Zach McDonald doesn’t care what you think about him. “I should probably get better at networking,” the former U23 National Champion and current Elite Nationals silver medalist admits ruefully as we sit in the shade of Bear Creek Resort talking, after he’s dropped out of the last U23 MTB National Championships that he’ll ever be eligible for. He’s still dripping with sweat, and when he gets up, the stone slab he was sitting on is soaked.
For a racer known for his stand-offish attitude and aggressive racing style, and despite the sun beating down angrily on us, he doesn’t seem to fit any of the adjectives that I’ve heard tossed around describing him. He seems exactly like what he really is: a 22-year-old raised on his bike, racing and being compared to men often 10 years his senior, men with more base miles both on the bike and in playing the game. McDonald is a rare breed in this industry: he’s never learned the art of being politically correct. It should terrify sponsors, but he hasn’t had trouble with that so far. Unflinchingly honest, during the course of our conversation he rarely requests to go “off-the-record,” even when I almost wish he would. He’s genuine, even if it isn’t always appreciated. “Look behind Zach’s brash image, which is no façade,” Rapha-Focus team director Jeff Rowe explains, “And there is an extremely dedicated and professional athlete.” But who is he?
Team Rapha-Focus’ Oldest Member
Most people don’t realize it since Powers often eclipses the team, but McDonald is the longest-running team member on the Rapha-Focus crew. Since Rapha is based out of the Northwest, and McDonald lives in Washington, he has a history with them. He opens up more talking about the team management than his teammates, and seems closer with them: Not surprising since he interacts with them far more regularly. “We have such awesome support and guys who will do anything for us,” he explained.
When I asked if he feels closer to the support crew versus his fellow racers, he hedged a bit. “We’ve been interacting for longer. We have an extra year and a half on any of the teammates, and you always should be close with your mechanic.”
He added, “The guys at Focus are awesome. We’re super close knit. No matter who I call there, they recognize my voice on the phone.” For someone who seems to sit on the outskirts of the scene, training alone, racing half as a U23 and half as an Elite racer, often considered the ‘quiet one’ on the team, this relationship with his team management is telling. McDonald isn’t an emotional racer or person: He’s surgical in his line choices in a race; he’s precise with his words when he’s being interviewed. He doesn’t mince words, and he’s not afraid to shoulder someone to get around them on the course. If he was in a reality TV show, it’s a safe bet that he’d be the person who confesses to the cameras, “I ain’t here to make friends.”
Of course, often that same character has a breakdown over the course of the show and becomes best friends with his or her initial enemy, and similarly, when I asked Johnson if he had anything else to add about McDonald, his response was simple, and extremely heartfelt. “Zach would hate for anyone to know what a nice guy he is, and how much respect he has for all of the other bike racers out there.”
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