In the Saddle with Dylan McNicholas: Elite Racer, “Baby Master,” National Champion and Dad
Despite multiple wins, countless podium finishes and even a National Championship title, Dylan McNicholas has flown surprisingly under the radar this season. He’s won several New England races, including both days at Bay State, and podiumed in almost every race he entered this season. But it was after taking the win in the Masters 30-34 race in Madison, followed by an eighth place finish in the Elite Nationals race the next day, we realized that this racer needed to get on the radar, posthaste.
We finally caught up with the elusive McNicholas at Riverside Cycle in Newburyport, Massachusetts, at a shindig thrown for him and teammate Brian Wilichowski, who also took a National title in Madison, in the Men’s 35-39 race.
McNicholas sat down with us, but the interview itself took longer than normal: maybe because he kept being interrupted by friends and teammates congratulating him on his win, maybe because his three-year-old daughter Maeve came in mid-way and wanted to show off her stylish pink tutu and jeans combination, maybe because it was a party full of off-season cyclists convinced that putting an aero helmet on backwards and riding down a flight of stairs was a good idea. Or maybe it’s just because McNicholas makes for such an interesting interview: At 31, he’s only been racing for four years, and at the rate he’s going, we can only expect even more from him next season.
If anyone doubted that New England was a breeding ground for great cyclocross racers (ahem, Page, Powers, Johnson, Keough, Driscoll, Dombroski, Bruno Roy and the list goes on), well, McNicholas is more evidence to the contrary. In fact, this New Hampshire native has proved that it’s nurture, rather than nature, that makes New England such a hotbed for cyclocross success, since unlike most of the racers who’ve come out of the Northeast, he didn’t even get started until he was 27.
“I’ve been riding for about four years. I got into riding because I was racing motocross; I was never really good. I had some friends who were really good, pro guys, and the cycling thing is pretty big in moto racing now, they use it for training. Those guys were into it and somehow I ended up on a bike ride one day, I think in 2007, and we ended up riding 40 miles. I rode on a 60cm Trek, in shorts and a t-shirt, and I couldn’t believe I’d just ridden 40 miles and was super pumped about it. I bought a bike about a month later.”
And of course, after motocross, cyclocross just made sense. “The following year I did my first road races and one of my primary training partners had done some ’cross racing, and he said ‘You’ve gotta try ’cross.’ I had been doing OK on the road and he said, ‘You’re going to love it, it’s perfect; it’s just like motocross, in the dirt.’ So I bought one of his old frames and put together a P.O.S. bike.”
I had to ask: “How did you get this fast, starting so late in life?”
“I don’t know! I was always an athletic person. I was, like, the kid who had the skateboard. I always had a lot of energy, I got started, and it just took off. I think the fact that I had early success and I’m still seeing success on a regular basis, it’s sort of a momentum that you carry. It’s easier to keep the ball in the air when it’s already up there, you know?”
McNicholas recently became a part of the CyclocrossWorld.com team, and is thoroughly enjoying the experience. “It actually has a grassroots program with a fair amount of members and then the elite team with myself, Matt Ryan, Lyne Bessette and Nate Morse. I got with those guys the summer of last year to put something together. CyclocrossWorld.com was great, the equipment was unbelievable. We’re riding Cannondale Super-X’s with Zipp 303 wheels with Dugast Tires, Zipp bars, stems and seatposts, SRAM components. All that stuff together is pretty flippin’ sweet. I think my bike was 15.4 pounds. Pretty wild. Everybody on the team is friends, we had a good time at the races.”
He also rides for New England regional powerhouse CCB, on the road: “I have since my first year of road racing, that’s just where I’ll be. I have no special road aspirations though.”
So how does a single dad balance having a rambunctious three-year-old while training and racing?
“That’s a good question. She’s with her mom about half of the time, and my parents are very supportive. They’re really helpful. It takes a village, it really does. They help out quite a bit. My daughter goes to daycare where my mother works, so sometimes she can help with pick ups and drop offs.”
While juggling fatherhood and bike racing might be a struggle sometimes, it definitely has its perks. For example, McNicholas has a built-in fanbase. “Maeve does like watching me race. She’s definitely my number one fan. I can hear her! I heard her the second day at NBX. I was racing, and heard someone and thought ‘Is that my kid?’ so I had to look over, and it was, she was going berserk. So it’s really cool.”
But what about Maeve’s riding aspirations? “She has a little bike, she rides a little bit. She actually did the little race at Gloucester. She still talks about Jeremy Powers because he’s the man with the jelly beans. She’s like, ‘the man with the jelly beans said I did good. I liked him, he had jelly beans.’”
