, or in Switzerland for sure.
So it’s something new if I went to Clarens, for example, which was just a new course, a new area. All these races and now I’ve also done a lot in South Africa. Now maybe I must look for another goal somewhere else in the world.
GDK: So I get the sense that marathon, obviously you’re racing, you’re a pro, you earn a living out of it but you can see beyond just the racing. You enjoy experiencing the areas and sometimes, as you say, the Formula One. The thing is the guys arrive, they race, they leave. They don’t really get to know where they are, so you’re seeing it in a broader sense.
KL: Yes, for sure. I like the vibe in the marathon races or in the stage races because marathon one-day race is also you come and you do the race and then maybe you wait for the prize giving and then you go back. Then in the small races, also in the three day races they are so enjoyable like sani2c. Where you can also sit and drink a coffee with a friend which is not a pro. You can talk with the fun riders and you share just your hope, it’s a lifestyle which you can share.
The discipline to train alone
GDK: Training is something that in a road team or if your team is based in Europe, whatever, they train together. But here generally you probably train on your own. Is that a difficult thing to do, does it take a lot of discipline?
KL: Yes, it does take a lot of discipline and that, sometimes also I struggle with it. Because it would be much easier if someone gives you a plan or a structure. Then say: Okay, let’s today we’re all training together. That’s a very nice thing with living in Stellenbosch. Because from January to March, to the Epic there are so many other guys here for training camp from Europe.
I mean, this year the whole national team from Germany was here. Then a good friend Christoph Sauser was living here for three months, so I can train every day. Or local guys like James Reid and then you can always have a nice group. Also for your intervals it’s easier to suffer if you’re a nice group. That’s why I enjoy it so much because it’s always a nice group here.
The rest of the year I spend a lot of time on my own on the bike. Also I can almost make every single decision about the races by myself. Which races I want to do and that’s sometimes not easy because on the road you have a programme. The team decides which races you have to do and then you can train on it and on mountain bike it’s more individual. That’s what I’m sometimes struggling because I have to make all the decisions on my own.
What’s still on the 2016 agenda?
GDK: So what decisions have you made for 2016? Where are you going to be racing in the next few months in Europe, what are you doing?
KL: I’m going now overseas and then in May it’s more quiet. Then the main season starts in beginning of June which with the Swiss races which are very important for my sponsors. So there is also a race series which in total are six races and then maybe I do Transalp, it’s not decided yet. Then the main races are Swiss champs in end of June and also the Grand Raid Cristalp which is one of the oldest marathon. It’s end of August and it’s one of my main goals.
GDK: Just tell us about the Swiss marathon championships and we think we have tough events in this country and it’s quite hard, just give us the facts and the stats about that event.
KL: The Swiss champs, time wise it’s short and it’s a 3 200 meter climb in 62km. I mean, on this race you see even the sky or you’re going down and it’s a crazy race, it’s tough. It’s a lot of climbing but you can’t compare the races.
GDK: How do you train for that?
KL: You just need to train to climb, climb, climb. That’s all.
GDK: South Africa’s playing a very integral big role in your life and your career at the moment. If you weren’t cycling and riding a bike, I mean you started early, what would have been doing? Is there something else that you might have studied or moved into?
KL: I did apprenticeship as a roofer. My dad runs a big company so I was working there, I started with 15 years old after school. I did my apprenticeship for three years. Then I was working first 80% and then always less, less until I get fulltime professional cyclist with 20 years. That’s a nice background I have because I can always, or it’s something safe I have because if I stop tomorrow with cycling I can work the other day.
GDK: Well, just hope your dad carries on working a little bit longer because you’ve got a lot of riding to do still.
KL: Yes, I hope so but also my brother is working in the company so it’s looking good for the future.
GDK: Well Konny, thanks very much for talking to us. Good luck with those goals this year and I’m sure we’ll see you again in the summer back in South Africa.
KL: Yes, I’m sure. I’m back in October.
GDK: Konny Looser, thanks very much for chatting to us here on another edition of our Old Mutual Live Mountain Biking. Just one of the many personalities and wonderful people involved in the sport that we get to meet every time we chat on Old Mutual Live Mountain Biking. Thanks for downloading. Until next time, cheers.