Justin Leov, hmmm where do I begin? I’ve known Justin for quite a number of years and have been one of the many people fortunate enough to be recipients of the Leov family hospitality. While the Leov clan were living in Blenhiem (before the move south) we’d spend some time at their place each summer shredding local trails with Justin while his dad Greg (aka Magnum) shuttled us around and raced up the hills looking for his own personal best ‘uplift’ time on any given track. The Leovs ‘senior’ always had an open door for any of Justin’s friends and riding buddies, and it’s obvious this generous and friendly streak has been passed down to their offspring, in this case Justin.
What stands out to me most about Justin is his drive and professionalism, I vividly remember Justin on the wind-trainer mid summer while he was living in Christchurch a few years ago. All his flatmates and myself were sitting around chilling, probably talking about the latest bike gizmo or hot item to make you go faster or just look faster, all the while the pool of sweat under Justin’s trainer grew as he punished himself through his interval sessions alone in the garage. Missing out on all the fun times around him Justin had his eye on the prize, and judging by the fact he’s been on many a podium in the last few seasons this attitude and dedication is paying off.
Ladies and Gents….. Justin Leov (with a silent ‘V’)How old are you? 26
Where do you live? Sunny Dunedin, haha!
What do you like best about living where you do? How close everything is, 10 mins and you can ride to any riding spot you want to hit. No traffic ever too, which is something that gets to me.
What do you dislike about living where you do? The weather for sure, it’s been a really average summer this year and it’s made for a lot of cleaning up of muddy riding gear and bikes.
How did you get involved in the MTB scene to begin with, and how long ago was that? I first got into mountain biking when I started Marlborough Boys College, there was a mountain bike club there which took rides after school and also took people to events. I started with that and progressed to going to Secondary school races then to national races. That would have been nearly eleven years ago now.
Give us a bit of a run down on your riding history and how you got to being a pro rider. Okay well after progressing through from secondary school riding to national series I got the bug for riding and racing. I decided I wanted to win the junior title in New Zealand. I trained for a whole year getting up early to go to the gym before school, riding DH runs after school and riding the road bike a lot too.
The next year I won the junior title and from that got selected to go overseas and race for New Zealand at Worlds. That was in Europe (Kaprun, Austria) and I had never been to Europe before let alone raced there. It was an experience for sure and I was blown away by how big the scene was over there. I finished just inside the top twenty, which I was happy with at the time but the real moment I knew I wanted to race and turn professional was the next weekend at the World Cup finals in Les Gets France. JK was there and I remember being so nervous about qualifying; this wasn’t a junior race anymore. I put down a solid run and was in shock to qualify in 20th. That was the moment I realised I wanted to race and try to become a professional.
As soon as I got home to New Zealand I began working for mum and dad in a wood working business we owned and talking to sponsors to get me over for a whole season of racing in Europe. I’m not going to lie but it was hard times the next few years. Meeting Jason Marsh while in Les Gets, our base became Morzine (10 mins drive from Les Gets) where Jason lived and he showed us the Swiss Cup series. A series we would drive to, sleep in our cars, shower from the bike wash and race to podium finishes. The Swiss distributor for Fox Suspension took notice and started helping me out with suspension and support at the Swiss cups.
Things lead on and the next year in 2005 I was being taken around by him to all the races in Europe. That was a breakout year for me, hitting my first World Cup podium and a string of top ten results got me on the radar for a few teams. I managed to convince Martin Whiteley from 23 degrees sports management to be my agent and from there signed my first professional contract with Yeti Cycles. I had a tough year in 2006 getting a shoulder injury at the first World Cup which I had all season. I managed to salvage a few good races but my 2007 year on Yeti showed a lot more promise and I got another contract with Yeti for 2008. While on Yeti I found my feet and raced consistently to 8th in the World Cup and 6th at World Champs.
