Lourens Luus – making it on your own
22 August 2016
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Gerald de Kock: Hello and thanks for downloading another edition of our Old Mutual Live Mountain Bike podcast. It’s another chat about this wonderful sport to the people, we visit the places, the events, the races, the trails that make this sport so attractive here in South Africa.
Of course, it has much to do with our weather here, we’ve got a wonderful climate to enjoy mountain biking. It is a beautiful day in Stellenbosch in the Cape. I’m sitting at the Ride In restaurant or café, it’s on the way up to Jonkershoek actually. A beautiful, aptly named venue because it is very much about bicycling and riding.
I’m sitting opposite a young man who has decided to take the tough, but ambitious role of making cycling his living. His name is Lourens Luus who moved down to Stellenbosch about four years ago to ride full-time for what was then Team RECM. But he’s now on his own, riding and trying to make his way as a professional. It’s a tough life that Lourens, I think we’re going to start right there?
Lourens Luus: Yes, it’s never easy. I suppose you have to have a passion for it to be able to do it. If you don’t enjoy it, then I don’t think you can make it in this sport and with the type of conditions and stuff, in terms of the economy and so on. It’s not easy, but it’s rewarding and it’s fun and I love it.
GDK: There are a lot of people out there who think, what do you mean, you ride a bike for a living and I have to sit in an office for a living. Yes, but let’s unpack a little bit this riding full-time because it is a tough thing. Let’s first start with, we’ll get to the financial side of it, but the physical side of it. You need to perform, you need to race, you need to be at your best for virtually every race you ride. So what goes into the physical side of it?
The physical side of being a full-time rider
LL: I think South Africa we are privileged, but it’s also a bit of a curse in terms of the weather, which allows our season to be very long. Our first race usually, Attakwas, which is in the first couple of weeks of January, and our last races are after Wines2Whales, which is at the end of November. So there’s no real off-season for us.
Yes, you’re quite correct in saying that you have to be at your best form at any race. But you know, it gets quite tricky because your body can only take so much. I have had experiences where I have raced too much and going into a state of over-training and over-racing and it’s not a nice place to be.
Getting back to training and riding and stuff, people think, people always say to me, you’re so lucky. You’re riding your bike for a living. Yes, but you’re sitting in your office when it’s absolutely pouring with rain outside, I have to go out and ride my bike for 4-5 hours. It does take a lot out of you, but not just physically, emotionally, psychologically, it’s hard to describe what goes into it.
GDK: Are there moments when you know you have to go and ride but you just don’t or you don’t want to?
LL: Absolutely, it actually happens quite often. I always say to someone, to anyone, if you’re struggling, you just put your kit on, it’s the first step towards going out. For me, I get very irritable with laziness in terms of training and I’ll be quite frank about it.
If someone says to me he wants to make it as a professional rider or a professional athlete, as such, but he keeps on making up excuses about why he can’t ride or why he can’t do a session today or this and that. Then you don’t really want it.
Having the right support behind you
GDK: Do you have a coach or do you follow your own programme?
LL: I believe that you do need a coach. I’m the type of rider that my coach’s main job is to hold me back. I’m with Deon Carstens, I’ve built up a very good relationship with him. He’s based up in Middleburg, but nowadays the world is so small with the internet and stuff. so we communicate on a very regular basis, keep on touching base and stuff.
He knows me by now, he knows me so well. I just tell him, he calls it a ‘love letter’ I send him some emails and I tell him how the sessions went. No numbers we don’t talk numbers. That’s the other thing, people get so caught up in numbers that they forget to ride the bikes.
We don’t talk numbers, myself and Deon, we talk a different type of language. But that’s how well he knows my body and how well I know my body by now. I believe in having someone sort of on the outside looking into your training with an outside perspective. Saying, you know what, it’s going to be better if you do this because you are busy over-reaching yourself now. Just another sort of input from the outside.
A lot of guys, they do their own thing, but they’re only successful up to a point. I’m not going to name them, I was one of them, honestly, I was. I don’t need a coach, I don’t need a coach. Until I actually got a coach that had my best interests at heart and it changed my riding completely.
Making it financially viable
GDK: We talked about the physical side of it, the other side of it is the funding side and the financial side of keeping yourself in the space where you can go to races. Where you can pay the entry fee, where you can keep eating the right foods and so on, is that a tougher side?
LL: I think for me personally, at this stage, that is the toughest side. I can train, I can ride my bike, that’s not a problem. I think personally, I have motivation and the discipline to go out and ride my bike every day, that’s not a problem.
For me and I’m sure for a lot of other guys as well, the financial side is the trickier part to get right. When I was riding for RECM for instance, and Contigo last year, you don’t worry about where your next meal is going to come from or how I’m going to get to the race. You know you’re going to get there, there’s just no like –
GDK: Sorry, to interrupt there, so when you were riding with those teams, was there a salary situation or how does it work?
