Luca Shaw and the School of World Cup
Luca Shaw is 19 years old and competing in his second season with the UCI Downhill World Cup series’ most elite athletes. But the young, SRAM Troy Lee Designs Team rider possesses an approach to the sport and his life that’s so focused, intelligent and pragmatic, you’d believe Luca to be many racing-seasons and at least a handful of years older than he actually is. His maturity and long-term potential hasn’t gone unnoticed by the sport’s icons, either.
Heading into the weekend of the third World Cup of the season, at Fort William, Scotland — where as a rookie in 2015 he cracked the top 10 — we talked to the younger Shaw brother about family, friends, heroes, goals, learning, Australia, Stevie Smith, basketball and a few other things.
Age : 19
Height : 6’ (183 cm)
Weight : 175 lbs (79 kg)
Years riding/racing : Started racing BMX at age 8
Favorite course : Andorra
Where is home? : On a sweet trail
Do you remember exactly when you knew for sure that this is what you wanted to do?
LS: Probably my second year racing mountain bikes. It was the US Open, in New Jersey — actually the same place I just came from. It used to be called Diablo, but it was a pretty big race back then. Most of the best World Cup guys went to it. I was racing Junior [class]. It was a pretty big Junior race — like, they had qualifying and everything. I remember my first year I didn’t make it in qualifying. My second year, I think I qualified 10th or something. And then, in the finals, I broke my shifter cable at the top of the hill and I was stuck in my biggest gear. I didn’t think I would do very well at all, but I ended up getting 3rd. I just remember being like, “alright this is sick, this is what I want to do, for sure.” That was the race that made me fall in love with racing downhill.
You’re in your second year as an Elite World Cup racer, and the sophomore year is typically always the hardest. Are you feeling that, at all?
LS: Not really. I’d say the first two races this year were definitely tough, but I think it’s tough for everyone. Hard conditions. But I’m feeling better than I was last year at this point. So I wouldn’t say I’m feeling a sophomore slump or anything.
What are your goals for this year?
LS: I wanna be top 10 overall in the World Cup.
Are you feeling good or are you struggling with anything right now?
LS: I’m feeling pretty good. I think the next few tracks…I’ve been to pretty much every year I’ve raced World Cups, and I like them a lot, so I think I’m going to sort of pick it up toward the end of the year. I feel like the first few races didn’t really go as well as they could have for me, but I think the rest of the season should be good.
Your results are really consistent. Last year you went 11th at Lourdes, 10th at Fort William, 28th at Leogang, 28th at Lenzerheide, 19th at Mount Saint Anne, 16th at New York, 42 at Val di Sole and 21st at the World Champs. This year you’ve gone 21st at Lourdes and 13 at Cairns. Can you detail what it takes to race at that level of consistency? What do you think it is going to take to find that next notch of speed?
LS: I think part of it is just…I feel like I race pretty reserved, which is kind of a good thing and a bad thing. I don’t really crash much. There’s some people I race that, like, you know that they’re either going to crash or do really well. I don’t think I am like that at all. I like to ride sort of within myself. Obviously, pushing it pretty damn hard, but not taking too many risks to where it’s not sure if I’m really going to make it down. For me, it’s like, you need to learn to go fast consistently — to do it over and over again, so it’s not just a freak thing.
There are a lot of people who have just one crazy result where they somehow were able to stay on their bike, but then they’re never able to replicate it. I think the best way to learn, really, is to have consistent races under your belt, and just keep improving steadily, instead of just going for it recklessly — going after something that you’re not even sure you can even do again. I think that approach is what makes me consistent.
Some people are so…they go for it so crazy. And yeah, it’ll work, like one out of ten times. But even if you are successful like that, it’s so hard to do it again. You don’t really learn from it. I don’t know…it’s just not how I approach it.
Have any of your results surprised you? Like, did you ever finish and just know that no one could ever go any faster, only to find out that you went slower than you thought possible? Vice versa?
LS: I think that when I first started racing, that would happen pretty often. It’s like you don’t realize yet what’s possible, how fast you can actually go. You don’t realize that when you first start racing. I have definitely felt that before, and it kind of sucks. That’s probably the hardest thing to deal with in racing — when you don’t have an excuse, you know? You can’t really blame, or you don’t really know how you could’ve gone faster. But at the same time, that’s what you chase.
When you start racing World Cups you find that really quick — all of these guys are so skilled, they’re so fast, and they’ve been doing it for so long. You have to be almost better than perfect to try and do good or win one of these things. You can never underestimate the people that you’re racing against. They’re pretty damn fast.
