My mountain biking development – Lourens Luus
08 March 2016
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Hello and thanks for downloading another edition of our Old Mutual Live Mountain Bike podcast, I’m Gerald de Kock. As you know by now, it’s all about mountain biking in South Africa and where we can find mountain bikers there are events and riders all over the world. But today we’re focusing on a rider, not an event which we have done in the past.
Today we’re meeting a talented young man who is making his way as a professional. He’s based in the Western Cape, although he originates from Mpumalanga, his name is Lourens Luus. Lourens sits opposite me here at the Ride In café in Stellenbosch, beautiful day it is. Lourens, thanks for joining me. It’s a long way from home this, isn’t it?
Lourens Luus: Thanks Gerald, thanks for having me. It is a long way from home, but I manage that, it’s actually fun. A fresh area and nice people around here and stuff, so I really enjoy it here.
GDK: How many years have you been living down here?
LL: I’ve been here since the end of 2012. When I started my training with Waylon Woolcock when I joined the Team RECM in 2013.
How the mountain biking bug bit
GDK: Let’s go back where it all started in Mpumalanga and it’s been quite a journey from there. just tell us how this mountain biking thing go to you?
LL: I don’t think we have enough time to go through everything. I think it started, for me it started, we never had motorbikes or anything when we grew up. It was always about a bike, it was a means of transport getting between Point A and Point B. Whether it be between a swimming hole on a hot summer day or riding from home to our holiday jobs.
I bought my first bike, it was, as we discussed earlier, it was a Giant NRS 2. I don’t know if the people know that by now, but it’s an old, heavy, like aluminium, 26 dual suspension bike. That bike was nice, I was so stoked! I worked for it, I really did work for it –
GDK: How did you afford to buy that?
LL: So, I started working at the Sabie River Adventures when I was in Grade 8. Every weekend, every holiday I had was spent there. We used to do river guiding, on the river rafting, we did quad biking. I started off, there’s a picnic site way up in the mountains and I used to sit there the whole day and wait for the quad biking trails to come by. Then I’d serve them with coffee and biscuits and water and whatever they might need. Then they’d go off.
I’d sit there by the waterfall the whole day, swimming in the pools and stuff until the people would come. Yes, that was pocket money for me and also a great experience. It taught me a lot about dealing with people and you get six or seven or eight different groups of people coming in. You have to be able to communicate to them as if you know them for years. It was a learning experience and I enjoyed it and I think it’s benefitting me now.
GDK: That Giant NRS was not necessarily a bike that you were going to race, it was more a means of getting from school to where you were working or to home and so on?
LL: Absolutely. I bought the bike, my brother bought a bike from Cash Crusaders for R500. So I rode his bike and I said that I’m going to buy a better bike. So I used my pocket money and I bought a Giant NRS and then obviously it wasn’t about racing, not at all. Like why would I do that.
Talented from my first race
Two weeks later I ended my first race. It came as a surprise to me as well, my dad said: There’s a race this weekend, let’s just do it. I couldn’t believe how fast the people were going, the guys were going up that first climb. I’m like it’s impossible, you can’t ride that fast! I pitched up there with my takkies, my PT shorts, my t-shirt. I think I had a little ‘mosdoppie’ as a helmet, no sunglasses and it was raining as well. People made fun of me, but I got third in the end, I think I was lucky in a way.
GDK: Look, there’s luck and there’s talent and clearly there was a bit of talent in there as well. Third place in your first race, you must have thought well, I can do this.
LL: Absolutely, it was more of, these guys are going that fast up these hills. So I was like, I also want to go this fast and I really enjoyed it. I did sort of come short of talent before the race, playing around, showing off. I’ve got this nice bike now and back in those days we used to ride mechanical disc brakes. I had disc brakes. So even that was, so coming up, you know how it goes, you sort of line up from the front. Because it was riding and you had mechanical disc brakes.
So my idea was to actually do a bit of an enduro and throwing my back wheel and as I came close to the line and pulling the front brakes, there’s nothing. The brakes just went gwaaaa, you know that sound? Then the next moment I went whaaa, over the bars, hit my face in the mud. Tight before the race, in front of everybody! That’s how I started my racing career!
A riding at school pioneer
GDK: You’ve moved swiftly on from there, quite quickly. But yes, at school, Rob Ferreira, I’m sure mountain biking wasn’t much of a sport then, or was it? Did they foster it at all?
LL: Not at that stage. We were in the hostel, myself and my two younger brothers. I think a lot has changed since then. But my parents also did a lot of work, they were on the committee and stuff. We got a sort of special deal with the hostel in a sense that they allowed us to go out and train every afternoon. Obviously there was some pocket money to be made there as well. Because you’ve got transport and you can go to the shops and stuff, so exploiting what we had.
