63-years-old and still as committed as ever to MTB
04 June 2016
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Gerald de Kock: Thanks for downloading another edition of our Old Mutual Live Mountain biking. Thanks very much indeed for taking a passionate interest in mountain biking, otherwise you wouldn’t have downloaded this. Of course, we get to know more about the sport, the people involved and the characters, the personalities and the races. I think the person that I’m going to be speaking to now fits all those categories.
He’s a racer, he’s a personality, he’s a character, his name is Linus van Onselen. He’s a world champion in his age group over the cross country, a national champion, he’s a living legend in South African sport. Linus, thanks for talking to us, I think get this out of the way, that Cape Town Cycle Tour you did a couple of months ago, what number and your time and how many have you done under that time?
Linus van Onselen: That was number 29 for me, I did 27 under three hours and this one I did in 2 hours and 52 minutes.
GDK: That just puts it into perspective about your passion about cycling, but mountain biking is your passion, it has been for some time now. Where did it all start for you?
Getting into mountain biking
LVO: Coming from a track background and then later I did some road riding, you tend to get slower and mountain biking is giving you that second life. If you become too slow, you can still do mountain biking, you must just have the guts to do all the difficult descents and so on. So, since 1995 I’m involved with mountain biking.
GDK: In the late 90’s, early 2000’s, who were you racing against, what was the racing scene like in mountain biking then?
LVO: If I go back to 2000, they had the Drifter Series, as I can recall that. I had the opportunity to travel a lot for my work and I made it a task to get to those races. It is an expensive sport, if you travel to all those races. I think at the end of the day you must decide, am I going to take part in all the races if I’m not a professional rider, or am I only going to ride to enjoy it. So, in the 2000’s I did ride a lot. These days we pick the events and we do only a few events.
GDK: A few, but you do commit wholeheartedly to every event you do, don’t you? That racing and that competitive edge is still there isn’t it?
LVO: If I must talk about myself, I must say, I don’t enter and go to the start line without being in top shape.
Becoming a World Champion
GDK: A few years ago we had the World Cross Country Champs here in South Africa and that was a big focus for you wasn’t it? Tell us what went through your mind when you knew you could ride a World Champs here?
LVO: I’ve done it before and I came second and I said to myself, if it’s home territory, one must prepare to be the best. I did train hard and it all worked out for me and it was so nice. I always say, the rugby players, when they stand there, they get the anthem and it’s a routine thing for them. To go to the podium and hear the anthem and hear the music, it was great.
GDK: You said you prepared well for that, and I know as we’ve talked about it, you do, you prepare incredibly well for it. What’s the mental switch that goes and says: This is what I’ve got to do and I’ve got to focus on it and be dedicated?
LVO: I think you must have the belief that you can do well. Cross country racing is much harder to do than the endurance things we do. You must get into that anaerobic threshold in every training. I just worked hard on that and said to myself, if my training is my work, the racing will become a pleasure.
Targeting the Cape Epic
GDK: You’ve done the ABSA Cape Epic many times, you’ve been on the podium there, you’ve won the event in your category, is that still a goal for you?
LVO: That is a goal. If the organisers will allow another category, you must remember, at the age of 63, I must now ride with a partner and to be competitive in the Grand Master category. Those partners are always 50 years old. So, I’m 13 years older, so I think they must bring in a category and whatever they want to call it, but give us a category 60+. Let us all enjoy ourselves and have a second life there as well.
GDK: And there’s enough riders, isn’t there, in that age category now, to be very competitive?
LVO: Maybe we don’t know about them all. But if you’re 58 at the moment, you can say to yourself: I’m not going to do the Epic again because there’s no competition and I’m getting older. But if you allow that category, you’ll get people from the age of 55, they will carry on, just to be able to ride when they’re 60.
GDK: Tell us about a training week for you, sort of December/January/February, what are you doing then in your training weeks?
Still loving all the training
LVO: Those months are, in my opinion, the most important months. I think people go on holiday and they say, ag, December is lekker and January is lekker. You must really train hard. I think that 15-20 hour weeks is what you must do, building up to the Epic. You can taper down before the Epic and that three weeks before the Epic, you can do your 10 hours. But the core three months that you’ve mentioned, they are 18-20 hours week for a cyclist who wants to be competitive.
GDK: Lots of early mornings and lots of focus on your training. I sense that there’s still plenty of enjoyment in what you do?
LVO: If you don’t enjoy it, you won’t keep on training that hard and you must go for that ultimate goal. There’s nothing nicer to be on the podium and to get the cheers from all your fans. So do the hard work and the race will be your pleasure. Training is not always that hard, riding without looking left or right.
But when we do the Epic, I must say, unfortunately, if you ask me what the route was all about, I can’t tell you. Because you focus on the wheel in front of you. But you need to train and to enjoy it, otherwise you won’t be able to carry on for three/four years of racing.
GDK: You’ve retired from the corporate world, you had your hand in a bike shop here in Stellenbosch, you’ve got a family, so you’ve kept the cycling. Tell us about, firstly, Flandria Cycles and that involvement?
