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EAST COAST PRIDE - Luca Shaw Interview 2

Don't let the Waffle House love fool you. Luca Shaw, one of America's fastest downhillers, shows his depth in this thorough interview. #USDH

EAST COAST PRIDE - Luca Shaw Interview

What do you believe are the benefits of living, and preparing for competition, on the United States' East Coast?

Luca Shaw: We get a mix of conditions, so you can ride year ‘round. Any further north, you have a brutal winter. Any more south, there are no hills. Where I live in North Carolina, it can get cold, but you can still ride. So you end up riding in the mud a lot. I think the riding is some of the best in the country, so it’s good. And it’s the perfect spot of lay low in the off-season.

Interview by Scott Hart, photos by Kathy Sessler unless specified

So what's in the water in North Carolina that attracts so much mountain bike talent?

I’ve lived here twelve years. But in the last four or five years, the mountain bike scene has blown up. By word of mouth, more people are hearing and talking about it. There are tons of trails, tons of riding. I guess it was only a matter of time before word got out and people started checking it out. A lot of my friends who came to the area for school and college end up staying after they graduate because they like it so much. It’s a good place for me, and it’s home, so I wouldn’t want to live anywhere else. Traveling all summer, it’s nice to come home to a sweet place.

It’s nothing like the buzz of Southern California. It’s still super quiet here. If you don’t want to see anybody, you won’t. It’s always good to have more people to ride with, more people to do stuff with. I’m not selfish, I definitely tell everyone I meet how great North Carolina is, not trying to keep it all to myself.


Can you name any riders in North Carolina right now that we should be on the lookout for?

I know the Windrock scene, that Neko [Mulally] started, is gotten big — every weekend the local crew is out there riding, bunch of young kids coming up, riding downhill and getting into it. Hopefully, they stick at it because it wasn’t so long ago that I was coming up in the local race scene and it’s definitely fun, and interesting, to watch the “next wave” coming through. In ways, it’s kind of a weird feeling because I feel like I’m still just a kid, myself. It’s rad to watch.

Best spots to practice and ride on the East Coast?

Where I live now, I’m between the two trail networks that are ridden the most in the area: Dupont and Pisgah [National Forest]. I mix it up between the two because they’re both different — Dupont is more groomed and flowy, while Pisgah is more rough, natural and rugged. It’s good to have that mix because if I get bored of one forest, I go to the other. It’s an ongoing cycle.

Favorite U.S. racetrack?

That’s a tough one. I’ve always really enjoyed going to Mountain Creek in New Jersey, always a fun one. Plattekill [New York], although I haven’t raced there in a while, but some of their tracks I just loved back in the day. It was always super muddy and gnarly. Always love Snowshoe [West Virginia] — they have a World Cup this year, so that will be really interesting. And then Windrock [Tennessee], too — the trail crew there have really put a lot of work in the last few years and have really developed cool, proper downhill racetracks. Those are the ones I get excited for, but I’m a bit biased to the East Coast. I’ve been out to the West Coast a few times, obviously, but it’s a bit different feel out there in Colorado and California.

Do you see the West Coast of the U.S. as a contractual obligation?

Yeah, true, so true. Especially Southern California, I hardly ever go there for riding really. I always end up there once a year to ride and now up north to Santa Cruz with Santa Cruz [Bicycles] and Fox [Racing Shox] for testing. It’s great to have such a variety in the U.S. and I can enjoy it all.

Who are the top five U.S. downhill racers?

Obviously, Aaron [Gwin] on the top because he’s one of the best ever, and probably Neko [Mulally]. And it’s getting pretty stacked now with [Charlie] Harrison and Dakota Norton and a bunch of other guys coming through. Last year, in Croatia [World Cup finals], we had three Americans on the podium, and five in the top 15, which is incredible for any country — and that was really cool. Since I’ve been racing, right now the US is by far the most stacked it’s ever been since I’ve been in the sport. It’s cool to see and hopefully it just keeps getting better.

Tell us about how you've been preparing for the 2019 UCI World Cup series.