Martin came to me at the last race of the season and told me he was building a team and would like me to ride for them in 2009. That was Trek World Racing, my current team. That has been my best season to date. I had another tough year in 2010 with little setbacks, injuries and weather hindering performances. But that brings me to now and another two years signed on with Trek World Racing.
When you’re in New Zealand do you have a ‘day’ job? What is it and what does it involve? For the most part I’m training and working on aspects of my riding to improve there but I have also opened a bike shop in Dunedin with my family. It’s called Bike Otago and downtime in the off season is spent there a lot.
You’re about to head off for the Northern Hemi Summer season of racing; what does your typical day look like at the moment? At the moment it’s either getting up to do my emails, usually team stuff or sponsorship commitments. Then heading to the gym for a session, lunch then a ride of some sort, intervals on the road bike, a couple hour trail ride, or a skills session either on the DH bike or at the BMX or pump track. Then it’s back to more emails in the evening as that’s when Europe is waking up again. Finally I like to spend time chilling out with Tory and our two dogs.
What’s your current team / sponsorship setup, any changes for 2011? This will be my third year racing for Trek World Racing and a couple of changes, Aaron Gwin a past team mate from Yeti has joined the lineup so racing and training with him will be a good. Nothing really that much different on the the sponsors front; a couple of small changes, Royal clothing, Gamut chain guides and have got back on Smith eyewear so that’s new for me.
Best thing about being on Trek World Racing DH Team? The professional setup and being able to have all the tools to just do my job and race. We have two truck rigs, one in Europe and one in USA so there is always a place to relax and gather yourself away from everyone at the races. I like being able to relax at the races, we’re in such a high stress environment it’s important to have a good team setup.
Worst thing about being on Trek World Racing DH Team? All the flights!
What are your goals for this World Cup season? To get back onto the podium and be consistent again. I learned a lot about confidence and trusting yourself and abilities last year so I’m keen to apply it and get back to where I left off in 2009.
You’ve been doing some coaching for MTB Skills Clinics over the last few months, what’s the attraction of coaching people? Well I’ve found that being able to teach someone a skill actually helps you with that skill. It makes you think about what works and what doesn’t and apply that to your own riding. I also get a kick out of seeing people get stoked on riding their bikes better and seeing how people can change from a sketchy out of control rider to a comfortable in control rider.
Have you learned anything about your own riding from teaching others? Defiantly, every time I take a clinic I learn something. The biggest single thing I’ve learned which has helped me is “weight equals traction”. Being confident to stay centered in slippery, dodgy situations.
Who do you think was the most legendary MTB rider in the World ever? Nico Vouilloz 100%. To win 10 World titles that guy is like no other. I don’t think we will ever see that kind of domination again in our sport, the depth is too great now.
What’s wrong with mountain biking? It needs more exposure in New Zealand, we have amazing riders and tracks and yet other sports are in the limelight consistently and mountain biking isn’t. I think for that to happen a private marketing company needs to come on board and more people bringing professional setups to the races. It’s a snowball effect of professionalism that will grow our sport and open the doors to a lot of opportunities for the riders.
What’s right with mountain biking? That everyone gets on with each other and is prepared to just do it.
Favourite piece of MTB kit? My Leatt brace, every time I put it on I feel like it’s go time, haha.
Any idea how many flights you take each Northern Hemi season? I would hate to think, about seven pages of A4 is most of them this year.
Who do you look up to? My fellow kiwi riders who have overcome setbacks and done great things, Sam Blenkinsop for winning a World Cup. Cameron Cole for winning Worlds as a junior then overcoming a few years of injuries to almost win his World Cup as well. Lately Brook MacDonald has done some impressive rides and is set for more this season I’d say.
What are your vices? Coffee, Belgium beer.
Finish this sentence – “on a Saturday I like to get up– and get a bacon buttie and coffee from the farmers market then go hit up some training.
Follow Justin over his upcoming season on www.JustinLeov.com.