What does a professional bike racer do when he retires? David Millar went into commentating for ITV, some like Bjarne Riis end up as directeur sportif, while Chris Hoy is trying his hand at racing cars at Le Mans. So we were intrigued to meet Marc Lotz, formerly of Dutch team Rabobank who had recently returned from an 18-month tour of Africa, not on a bike, but in a converted fire engine!
Marc took part in the Tour de France five times as a domestique for his team. He also won the prestigious Haut Var in France and came second in the Brabantse Pijl. As a professional for Rabobank from 1997 to 2004, then a year with Quickstep, he also rode la Vuelta a España as well as countless other races in Europe.
When he retired from bike racing in 2005, Marc was not sure what direction his life should take:
Marc trained as a Maths teacher and taught at a secondary school in Valkenburg for a time until he and his wife, Els, felt the call of the road. Els had been a flight attendant so had seen all the capitals of the world while, other than a few holidays together in Zanzibar and Cabo Verde Islands, Marc’s experiences of travelling were limited to the European pro cyclist circuit of the time.
They decided that they were going to drive across the entire continent of Africa, an ambitious undertaking given that Els had never even been camping before! The first step was to find a suitable vehicle.
‘Beast’ as it soon became known, was a German 1970 former fire engine that had been transformed into a house on wheels. It only had 86,000km on the clock and weighed 5,200kg for which they had to get a special licence.
Marc and Els left Holland in Beast with their dog, a boxer full of character called Bixx, on 2nd January 2015, setting off across Europe to Spain where they took the ferry to Morocco. From there they followed the west coast of Africa all the way down to South Africa. Their travels continued for eighteen months until they returned home in May of this year.
They have shared some wonderful experiences along the way but their favourite countries were: "Cameroon for its lush forests, beautiful hills and chilled population. And Namibia, with its arid desert landscapes and contrasting coast lines. We also had a chance to spot the big five there!"
Keeping up to date with the cycling world was difficult on their tour: "I saw a stage of the TDF in a Mercure hotel in Togo and in SA, after asking the waiter to change the channel from rugby into cycling, I watched some classics in April," said Marc
Did his former life as a professional cyclist help him at all? "Yes, because I’m still in good shape. And no - because as a cyclist you just have to follow the signs and now I have to find my own way!"
The couple also encountered their fair share of dangerous situations - crossing so-called No Man’s land between Morocco and Mauritania, for instance, a strip of 3km full of dumped cars, trucks, fridges, tyres and tales of land mines and bandits who will direct you into a sand bank then gladly pull you out for a few hundred Euros.
"Then there was a, 'chef du village' in Cameroon who was on drugs and was yelling at us that we were from Boko-Haram and kamikazes. But we would just spend the night there. And a crazy driver in Benin who crashed his SUV in our truck."
But their life on the road remained an overwhelmingly positive one. Marc was happy to turn his back on cycling for a while. He took a small folding bike with him to pick up groceries and a friend brought out his mountain bike to South Africa which he used quite a bit afterwards. But other than that, the nomadic lifestyle suited them. Reaching the end of the Continent they decided to leave the truck in Africa and return home for a while.
A man of my own heart, Marc is very much a fair weather cyclist these days. How often does he get out on a bike? "Only when the sun is shining, let’s say once in a week/two weeks. But then, when I’m on my bike again I say to myself. Why I don’t go more often? Sometimes a company asks me to go for a ride with their employees. Then you achieve good teamwork and they always go home with a big smile on their face."
He’s also somewhat of a local celebrity in his home region of Limburg where he is asked to appear on TV shows, at Limburg’s recent Eroica event for example. Els is expecting a baby now but despite that, it seems this intrepid couple are not ready to settle down to domestic bliss in Limburg. "I quickly started to get bored. For example: Now I walk the dog three times a day the same route!"
Not surprisingly, they plan to return to Africa, pick up their truck and continue their travels across the Continent.
It’s fantastic to meet a former professional sportsman with so much character. Marc and Els have such a great spirit for adventure and an alternative and inventive outlook on life that opens up a whole new world for them. Any retiring sportsman should take note of what Marc has achieved in his life after competing at the highest level. Yes, there is life after a being a professional bike racer! Marc and Els, we wish you the very best of luck on your next adventure, this time as a family.
You can follow Marc and Els on their journey through their blog, Lotz of Miles