LL: Generally, let’s take RECM for instance. I worked for Malcolm Lange, so I was on a contract for Lange Sports. Now, Lange Sports was the managing or the owner company of the Team RECM. RECM basically asked Lange Sports to build and run a team for them. Then I worked for them, for a salary. We’d get paid a salary to put on our RECM kit every day to go and ride and do whatever.
GDK: In terms of, were there performance bonuses, were there win bonuses, prize money, how did that all work out?
LL: Luckily we were such, we were such a nice bunch, we got along really well and yes, there were incentives. We got like mid-year incentives and stuff and performance based incentives, but also prize money and so on, it was between myself, in 2013 it was myself, Waylon and Erik and Ariane.
So if Erik, Waylon and myself enter a race and let’s say we get first, second and third, then we would split the prize money three ways and then 10% would go to the staff. It’s just as a courtesy from our side and they kept our bottles and to have a clean bike and everything, that’s worth a lot.
That sort of, there was always a steady cash flow coming in, if it wasn’t just, not just a salary and we raced so much that there’s a decent amount of money coming in. But take away the salary, take away the opportunity to race every weekend and you find yourself in a very difficult spot.
GDK: Which is essentially where you are now.
LL: Essentially yes. I won’t go into the reasons why I am in this situation at this stage, it’s a long conversation. In a nutshell, a lot of things happened last year and I just needed to take a break, mentally, physically, emotionally I was just worn out.
But then coming into 2016, the season, starting with nothing, I didn’t have a bike, I didn’t have nothing and it was a stress to get everything to the point where I am at now. But I’m still not 100% where I need to be, where I was. Looking back, I see where I was and I know where I want to be, so it is challenging. Definitely, the most stressful part of it all, at this stage.
Is your bike, “your” bike?
GDK: Just put this one to bed. Everyone looks at the pros and thinks, they’ve got such lekker bikes, do they keep that bike?
LL: No, look, listen, number one, to get a bike like that, and to keep it running is expensive stuff. It has to be in top nick all the time. My bike, it’s my tool, it’s my pen, it’s my computer, it’s everything. That is what I use to earn a living. There’s a very good reason for that, but the bike is not everything.
A lot of people, I see the youngsters, riding with bikes that when I started out, I could only dream of. People are so privileged nowadays, but it’s not just about the bike. For us, riding at a very top level, it has a lot to do with the bike, especially the mountain bikes. But for the young kids, youngsters and guys coming into the sport, guys just ride your bike, it doesn’t matter what you ride, just ride.
GDK: It’s wonderful to see you riding and you’ve got such a great demeanour and disposition about you and dealing with what is obviously a difficult time. But it’s not the end of the world for you at the moment, you’re still racing and you’re still riding, which is the good side.
LL: Absolutely. I’m thankful every day for health and for talents and just being able to do what I love to do. Yes, it’s a tricky time, it’s a very difficult time. But as you said, it’s not the end of the world and there’s light at the end of the tunnel.
Where is the path taking you?
GDK: Where do you see yourself? In an ideal world, if you say everything is going to go perfectly, I’m going to be…where would you want to be in five years’ time on the bike?
LL: I would at least, I would love to win the Epic, number one and I would like to do more cross country races. I really enjoy the cross country races, I just haven’t had the opportunity to really pursue it. I think also for me, if I look at myself, I’m sort of built better, well not better, I like to think of myself as an all-rounder. But I can do very well at it, and I enjoy it. I’d like to race more overseas and do some cross country.
GDK: Here’s the big question, what would it cost to make Lourens Luus into that rider? What does it cost to keep a full-time professional athlete going, would you think?
LL: Sjoe, that’s a tricky question. It depends on what you are willing to live with. For me, a decent budget, if we’re looking at, let’s say next year, let’s say 2017 for instance. To race in SA, to keep my bike up to scratch, in a very good condition, to eat right. To be able to go to the races and be where you need to be, I’m looking at a minimum budget of at least R20 000 a month. Then it’s not greedy, there’s not much for myself in there, it’s basically just racing and so on.
You’re looking at about R240 000 maybe even R300 000 a year if you want to, you see, you don’t want to stress about what I’m going to eat tonight. You don’t necessarily want to go and splash out, but you need to know, okay, my rent is taken care of, my car is taken care of, I can eat tonight and I can get to the races. It’s not cheap, it is not cheap, but it is worth it.
GDK: It’s worth it to see this young man smile and race, cause he can race, Lourens Luus telling us, giving us an insight into what it takes to be a professional mountain biker. Thank you for that insight and an honest assessment of what it takes, all strengths to you. Let’s hope that all those dreams are fulfilled in the years to come.
LL: Thanks so much Gerald, thanks for the opportunity, it’s always nice to share what it is that we do. It’s such a privilege, so very thankful.
GDK: Thanks to Lourens and thank you for downloading our Old Mutual Live Mountain Bike podcast. I hope you found that interesting and if so, will download once again because there are plenty more where that came from. If you’re riding your bike, do so with a smile and with a thought for these guys who ride it full-time, it’s not as easy as it looks. Until next time, cheers.