The way I look at it, what’s cool about our sport is the variety. There are so many activities you can do that help. You’re not doing one thing all the time. For me, I like to mix it up and do as many different things as possible. In the winter, I spend more time in the gym than I do in the summer. When it’s cold, the gym is something you can consistently do, no matter the weather. In the winter, I still ride a lot more than I go to the gym so I’d say I’m 70-percent riding and 30-percent gym. But the riding varies — road bike, trail bikes, motocross, downhill. I try not to do the same thing too much.

How much do you ride a downhill bike during winter?

I kinda get away from the downhill bike a little bit for two reasons: One, to take a break; And two, It’s a whole lot easier where I live to grab a trail bike and go. For downhill, it seems like the local runs kinda went away. To ride DH, it has become a pretty big drive and you have to organize a shuttle, so it’s easier to just get on the trail bike and pedal. I don’t spend a ton of time on my downhill bike in the winter. Maybe once every couple of weeks. But then in late February and into March, I start to ramp it up and ride my downhill bike as frequently as I can. I do enjoy taking a break from [downhill], to be honest. We're racing those bikes all summer, so in the fall and winter it is kind of nice to ride other stuff, ride motocross, and put [the downhill bike] up for a little while.


Anything new you and the Syndicate are testing or manipulating before the season begins?

Well, we're always playing with little stuff. This year, is actually really nice because it is the first year that I've been on the Syndicate that I'm going to be on the same bike. We're not testing a new bike this year. We're not developing a new frame or wheel size or anything like that, so that's really nice — and peace of mind knowing our bike works and you can just get even more comfortable with it, the new [Santa Cruz] V10 twenty-niner is pretty dialed in. The off-season has been mainly about getting myself prepared, rather than gettin the bike ready. Of course, we're always playing with the suspension [Editor's note: Photographs included in this interview were captured during a Fox Racing Shox test session in Lousã, Portugal] and little, new parts here and there, but nothing major. Mainly just time on the bike, and getting some good runs in.


Strengths: Heading into 2019 season, what gives you the most confidence?

You always look back on last year, but after such a long break from racing it always seems like a bit of uncertainty sorta creeps in. Coming into the first World Cup is always a bit of an unknown and it seems like everyone is extra nervous. It's funny how it all sort of settles down after that first race. The buildup is quite long and intense. I'd say my strengths are having more experience than last year. The thing that I've learned the most in the last couple years is just gaining that experience. I feel like last year I proved I had the speed, so hopefully the combination of the two will be a good marriage and I'll be more consistent and put that speed to use when I need to. And I feel good about it, looking forward to it.

Weaknesses: What are your biggest concerns for the 2019 season?

Last year, I struggled with consistency. If I'm honest, the last two years I've been pretty inconsistent. Throwing away a lot of good results with crashes — and just little things, some out of my control. Looking back, that's been my Achilles heel. I try to improve in every aspect [of my racing], but it's going to be a tough year. Every year, every rider, the speeds just keep going up and up. The times are closer — everyone is competitive, everyone's training hard and everyone's bikes are good. It's going to be a helluva year, gotta be ready.

Opportunities: What are you most excited about for 2019?

It's cool because we have an extra opportunity this year with an extra World Cup round, so I'm looking forward to that. I've always thought our season could be longer — one extra race is cool. Looking at the season, we have a World Cup in the U.S., so that's a cool opportunity for [American riders] — and it's [on the] East Coast. Definitely see that as a big opportunity, as well as the classic tracks that I've really always liked, Fort William and Mont-Sainte-Anne for Worlds is going to be a big one; I really like the Mont-Sainte-Anne track.


Threats: What are your concerns heading into the 2019 season?

Speed is always increasing and competition is ever stronger, especially with the younger crew coming through. So I'd say the competition isn't getting any easier and the tracks are getting gnarlier and faster. You definitely have to be on your game if you want to have a good result. I'm sure it won't be easy, but I'm looking forward to the challenge.


In 2018, you qualified first at multiple World Cups, but were unable to replicate the top result in your final run — what do you attribute the recurring phenomenon to?

