Dylan McNicholas did not expect to become a pro cyclist.
His first ride of note was on a beat-up, 60cm Trek. A couple of friends from motocross were cross training and McNicholas was up for the challenge. He wore baggy shorts and a baggy jersey. For 42 miles, he hung on, wondering the whole time if he would survive. He did, to his own amazement.
He bought his first bike a week later. He was hooked.
On that bike, ten mile training rides become more frequent. He starting showing up at local races for the fun of it. Then he starting earning spots on the podium. That was fun too.
Winning races moved him up to the CCB International team for road racing and an amateur spot on Cannondale Cyclocrossworld Team. He raced road races and the cyclocross circuit, putting in long hours of training, traveling across the country for races. It was a lifestyle he had never imagined for himself. It had a luster, with the team kit, the travel, the corporate sponsorship. But it was grueling and came with almost no salary. The luster, especially as a single dad, began to wear.
A few seasons later, it hit him. Mid-race during the elite men’s Baystate Cyclocross event, he was done. He rode through the tape, went to his car, and left. He didn’t finish the season. “It was a relief. I knew I had hit a saturation point with frustration and fatigue,” McNicholas remembers. He sold all his gear and lost his UCI points. He knew he wasn’t done for good, but he was done for now.
McNicholas set no expectations for a return to the racing scene. He did his own thing, riding here and there. A year later, he joined cycling friends for casual group ride. Polartec CEO Gary Smith was there and the two rode together. Smith asked if McNicholas was doing a local race that weekend. McNicholas, who hadn’t planned on it, said, “Sure.” Smith eyed McNicholas’ less-than-pristine borrowed bike. “You can’t ride on that crap bike. Come see me this week.”
That weekend, McNicholas got third on a Ridley borrowed from Smith. There was no pressure, no “win this race or else” atmosphere. Without UCI points, the road back to the racing circuit was not smooth. But with the unwavering support of a new sponsor, Polartec, the bumps in the road weren’t deal breakers. They were stepping stones back into the sport.
McNicholas knows he’s no spring chicken. “I’m getting older and consistency is getting harder. I do the training, do the work. Sometimes it all comes together and sometimes it doesn’t. I’m learning to deal with it.” He’s more flexible with his training, starting the fall season with an endurance mountain bike race instead of the usual cyclocross event. For him, two wheels on the trails of New Hampshire keeps the stoke alive during the season.
Back on the cyclocross course, momentum builds one race at time. It’s not always linear but it is on his terms.
Catch McNicholas racing at the Gloucester Grand Prix, October 14–15.