Meet Belgian Nick Lingier and Team Versluys
17 February 2016
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Gerald de Kock: Welcome to another edition of the Old Mutual mountain bike podcast where we discuss all things mountain biking, from stage racing, marathon racing, cross country. The personalities, the riders, the event organisers, the sponsors, whoever is involved in the sport, we try and touch base with.
Today we are going to speak to a Belgian who has been out here, been riding in this country. He’s not a fulltime rider any longer, but he does look after a professional team in Belgium and in Europe and his name is Nick Lingier. Nick, welcome back to South Africa, I know you have been here a lot. Just first off Nick, tell us what is your job with the Team Versluys now?
A life in cycling after riding
Nick Lingier: Okay, actually I’m the owner of the Team Versluys. We build it up like nine years ago and now it’s a part of my professional life, it’s become part of the professional life. Next to that, I have an IT company, we do mains on computers, we build websites and that. My second job is the Team Versluys and it grows from a small team to a professional team, from four riders and we are more specialised in the cross country racing.
GDK: How many riders are involved with the team now?
NL: It’s not a team like you have those factory teams. We’re aiming on the national races and world cup races and we try to have the best Belgium riders, to put them in one team and for this year, the aim is the Olympic games with them.
So we have one extra rider, three male riders, elite riders and one elite woman rider. For Belgium this year, there are three spots for the Olympics and we make a good chance this year to fill up the three spots with them.
GDK: Who are those riders you’re looking to, give us some names there.
NL: Maybe the one is most famous is Kevin van Hoovels, we inherit him a few times for the Cape Epic. Jens Schuermans is the other one, for the Cape Pioneer. Besides them two, there’s a new one, he’s a rising star among the Belgium riders. Last year he won almost every race in the Benelux and now he started to do the World Cup races for his first year as an elite rider. He immediately is gaining his place in the top twenty.
So, we have a pretty good team with those three. We’ll be able to get, to aim for a top twenty spot with the three riders. So if you know in the cross country racing, those spots are very expensive. Next month we think, with the team now, with the new riders, I think ten spots with UCI team, so we probably become an elite UCI team for the first time.
Why do Europeans love cross country so much?
GDK: We seem to, in South Africa, have the, and you probably picked it up, the stage race and marathon cycling, everyone wants to do marathons, yet in Europe it’s very much the focus on cross country. Why do you think that is and what makes cross country so popular in Europe?
NL: Well, in Europe it’s so famous for marathon racing. Everyone in Europe wants to come to South Africa to do those famous stage races and there are plenty and they don’t come to South Africa for cross country racing, but in Europe it’s a different culture.
We have some marathon races, single day, some big ones, but it’s always a problem with the green guys, to organise private properties, that’s more difficult. I think in Europe it’s maybe also very expensive to organise a marathon race. So we really aim in Europe for cross country racing.
GDK: Somehow you seem to get a lot of young riders coming through. Starting out as a young rider, are they exposed to cross country racing, you have cyclo-cross as well in winter there. But is there an opportunity for the youth, are there vibrant competitions at the young age for them to get stuck in, so that they can build that cross country psyche?
NL: It’s not that easy. You really have to love mountain biking if you’re a young age because for sure, like in Belgium, it’s so, cyclo-cross is so popular and the road racing is so popular. When we have a proper mountain biker, they come and they take them away to do some cyclo-cross racing or road racing. So it’s not that easy, you have to really love the mountain biking to become a professional rider in that state kind of thing.
GDK: Do you have amateur riders in the club, in the team?
NL: Besides our professional team, we have like a second team that’s on a really low budget. They can have a bike on a good price and free clothing and that. They’re more, their aim is more like in Belgium we don’t have, where we live in Flanders, it’s all flat and we have to do something else, if you don’t have mountains.
But it’s very famous in Belgium and Holland, those beach races. It’s a whole other set, rigid bikes, it’s with more like, the gears are more the gears from road cycling and it’s all on the beaches and it’s a winter activity. It’s good to connect because mountain biking is normally a summer sport in Europe and that’s good for making the bridge in the winter.
Some do cyclo-cross, but many mountain bikers do some beach races and that’s pretty famous and you can gain, the prize money is pretty good for that. The biggest race, we have like 4 000 starters for the race of over 37km, so that’s quite popular in Belgium.
Is the Epic one of the biggest races in the World?
GDK: The races out here also have big numbers, there are a few small exclusive races here, but the Cape Epic is something extraordinary. You might have ridden races overseas, is the Epic one of the biggest ones and the best ones you’ve ridden?
NL: For sure, the Cape Epic, from name, is the biggest one in Europe. Everyone is talking about that race, the Cape Epic one and everyone wants to do that race. They want to come to South Africa, mostly for the Cape Epic, but I think besides the Cape Epic, there are a lot of nice races. I’ve done, I particularly like the Trans Cape, this is a good, small organisation.
The Cape Epic is so huge, sometimes you get lost in that race, but more and more the other races get familiar by the Europeans. The first time they always want to do the Cape Epic, but then the second year they know that there are a lot of other nice stage races. They run out the list and they try to do the other ones as well.
What makes a good cross country rider?
GDK: What for you makes a good, let’s start with a cross country race. What for you, if you’re looking at young rider, what makes a good cross country racer?
NL: A good cross country racer in my eyes, he has, it changed the last couple of, ten years ago you must weight under 55kg for a male. So many of them, because the tracks ten years ago were 10km laps, long climbs, this is changing. This has changed to shorter and shorter loops, from 4km, around that and then not that long climbs anymore.
All steep, short, technical climbs, so you have to be a very technical rider these years. So lighter, possibly you need to be like Nino Schurter, not too big, blocked and very powerful, to have a good interval and legs. That’s what you need these days for cross country racing.
GDK: You’ve ridden a few races in this country, what’s been your toughest day on a bike in South Africa?
NL: That must be in, for sure, now I remember, the Cape Epic 2009. It was a really rainy day, from the start it rained and as all the other pro riders, they’re having winter vests, protections for the rain, we didn’t take that, we thought it will go over, the rain, it rained from the start till the end and this was a really terrible stage.
GDK: Don’t we all remember that Nick, it was a torrid day. Thanks so much for talking to us. Nick Lingier from Team Versluys in Belgium, good luck for the rest of the year on the World Cup circuit and your aspirations for those young Belgians to get to the Olympics. This has been another edition of our Old Mutual mountain bike podcast.