Qualifying first at several World Cup rounds was definitely a huge learning experience for me. The first couple races that I qualified first, I really though nothing of it. The first time, getting a flat tire I felt was sort of out of my control. But as the season went on and it happened a third time, I admit one-hundred-percent I let the pressure get to me and just rode super tight — and that was definitely not a nice experience. I feel like I've learned a lot from that. And to me, it just gives me the confidence that I have the speed, I have what it takes. Now, having gone through that will only make me stronger. I'm trying to take last year and learn as much as I can from that. Take the positives and learn from the mistakes. I think having that experience is huge. Last year, [qualifying first] wasn't really expected for me. It surprised a lot of people, and I think I surprised myself. This year, if or when I'm in that situation it won't be as much of a surprise and I think I'll know how to cope.


You're about to reunite with Greg Minnaar after a long off-season — if you remember only one thing about the G.O.A.T., what is it?

Anybody who spends time around Greg will know, he's kind of the life of the party — especially when Kathy [Sessler, Syndicate team manager] gets excited.

So, you would say the same about Sessler?

Yeah, [she's] kinda the same [as Greg]. I feel Kathy is all business and then all party, not much in between. She gets the work done, takes care of everything that needs taken care of, and when it's time to kickback, relax, and have fun, she's leading the charge. She does a good job of mixing the two, so that's cool.

What about when you reunited with teammate, Loris Vergier?

Loris is just strange and goofy, I can't even explain. Making funny noises, always happy and in a good mood, always interesting.

What about your mechanic, Doug Hatfield?

Ahhh, Dougie is the most upbeat person. You can't find a more upbeat person on this earth — anyone who's been around him or met Doug can agree on that. Always working hard with a big smile on his face. Whenever there is a crappy situation, or things aren't going right, you can rely on Dougie to find the positive no matter how big or small. When you spend so much traveling, on the road, with a small group of people, having such a positive, happy, stoked person around is amazing. Definitely have a lot to be great for when Dougie is always keep the mood good.


At the risk of sounding cliché, it does sound like the recipe for the Syndicate's success is fun...

Yeah, it's definitely true. I pinch myself every day that I'm part of a team that's so cool and well-known, really just a group of friends that are [like] family — it's definitely special. I don't take it for granted.


Who's the most creative line chooser on the circuit?

Phil Atwill — he uses the whole track. Sometimes, I can't even believe where he's riding! He makes it work.

Is there a king of practice?

Maybe Finn [Iles]. Last year, every time I saw him, he looked like he was going twice the speed as everyone else, first day of practice. May, or may not be, the best idea but it's damn impressive to see — it always makes me question my speed! [Finn] wastes no time getting up to speed.

Who's the king of parking lot jibbers?

Probably Kade Edwards. He's obviously got tons of talent and I always see him on his jump bike, his little hardtail, at World Cups — he'll just be doing little tricks and crazy stuff in the pits while everyone else is probably resting. It's funny to see.

Who is the pit lane jester, making jokes?

Probably Ed Masters or his brother, Wyn. One of the Masters brothers is always giving someone a hard time, keeping it light, which is cool.

Who is the most socially active?

Oh, gosh, it's hard to pick one — I feel like there are a lot! Probably not me. There are too many to name. That's kind of the new age, to keep everyone updated on Instagram. I think a lot of people do a good job of that — I could, for sure, do a better job of that.


Who is a bad influence on you?

Probably the first year on the [Syndicate, it'd], be Greg and Steve [Peat]! That was a challenge, you know ... to do the right thing! It's all fun at the end of the day. As Greg would say: One life!

What female is going to win the 2019 UCI World Cup Series?

Seems like it's going to be between Tahnee [Seagrave] or Rachel [Atherton] based off last year, it will be interesting to see with Rachel on her new bike. But I'll go with Tahnee, the young one coming through.

What junior is going to take the overall title?

We always keep tabs on the top juniors, it's almost like they turn "pro" before they really turn pro because they're all riding for factory teams and have all the support straight away. Thibaut Daprela for Commencal is super fast already. I'll be interested to watch Ethan Shandro — he did well at Windrock Pro GRT [recently]. I'd like to see [Ethan] do well and mix it up with the other top juniors. There always seems to be a two-rider battle that rises to the top, so it'll be interesting to follow it along.