Becoming family work orientated
LVO: I was quite brave to retire from the corporate world at the age of 55. But I had a goal and that was to buy a very good shop that I knew was doing well and also to give my son, Leonardo, the opportunity to run with it. he is the co-owner at the moment and that was beautiful.
I must say, in the corporate world, the industry I was in, I worked with doctors a lot. They are clever people and I just said to myself: if I’m in the cycle shop and I open the door, I don’t think a lot of people can tell me more about my game. So I enjoyed those five years, to be the owner of the shop.
GDK: Didn’t you ride a bit with Leonardo as well? He’s a top class rider as well. The family, obviously ride with Leonard, do you ride with your wife?
LVO: Not that much now, but I must say and I must compliment her. She always supported me and she did a few Argus’s in sub 3 hours, so she was quite a good cyclist. She’s my backup at the moment, if I drink coffee, I must ask her how many teaspoons of sugar I take. She mixes my drinks for me and she’s really the support that I need to do as well as I do.
GDK: You’re an inspiration because you just keep going and you keep going where we see you riding incredibly hard and committed to it. You’ve got this, hopefully this goal of one day riding the Epic in a new category, but what other goals are there for you to look at in mountain biking?
LVO: It’s a difficult one but I think a lot of people say you’re a legend, I don’t want to hear that. But I want to be involved and still help young guys and tell people where we came from and what we’ve learnt. It took us seven years to become a good cyclist without training programmes and stuff like that. These days you get quality people that can train you and you can become a very good cyclist in four years’ time. We try to give back to the young guys, to help them to get to the top quicker.
Mountain biking is becoming too expensive
GDK: What are your thoughts on the current scene in South Africa, the mountain biking scene, where is it going and is it in a healthy state?
LVO: I would say yes, when I took the decision to buy the cycle shop, that was in 2008. Then suddenly I heard the word ‘recession,’ and I must say I was worried, but I never felt the recession. We feel it now. I think stuff is getting very expensive, all the imported stuff. I also think we have a lot of cycle shops that are doing well because the sport is growing that much.
Maybe we’ve reached the peak, it’s so expensive to travel these days. If you do a race in Oudtshoorn, just as an example, you need to take a day from work, the younger people. You must travel there, you must stay over in a guesthouse, you must pay entry fees, you come back, that’s a R4 000 episode. If you travel by plane to Sabi and those places, it can be R7 000. It’s not every person that can afford that, to do it weekend after weekend. Then I must also say, in the 70’s, when we started cycling, ’67, it was actually the poor guy that was a cyclist.
The poor guy can’t cycle these days. It’s actually the rich and people that can afford it. I’m just afraid that it’s becoming too expensive, it will become a Formula One sort of thing. You’ll have only 10-12 riders and cars that can really do it. The backbone of the racers will be the people that only want to do one weekend in a year or two weekends in a year.
Is there an age vacuum due to cost?
GDK: Interesting thoughts and the age thing, I suppose based on the similar thing, as you’ve suggested. It is an expensive sport, so people between the ages of 19 and 30 are still trying to make their way financially in business, the last thing they can afford is an expensive race entry. I suppose you see a vacuum happening whilst they come into it, because we all started the sport quite old, there’s a bit of vacuum happening?
LVO: I think so, the young guys are the professionals, they get sponsorship or you get the guy who says, I don’t want to have a house, I just want to have a bike. I will pay for that and people do that on HP and so forth. If you look at the Epic and you take 1 200 riders, 600 teams. The average age is 40+ and those are the guys who actually made the grade. They’ve got job security and they can buy the expensive stuff. But the vacuum, if you’re not a professional rider, I don’t see a lot of 22 up to 35-year-old guys coming into the sport.
GDK: Interesting, but you’re going to be in it for a lot longer, aren’t you?
LVO: I think so, that’s the one way to keep fit. I was always a fit guy and I must say, I can get into my Standard 10 or matric blazer, so I didn’t change a lot. The weight is what I had in matric and I feel happy about that. My body is in good condition and I eat well and I try not to do too many naughty things, so I’m active.
GDK: You don’t drink wine or beer?
LVO: I actually drink a lot, but we’re in the Boland, in the wine industry. But good wine and enjoy it with friends and at meal times, supper time and so on.
GDK: Your matric blazer still fits you?
LVO: Definitely, you want me to put it on quickly?
GDK: That’s astonishing! Linus, you are a legend, we’ll call you that because you’ve created such a little, a core of interest in mountain biking and long may it continue.
LVO: I think it will be sad to be in a sport for 40+ years and not to be a legend because then you didn’t try hard enough. I train hard and I try to do things right. I want one day when I’m finished cycling, people to say that was a good rider and a good cyclist, but I believe in balancing your life.
You must have a family, if you have a family, you must look after them. If the priority is cycling first, then you won’t make the grade with your family and work, so cycling was not always my priority. Family and then work and then maybe number three, the cycling.
GDK: Linus, thanks for talking to us. Linus van Onselen, he’s a legend, as you heard, a wonderful storyteller and a man with a great passion for mountain biking. This has been another edition of our Old Mutual Live Mountain Biking and we’ll be talking to more personalities, people and places around this great sport of mountain biking.