The seeds of the SRAM – TLD mountain bike team were sown with a couple of talented brothers and a wager of sorts. It was the opening rounds of the 2013 World Cup season, and SRAM MTB Sports Marketing Manager John Dawson issued a challenge: Be in the top three in the Junior World Cup overall standings after the first two events, and “we’ll get you to the rest of the World Cup races.”
Luca, in his first season as a Junior, cashed in on that bet, has been a World Cup contender ever since, and in 2014, the SRAM – TLD team was formed around Luca, older brother Walker, as well as XC rider Russell Finsterwald.
The team gained a lot of attention and collected results immediately, with successful rides from Russell and Walker at the Sea Otter Classic, and from Luca in the opening round of the World Cup. And it was a program that was worthy of that attention, with its focus truly on helping to properly develop talented young riders.
Of that initial roster, Luca has captured most of the limelight. He finished 2nd overall in the Junior World Cup in 2014. He cracked the top ten just a few rounds into his inaugural Elite World Cup season in 2015. He rode to his first Elite World Cup podium and finished in the top ten overall in 2016. And his style, on and off the bike, has been compared to some of mountain biking’s greats.
A career path like Luca’s attracts a lot of attention and a lot of opportunities. And with many offers on the table, he decided to make a change.
“That’s the thing that I definitely want to make clear,” Luca explains. “In all honesty, making the decision to leave SRAM – TLD and go on to something different was easily the hardest decision I’ve ever had to make. It was so hard because of what we had as a team—I don’t even like to use the word ‘team’ because it felt way more just like a group of friends or family.
“For the past three-and-a-half years I’ve been traveling with all of the SRAM guys. It’s been so good for me in so many ways. I think [that] where it’s been so different is that I had to do a lot of stuff on my own, and I had to learn a lot of stuff on my own. I didn’t have a lot of the stuff that, especially when I was a junior, the other big teams and competitors had. But, I wouldn’t want it any other way. I learned so much and I had so much more fun doing it that way. And also, I learned to appreciate every little thing that was given to me.”
“It was a tough choice. I don’t regret my decision at all — I think it’s time [for me] to go on to something different. But for that point in my life and my career, the whole [SRAM – TLD] atmosphere, and the way it was structured…I couldn’t have asked for anything more. I think it was the perfect way for me to learn and grow as a racer — and as a person. Traveling with a bunch of people you enjoy being around, and all that, it’s huge. It was a tough choice, and I’m definitely going to miss those guys. I’ve made some friends that I know I’m gonna’ have forever.”
As his potential began to manifest itself in ever more impressive results, SRAM brought on a fulltime mechanic to make sure Luca’s bikes and other race-weekend duties were handled, so that the young World Cup star could focus completely on racing.
“I think it’s good to have to earn that support, earn all of that help,” says Luca. “I remember muddy races, washing my bike, and being like, ‘Ahh, this sucks.’ But then finally, last year when I had a fulltime mechanic doing that all for me, you realize that it’s so nice and really a huge benefit — and you really learn to appreciate it, when you have it.”
“That’s another astonishing fact is that in the last three years with SRAM – TLD as a team, I have not had a single mechanical in qualifying or finals in a World Cup. That speaks for itself as far as support, the program and the products that we ran. I think we did it right.
“Wouldn’t change if for the world.”
- Photos by Sven Martin, Adrian Marcoux and Victor Lucas