Who is the strongest pedaler on the circuit?

Probably Mick Hannah. The last five or six years, every track that had a decent, flat sprint, he would usually be one of the faster dudes. Mick is definitely strong on the pedals.

Who is the first to try a new jump in practice?

Gosh, the last few years, Greg has been the one who has pulled the nastiest, gnarliest gaps. Yeah, I'd say Greg.

What country has the strongest riders, overall?

I'd say the French, head-and-shoulders over everyone else right now, which I guess is nothing new. Not only do they have people who are winning, but throughout the top 20-30 they have so much talent — lots of young riders, too. I'd say France is the country to beat, for sure. And then Great Britain is always fast — New Zealand, Australia and the U.S. has become, I'd say, more well-respected and has some really fast riders coming up.

What country's food do you enjoy most?

Oh, Italy — not even a question. I could definitely be Italian.

What country's food presents the biggest challenge?

I really don't struggle to eat anywhere. The first couple years I went to Scotland, I struggled with finding healthy food. Seemed like everything was unhealthy. But the last few years — obviously, it's easier with Kathy, she cooks every meal — and I really enjoy the food there now.

What country has the best night life?

It's kinda hard to say because we're always at the race. I feel like the venue that puts on the after-party, but we've had some good nights in Barcelona. Australia — Cairns for the Worlds and the World Cups [were] by far the best after-party.

What country has the most difficult night life?

Scotland. Fort William is not a huge [party] scene. But there's always a party to be found.

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There's a quote that your dad said to you when you were younger: "Go race, don't worry about college." Please elaborate...

My dad has worked in the motorcycle industry my whole life. When Walker [older brother] and I were growing up, we raced everything from the time we could walk, just with each other, from motocross to BMX. Racing was always in our blood. Both my parents, mom and dad, have been super supportive and [did] everything they could to help my brother and I do what we loved. There was a time when I was kinda on the fence about going to college right out of high school — and was actually fully committed to going — and sort of last minute, decided to take a year off and sort of see what a proper year of just focusing on racing would [be]. My dad was behind me one-hundred-percent — he basically told me, "You've only got one opportunity to go for it, and you'll regret it if you don't." I'd say my parents and my brother have been the biggest influence on me, so supportive. With my brother, and our upbringing between us, is what's made me who I am.

As a kid, a dad controls most of the racing efforts — now, as an adult, what is your dad's involvement in your career now that you're pro?

Still when I'm home, we ride every week. And, basically, check in every day. Now that I don't really rely on my parents as much as I used to, it's almost like we're more like friends now — it's cool. Our relationship is tighter than ever. I prefer to handle [everything] myself, sponsors or anything like that on my own. But, he's my number one guy that I go to for advice, guidance or anything like that — he's basically the person I tell everything to, whether it's big or small. Definitely lucky to have him and that relationship. Can't thank him enough for his support, and just being a good dad.

So tell us about your new helmet branding, Monster Energy and WD-40 are now onboard...

Ha, ha, yes! Growing up in my household, if there's any problem, something squeaking, not working, my dad would always say, "Yeah! Just put some WD-40 on it." And my mom would always be like, "Yeah, right, like that's going to fix it?" So it was always kinda like a joke — but, it is actually 100-percent true in my family, and pretty funny. So my mom just laughed when I told her I was sponsored by WD-40 because there couldn't be a better sponsor for our family — it's so funny, couldn't be better!

Older brothers provide wisdom for their little bro, what does Walker instill in you even today?

The competitiveness we had growing up together, being one year apart, and doing everything together. Not just racing, but back when we played "school sports," we were always kind of going at it. And always having someone to ride with every day, I think that's the number one thing. It's not like mountain biking is a team sport — where I grew up, Walker and I were pretty much the only people who rode bikes at all. So, if it wasn't for him, why would I go ride bikes every day after school instead of [going] with a group of friends to play basketball or soccer with? Always having that buddy to go riding with kept it fun for me and kept us both going, that was the biggest thing that helped me along. Growing up, we were always on the same level so we always pushed each other to get better without even really realizing it.