McNicolas isn’t just an East Coast racer though, and recently took the win in the Masters 30-34 National Championship race in Madison, even after a back row start thanks to a last-minute decision to race. And he almost didn’t race at all. Since he took the win by nearly two minutes, and according to announcer David Towle, “spanked the field harder than it’s legal to spank kids in Wisconsin,” it seems like he made the right call.
“I kicked the idea of racing the 30-34 race around with a couple people in the weeks coming into it. ‘Do I do it, Do I not?’ Some people were like, ‘Of course you should.’ And then I thought to myself, ‘I don’t know if I want to do it, I don’t know if I want to have the Masters Label thing,’ but people were just like, ‘Dude, you gotta do it because you’re eligible to do it. You have a good shot at it, you should do it.’ I hadn’t raced in a month, I didn’t know how I was going to ride, so at the last minute, I decided it will be the best thing for me to get some laps at race speed and try to open up, and that’s what I did and it worked out. So I’m happy.”
The following day, McNicholas found himself on the start line again, this time in the Elite race. He spent the first lap with the lead group, prompting a resurgence of New England pride among spectators and announcer Richard Fries. A frantic reporter trying to film the action actually paused in his filming to scream, “Go hahhhh-der, kid!” While McNicholas didn’t stay in the lead group that was eventually whittled down to five racers, he did keep his eighth place slot for the race: not a bad result for his first National Championship ever.
“I was actually really happy with that. I wasn’t sure I was going to go so originally, going in, the goal was to be inside of the top 10. It worked out. I’d have liked to have stayed on the front group a little longer. The way things worked out, at the beginning of the race, I probably was a little too much on the throttle, too much in the wind on the first lap. I came off the front group at the top of the climb and then they went up and slowed down a bit. The goal was to make the lead group going onto the pavement, to make that split, try to recover, and it didn’t work out but I was able to hang in.”
But the big question remained: Did Saturday’s victory hurt McNicholas’s chances for staying with that lead group on Sunday?
“It did take a little bit out of me I think, physically, but I think it actually was helpful. The conditions were similar, a little tackier on Sunday but still very slippery. Saturday was a little sloppier, a little more mud. It definitely helped though.”
At this point in our interview, Maeve interjected, asking McNicolas, “Who’s your friend?” as she twirled in her pink tutu.
“This is Molly,” he explained, “And she’s doing an interview, asking me questions, so you can’t yell, OK?”
Apparently, my interviewing technique is lacking, because Maeve quickly wandered away in search of more fun people to hang out with.
So, I ask, putting the interview back on track, despite the fact that the party was starting to heat up (as much as a party full of Masters racers with their families and kids heats up at 7 PM on a Saturday night), “What was your favorite race of the year? And you can’t say Nationals.”
“But … I almost want to say Nationals though, it was a good course for me. I had fun on it, it was really fun to ride, the crowd was awesome, having a great result was awesome, so I almost have to say Nationals, not even because of the result but because the whole thing, altogether, was great. My family was out there, they were super supportive, there were a lot of people cheering for me and being supportive, and to finish up with a really good race, just see how psyched they were was fantastic for me.”
But what’s the future look like for McNicholas? Europe? USGPs? New England?
“I want to go to Europe next year really bad, but that just comes down to financials and logistics. The logistics is almost more difficult than the finance part of it. So yes, if I can put a couple things together, I really want to go next year, I’m not going to go for a long duration, I’d like to do four or five races.
I’d like to do a handful of GPs, but to be honest, right now New England is awesome. The racing is super good early in the season, there’s a large handful of European guys so the racing is equally hard, and the series has overall money. It’s a lot of fun, and I can drive two hours from my house every single weekend to do this. It’s more cost effective and it’s less stress than getting on a plane all the time.”
And as for McNicholas’s future in cycling, I ask the final question: “Is this what you want to do professionally?”
“I mean, that’s the goal. I don’t know if I’m beating my head against the wall or not, but I feel like I’m taking all the right steps in trying to do it, and I’m still seeing progress, so I’m not ruling it out.”
Afterwards, I was chatting with McNicholas’s mother, and she was regaling me with stories of her granddaughter, who was spending the party convincing her dad that having another cookie was a good idea for her. “She is his biggest fan,” his mother told me, pointing at Maeve. “During the Elite race at Nationals, we were cheering and Dylan’s father said, ‘OK, he’s in a good position, he just needs to stay where he is,’ and Maeve spent the rest of the race yelling to Dylan to ‘stay where you are!’”
Of course, this begs the question: how does Maeve feel about the “man with the jelly beans,” Mr. Jeremy Powers, now that he took the win at Nationals ahead of her dad?
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