Do you do any non-standard preparation and/or training? Racecars, yoga, baseball? Something totally odd?
LS: Nothing that stands out to me. I played all kinds of sports when I was in high school. I played a bunch of basketball. Played soccer for a long time. But I guess, as a kid, most people do. I wouldn’t say I do any weird, out-of-the-ordinary training things, but I definitely enjoy playing other sports. I enjoy playing basketball a lot still. I’m a fan of a lot of other professional sports. I feel like a lot of other guys in [mountain biking] don’t really venture out into other sports as much. For me, I really enjoy all professional sports, watching them. I’m a big fan of football, basketball, all of that.
But as far as training and that, I think that most of the stuff I do is pretty basic. It all relates pretty closely to what I do.
Your family is supportive. How important is that for you?
LS: Oh yeah. It’s everything. Both my mom and my dad and, obviously, my brother are into it. I think that’s one thing that I have kind of noticed — a lot of people, their family, they obviously care for them, but they don’t care for what they do. But for me, in my situation, my whole family cares, not just for me but for the whole sport. They really enjoy it. They enjoy watching me race as much as I enjoy racing. When my dad comes to a race — and my mom, for that matter, too — there’s just no doubt that they’re more nervous than I am.
You spent the offseason in Australia, right? How was it? Who did you ride with? What did you do and what did you learn?
LS: Yeah. Well, two months of it. I was staying with Connor Fearon. It was just what I needed, I think. First year out of school, and I was going to go to college but decided to take a year off. Didn’t want to just hang around at home all winter. I was lucky enough to be able to go there for a couple of months. It was amazing. Every single day we rode, like, a couple times a day — all different stuff. We rode dirt jumps and skate parks and all kinds of bikes, all day long. That time, just on two wheels, it can’t hurt. It was awesome — every day, hot weather, you could ride no matter what. It was a perfect change of scenery for me — really, really fun, and I think it was super beneficial as well.
Who are your friends on the World Cup?
LS: Well, definitely Connor. And Neko Mulally — he lives near me now, so we ride together all of the time, train a bunch together. Greg Minnaar has been super cool to me the last couple years. And picking his brain is always interesting. Man, there’s a lot, there’s not really…that’s the thing that’s so cool about downhill — there aren’t too many bad people in it. I feel like it’s a real, real good crew, all real down-to-earth people. Honestly, pretty much everyone I get along with. There’s Mitch [Ropelato] and Eliot Jackson. Aaron Gwin has been super cool to me. I mean, the list kind of goes on, but those are definitely a few to name off the top of my head.
Who are your heroes?
LS: Oh yeah, I have a bunch of heroes. Like I was saying earlier, I’m a big fan of other professional sports — basketball, football, definitely motorcycle racing. I think my first hero was Valentino Rossi. I was a huge Moto GP fan — I still am — and he’s definitely a big hero of mine. I have tons of heroes. I can’t really think of one that I can pick. Basically, I look up to any professional athlete in a sense. It’s what I am chasing myself, so…
What are your long-term racing career goals? Where do you see yourself and what do you think you will be doing in 10 years? 20 years?
LS: Ooh, that’s tough. Long-term racing goals? I feel like that’s a question that a lot of people have the same answer…but, honestly, if I can just make a career out of it, if I can win some races and enjoy it — like fully enjoy it, like I do now, for the next 10,15 years — I’d be happy with that. Everyone wants to win races, and I feel like that’s so obvious that I don’t even need to say it. But I think that if I can live this kind of lifestyle, the lifestyle of a professional athlete, and really enjoy it…I think there’s a lot of people that are really good at it but don’t love it. One thing I’ve thought about lately because of Stevie [Smith] is that guy, he fuckin’ loved what he did. And you can really tell a difference between a dude like that and some people who are just good at it but don’t love it. So if I can just really enjoy what I do and, obviously, it would be great if I’m successful, but the next 10, 15 years…it’s a pretty good lifestyle. If you have that mentality, I think you don’t really work, you know? You play — all year. That’s my long-term racing goal, to just enjoy it and make it last as long as I can.
At Fort Bill, the DH World Cup will make its first appearance since Steve Smith’s death. Do you have a Stevie story?
LS: Man, I don’t really have a story where anything crazy or super cool happened, but…he’s just this type of dude when, like, you meet him for the first time, or you’re just around him, he’s just…he’s just such a badass. I can’t really describe it any better. The way he tells it like it is. He’ll tell you what you don’t want to hear. Brutally honest. I can respect that so much. He was someone to look up to — such a great example of how to be as a person.
- Images by Sven Martin and Adrian Marcoux