Carinus Lemmer interview

Carinus Lemmer certainly has “done it all” in cycling terms: from professional cyclist to avid MTB’er, bike shop owner to involvement with the national governing body (CSA) and is now developing local talent through a cycling academy.

Apart from his distinctive “look”, he also has the honour of having his intials “CL” displayed on every car registered in his hometown of Stellenbosch.

CRANK recently caught up with the charismatic Lemmer to find out what he’s been up to, both past and present.

Carinus Lemmer certainly has “done it all” in cycling terms: from professional cyclist to avid MTB’er, bike shop owner to involvement with the national governing body (CSA) and is now developing local talent through a cycling academy.

Apart from his distinctive “look”, he also has the honour of having his intials “CL” displayed on every car registered in his hometown of Stellenbosch.

CRANK recently caught up with the charismatic Lemmer to find out what he’s been up to, both past and present.

CRANK: Carinus, most people know you as having served as the Chief Operations Officer (COO) for Cycling South Africa over the past few years. What exactly did this position entail? Was it a full time job?

CL: It started out as a part-time job – if I had known that the federation, under new leadership, was going to function the same way that I was appointed, I would probably have reconsidered my options. I still would have gone for the job, but would have been a bit more careful in how I approached the terms, the politics and the actual job description. All in all, it was a good innings, and has stood me in good stead, both personally and professionally. My main responsibilities included finding a system for licensing that was more honest and transparent than the one they were using for eons, a service provider to manage it and to find a set of protocols and principles to live by, from team selections to event standards. As you would know, it was hell to find what we were looking for, and hell to implement and maintain. The “role-playing” in the political seats also made it impossible to continue on a single path of decision, so we often digressed and veered off-course.

Carinus Lemmer today

As it became a more full time occupation, and with the Greg Till era starting, things became much more challenging – I often thought I was not cut out for that kind of job. My responsibilities were wide, but it did not include financial or administrative duties. The General Manager at the time, Sylvia Dale (who was also the former CEO), was quite reluctant to do anything, so I was made more responsible for the functions that she was not addressing. I also took more work and responsibility onto my own shoulders, since it often felt as if we did not address the riders’ needs well enough.

2009 started out quite tempestuously, with myself and the Vice President, David Bellairs bumping heads, and with Sylvia Dale (“pseudo CEO”) being suspended. David Bellairs, who also works for the Cycle Tour, was often not sufficiently transparent, or even honest, causing a rift, of which I was the only one on my side. Mrs. Dale was subsequently fired, and I took over a whole bunch of her responsibilities, such as the Lotto funding, the reporting to the Department of Sport, as well as the “day to day” management of the office staff. I offered my resignation in July 2009, at a management meeting, where Bellairs et al wanted to elevate me to the CEO post, with a fresh set of KPI’s. I eventually left the federation at the end of 2009, as was agreed by all of us.

CRANK: Could you tell us a bit about your present occupation?

CL: I have set up the National Cycling Academy, a section 21 entity, along with Erik Kleinhans, who is both an accountant and rider, and we are buying in course material n order to train and educate coaches, riders, course designers, parents, club administrators, and even technical officials. So, we are doing what the federation and its affiliates are not. There is a huge gap in education unfortunately. Our learners will be sourced from schools and universities. To some extent, we are not really focusing on the existing cyclist, but rather on the ones out there that are not yet in the system.

Other than the above – I sit behind a desk at home, and provide consultative support to other sporting federations, as well as a few commercial sporting entities, regarding systems, technology, compliance, and membership management.

CRANK: A lot of people may not be aware of your cycling career in the 1980s and 1990s – could you tell us about your racing days?

CL: I was a local sprinter, who eventually managed to get over most of the hills in one piece. My contemporaries were the likes of Willie Engelbrecht, the Benekes (Mark and Gary), the Alan “Idol” van Heerden, Robbie “Rambo” McIntosh, Theuns Mulder (world – class climber), and many more of those “house-hold” names.