No, the school wasn’t really, it’s a rugby, cricket, netball school. Nowadays they have a properly functioning mountain bike team. I mean 2009 when the school’s Spur League actually started, I was in matric. We rode some of the first races that they ever held. I’d like to think of us being the pioneers in it, but no real support.
GDK: You started making a name for yourself riding the half marathons in the National Series and so on. That was quite a commitment as well, but clearly there was some talent. You were obviously working quite hard at it by then?
Starting out in the competitive half marathons
LL: I don’t think people realise the amount of work that goes into racing. I think people, there’s a bit of a misperception of what it actually takes. When I was riding, half marathons I was still finding my legs and finding myself in the sport. Figuring out what I wanted to do with it and where I wanted to go with it.
I remember one day seeing Kevin Evans and them at one of the Enduro races. I asked someone, I can’t remember who: What does he do for a living. Then he said: No, he rides a bike for a living. Okay, that’s nice and that day I decided that that’s something I’d also like to do. I remember picking up his bike and I couldn’t believe how light his bike was, like what? No wonder he’s so fast!
Getting back to the point, at that time I didn’t really know how to train or anything. It was a matter of getting on the bike and riding, which I think, in a way, also contributed to the longevity of my career. At this stage, being able to keep riding fun.
A lot of people go into coaching and you need to do this interval and this interval and this interval at a very young age. It sort of kills the fun and it’s very important, especially at a young age, to keep it fun. To do what you want to do on the bike. To play on the bike and people forget that.
GDK: You’re playing pretty well, clearly, because you attracted the attention of sponsors and a team. Which brings you down to the Western Cape here. What do you think was the key component to you getting that deal to ride for RECM? Which is perhaps, at that time, one of the strongest, most well-funded teams around. Was there a particular result or a race that you think caught their eye?
Getting snapped up by RECM
LL: I don’t think so, I don’t think there’s any one particular event that drew the attention. At that stage I was racing the marathon series, ultra marathons. I had won that series two years in a row. The year before that I came second or third, I can’t remember. It was a consistency that I had to show.
Obviously I think in a big way it went beyond that. I’d built up a relationship with guys like Waylon, not because I wanted anything from them, because I really just wanted to be friends with them. I think they noticed the way that I was able to communicate with people. To the way that I sort of carried myself. I don’t mean it in an arrogant way at all.
For me it was about networking and getting to know the people and also to learn from them. I raced Waylon the one race, one of the Nissan races up there. I was still riding for Valencia at the time. I think we had a dash for the line, it was one hell of a race!
Afterwards I went and I chatted to him and got his number and we got talking and stuff. Then there was another race that they did that I didn’t do. Then I asked them about it afterwards and we chatted. Then the next moment I got a phone call and they said, Neil’s leading the team, would you be interested to talk to us, so sure, definitely!
GDK: It led to a really busy phase in your life and no doubt as a 20/21-year-old, you clearly learnt an enormous amount during that time?
A great learning curve
LL: Absolutely. I think Waylon is definitely one of the most experienced riders in the country, he was a role model. He really guided my career and everything I did was based around what he said at that time. Also, we were supposed to do some big races together. So yes, it was definitely a busy time, but a very nice experience. Something that I would like to do again if I have the opportunity. Also to be in Waylon’s shoes, for instance, to be able to share that experience and that knowledge with younger riders. Guide them and help them to become the best that they can possibly be.
GDK: It’s a fascinating story from Lourens Luus, a semi-professional, professional mountain biker in this country. Professional mountain biking is perhaps a bit of a misnomer. Because it’s a very difficult place to earn a living, they work incredibly hard. Lourens, thanks for chatting to us, Lourens Luus who currently rides, who do you ride for at the moment?
LL: That’s a tricky question! I don’t know myself! At this stage things are complicated. We’re sort of in the process of securing some new sponsors and stuff. Some of the things we had earlier this year basically fell through. But it’s also, 2016 is also a year for me where I’m just finding my legs again. 2017 will be the big comeback year.
I’ve got some big goals and aspirations towards the end of the year that I will focus on. Hopefully we can get some good results. PSG, USN, Helderberg Cycles, the guys from Helderberg Cycles have really been amazing in helping me this year, getting everything sorted. Anna Basson Properties from Stellenbosch as well, I’ve got a good support system behind me, helping me.
GDK: Lourens, thanks very much, good luck with those goals and ambitions. Finding a sponsor in this country is not an easy thing to do, but you’ve clearly got the skills to do just that. Lourens Luus talking to us here on our Old Mutual Live Mountain Bike podcast, hope you enjoyed that. There’ll be plenty more to come, of course, as you download, thanks for doing that. Until next time, take care, ride safely, cheers.