Let's talk about your romantic life, have you visited Switzerland during the off-season?

Yeah, a few times! That's something that's new, and cool, for me is that my girlfriend (Editor's note: Jolanda Neff, 2017 Elite Women’s XCO World Champion) is a cross-country world champion and kinda has a similar upbringing, goals and focus as me — so that kinda seems extended from my family. So even my girlfriend is super supportive and someone else to ride with that I really enjoy to train and ride with. That's been really cool, and definitely special.

So have you spent more time on your XC bike during the off-season, as a positive byproduct of your relationship?

Yeah, for sure. That's sort of unique to have your girlfriend be in way better shape than you and kick your ass every time you go for a ride! She's definitely dragged me along for some rides that were way longer than I was ready for — or wanted to go!!! But, it's been really fun, really cool, and I enjoy it.

So Jolanda brings fitness to the relationship, does she ask for technical riding advice from you?

Yeah, I'd say that's pretty accurate. I've tried to share little techniques and skills here and there, but she's pretty damn good already — I can't really teach her much! She's given me a lot of insight into training, how to take care of your body, being a top-level professional athlete, and what it takes. I'd say our relationship is mutually beneficial.

Luca and Jolanda at Windrock.

With Jolanda in Switzerland and you in the U.S., how many hours per day do you spend on FaceTime?

Uhhh, quite a bit! Trying to get the schedules to align is not easy, but the summer should be good since we basically do all the same races on the World Cup series. I'm looking forward to that. It's cool that when we are together, we kinda can do everything together — we basically ride together all the time, so it kind of makes up for it. But, yeah, quite a bit of time, more than I would like, on FaceTime. I'd rather see her in real life.


You're known to be a fan of Waffle House, which is a popular eatery on the East Coast, and also known to have a not-so-secret men of special orders — from “Scattered” refers to spreading the hash browns out across the grill so they get crispy all around — otherwise, they’re cooked inside a steel ring, "Smothered" (sautéed onions), "Covered" (melted American cheese), "Chunked" (bits of ham), diced (tomatoes), "Peppered" (jalapeños), "Capped" (grilled mushrooms), "Topped" (chili), "Country" (smothered in sausage gravy), "All the Way" — so what's your order?"" waffle-house-history-menu="">

No secret menu for me, I just go with the basic "All-Star Special" because that's pretty much all there is to get there — three eggs scrambled, hash browns, usually bacon and a waffle. Hard to beat.


When eating in the West, every visitor always makes the obligatory trip to In-N-Out Burger — so do you go "Animal Style," "Protein Style," "Monkey Style Burger," or what?"" eat="" los-angeles="" the-in-n-out-secret-menu-ranked="">

What is it called, a Double Double? Just keep it basic. I don't know anything about that secret menu, I just order what's printed on the [actual] menu. But I do like In-N-Out.


When will you feel like you’ve made it — what goals are you still chasing?

[Long pause] To be honest, my biggest dream and goal growing up was just to do what I love to do for a living. So in that sense, it's actually been an interesting change in motivation for me — no matter how many races or titles I win, or whatever, I kinda feel like at this point I have everything I want. Like, I'm doing what I want to do — and getting paid to do it. What more could I want than that? From a lifestyle point-of-view, I feel like I have made it — I'm absolutely living the dream right now and I definitely don't want to take it for granted. From a results side of things, I just want to put every little bit of energy and passion I have into it. Basically, I want to see how fast I can become and what I can achieve because I have a lot of confidence in my skill, and myself, and I see myself being right up there being with the best in the sport. So, for me, I'm just so happy to be in the situation that I am and I want to make the most of it — for results and my career, I feel like I have a long way to go... Looking at where I'm at, the life I live, and the position I'm in, I feel like I've made it already. I couldn't be more happy with this opportunity and this lifestyle, being able to race and travel the world, and get paid to do it — I'd do it for free.

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