Willie Engelbrecht and Carinus sprinting

I was quite a “windgat” kid, and was not scared of much, took the others on at their game, and won many races on both the track and the road. I signed up to ride for the Bic Team, after making it into the national track team with the top pro’s – only the late Fransie Kruger and I were still amateurs. Rodney Fowler and Jannie van der Berg were the drivers behind the Bic set-up, but that went sour after 20 months. It seemed as if the Bic HQ staff were siphoning the team budget dry. I got a message via my dad, while training in Belgium, that the team was being disbanded.

Carinus Lemmer sporting his BIC colours

I was quite grateful for how it all turned out – I was on the brink of getting into the local drug scene (performance enhancing), and was feeling quite “kak” about myself. I completed the 1991 season as a loner, riding for the local Shimano agency, where I was also a ‘rep. Then they went bang, owed me salaries, and I eventually “hung up the boots”. My brother Hendrik and some friends started riding MTB instead, very socially, but at least I did not have to stress about the “other stuff” any more.

CRANK: What is the difference in the local pro-elite circuit now as opposed to the late 1980s early 1990s “heydays”?

CL: Except for the short distances, and the lack of a decent racing calendar, not much. The fun riders and “wannabees” took over cycling, so when it rains, they stay in. I guess it is as simple as that?

CRANK: Could you tell us about racing in Belgium in the 1990s?

CL: I didn’t really race there – I trained many kilometers, attended some races when I was not too lazy, and used to finish in the front of the bunch. I did not try to race hard, as it was actually just training for the SA events. I had friends on the coast, and in Bruges, and spent quite a bit of time there, enjoying the Belgian culture. I am still quite keen to go live there, and perhaps race with the oldies.

CRANK: You were one of the pioneers of MTB racing in SA – your impressions on the growth of MTB?

CL: Phenomenal growth, but almost without anyone trying, it happened. Or, it happened despite all of us. To be polite, there are a few who did a lot, and the rest came naturally. We are having more and more venues open to us, even while the public invades off-limit spaces. Incidentally, I know quite a few landowners around Stellenbosch, where I live, and they are quite peeved with the culture of our space invaders who access private land without permission. I am setting up an exclusive pool of rides and riders, on a high-end exclusivity basis, since I am quite pissed off by the culture of grabbing that our co-riders have adopted. I hope that landowners (and I) can set much stricter controls.

CRANK: Why, in your opinion, are our elite MTBers doing so well on the road?

CL:There is no difference between the two. Except that some MTBers have better control of their bikes on dirt than the “roadies.” Other than that, they are all just cyclists, who follow similar programmes, and engage in similar sports.

CRANK: You organised the Giro del Capo a few years ago – how did this come about and what does organising a major road tour entail?

CL: I was peeved with the shutdown of the Tour de Eden, one of the Cycle Tour’s disasters, and I shat on Bellairs. Since I was assisting the Maties team with some good riders (preparing to give the pro’s a go) we were the “moer in” that organisers do not “dot the i’s” properly.

Bellairs came to see me, to pacify me, and I offered to get involved with the Giro, and perhaps more, in order to “show them how it’s done” – see, I am still windgat! Belllairs got me onto the Giro organising committee, and I put in an offer to play organiser in 2007. I changed a lot of things, spent 200k over their budget, and demonstrated that anything is possible, as long as you care. The Giro is not a “major” tour, since it rides around the Boland on repeat courses, and it uses the same old service providers for everything. It is therefor not too difficult to organise, except when one wants to bring about excitement and change. People would obviously disagree with me on this – but that is just their way of justifying their steep salaries.

CRANK: Are you still an active cyclist?

CL: Yes. I don’t ride with others much, mostly just me, my boet and Erik, around the local (permitted) dirt trails. I have given up riding on the road, since most motorists are potential murderers.