After 5 years with Trek World Racing, young American phenom Neko Mulally is moving on to Swiss-er pastures with the Gstaad-Scott Factory Racing Team powered by Fox. We recently spent some time with the chainless wunderkind to discuss the move and his plans for the future. The last time many of us saw you, you were tearing down the Hafjell track without a chain. Can you break that day down for us?
That day goes back to the beginning of the season for me. I had a good start to the year. I did well in South Africa and in Australia I had a really strong ride. I was running at the front all year; top 5 or 10 for the first part of the season. But World Cup finals were pretty shitty for me. I was nervous there because I wanted to finish in the top 10 overall. That was my goal for the year. I was 9th going into the race. I never really got comfortable that weekend and was feeling a lot of pressure that I was putting onto myself. I flatted during my race run and was pretty disappointed with that. It just wasn’t my day. After that we went to World Champs and I wasn’t feeling any pressure because my goals were more about the World Cup season and less about World Champs.
Going into Norway, I was thinking that the season is done and that this race won’t really have an effect on anything; you just go out and have a good time and do the best you can. Hafjell is a fun track and everyone likes it, so everyone feels good. I wasn’t sure if I was really going fast or if that’s just pretty much how everyone is going to feel there. But I felt good in practice and I just knew that today was going to be a good day. I stayed relaxed. My mind was in the right place at the start. That’s something I had been working on all year, just trying to get myself in the zone when I’m in the start gate. I think I did a good job of that at World Champs.
And then my chain came off. I just couldn’t accept that. Not today. I crashed during a podium race run at Windham. I flatted at World Cup finals when I was trying to defend my top 10 spot for the year. I was just pissed off and was just like, “You know what? I’m just going to pin it as hard as I can.” I had spent time working out what I thought was going to be a really good run, so I was at least going to ride all of my lines properly. I wanted the satisfaction of hitting every section as I had planned. I knew that it was going to be important to put out a good effort since this was the last chance I would have to do anything all year. I did the best that I could and as I was coming into the finish, I was thinking that it was a decent, but by no means great run. I rode all of the sections well but I had no clue that it was going to be what it was. While I was coasting into the finish, I took a look at the scoreboard because I didn’t really have anything else to do at the moment and I saw the green. I didn’t think that it could be right.
I crossed the line and everyone was going crazy and as I turned around I saw the time was still green. It didn’t make any sense. I broke my chain at the start. It was a weird feeling. It was one of those things you could never plan. I went over my race run a lot through my head and it didn’t involve anything that happened. All of my pedaling would have changed things; my lines and braking points were all different. I just went off of instinct during my run. It made for such a great story and experience. I don’t know. I’m 21 years old and I’m going to have a lot more opportunities to try and win that race so I wouldn’t trade what happened for anything. It was a cool experience and I’m glad that I had the chance to make it happen. How did things begin to transpire after World Champs?
You’re only as good as your last race, so to finish the season on such a high note was really helpful going into an offseason where I was looking to make a change. I think that after World Champs, teams saw that I could be a podium and lead rider. I wanted to make myself into exactly what a team would be looking for. Someone who isn’t a super high dollar, winning right now guy. But someone who has shown all of the signs of being able to be at the front but hasn’t yet reached their potential. I’m still able to be taught a lot, so I think that teams are looking for that in a lead rider. Plus being an American helps a lot. I had a lot of great offers this year and it was a hard decision for sure. Trek has supported me really well for the past 5 years. When I was 16, they gave me an awesome opportunity. The whole Trek brand just seems like a big family and I was definitely bummed to leave that dynamic. It just seemed like after 5 years, it was the right time to split. I felt like I reached my full potential on that team and I was just ready for change and a new challenge. That’s already given me so much motivation going into next season. What about the Gstaad-Scott program has you so excited about the future?
Initially, Claudio reached out to me and explained that they were really looking for a top rider. They want as many podiums as possible and want to focus their resources on that goal. Claudio as a person was incredibly appealing to me. I’ve always looked at him as a really good dude. Their offer was definitely eye catching. It was good to see a company being willing to support their riders like that. It was also important for me to be able to stick with Fox and Shimano. Fox has supported me for so long and that ended up being one of the biggest factors. So Claudio sent Fox a bike and I flew out to California to test it out for a few days with the Fox crew. I figured if anybody could make this work it would be them.
I put that thing to the test for about two weeks. For my riding style, the bike works really well. So I had this whole big list of every option I had and the pros and cons with each. The holdup with Scott was that the bike was unproven to me. Once I rode it and spent some time on it, the bike became a huge positive. It became clear then that they were definitely the best option. I think that a lot of it also has to do with the people behind it. Claudio is just a great dude. We have Cyril as our team coach. He has a ton of podiums and knows what it takes. He raced in the era of Vouilloz and Barel and will be working directly with the riders and can help with logistics from the point of view of someone who has been there before.
Brendan and I will each have our own mechanic too. Brendan’s mechanic, Ben, is a super nice guy. I like him a lot. He’s exactly the kind of person you’d want as your head mechanic. I get to have my brother Logan as my mechanic, which is awesome. He’s going to help keep me in a good mood and will fit in really well with the team. We have a physio-massage-cook who is great. Last year, she provided physio for a bunch of athletes and did an awesome job. We have 6 staffers for 2 riders, which is just a great ratio. Brendan is an awesome rider and a good dude to be around. He’s a professional who also knows how to have a good time. We’re really different, but I think I can learn a lot from him. He might be able to learn from me as well, but my approach to riding isn’t really his style. But I know that I can get a lot out of him and I’m pumped on that.
Behind all of that you have the team from Scott. Ben Walker and the engineering team are great. Ben’s an American dude who now lives in Switzerland, which is where I met him a few years ago. He’s great at relating rider feel to other engineers. Those guys are going to come to a lot of races and they’re going to be at some test events this winter. Having that opportunity is going to be pretty sweet. All of these personalities backing the team is what made the difference. Having only two riders also helps us focus on our performances. You recently took a trip to Switzerland to spend some time with the team. How did that go for you?
Once I got the chance to go to Switzerland after signing the contract and meet everyone as a part of the team, I knew the whole time I was there that this was the right choice. They all made me feel like this was the situation that I needed to be in. Not only am I confident that they’re going to be focused on the same things I am, I am just going to look forward to being at the races every weekend and hanging out with these guys. I’d rather be there than anywhere else. That’s a great mindset to have as an athlete. What are your expectations going into the next season?
I feel like I learn a lot every season. My learning curve is better now than it has ever been. When I was a kid, I had trouble processing everything. Now I feel like I’m at a point where I am picking up all of the details and doing all of the little things right. I had a great year in 2014, but I feel like I can do so many things better. I trained really hard and prepared well. But having done that, now I feel like I can do it even better than before. For 2015, I want to ride the way I did in Australia, Windham and Hafjell everytime I get on my bike. If I can do that, I know that I will do pretty well. Any course previews with Claudio?
That’s his thing and I think that he’s going to be doing some announcing too, which is really cool. He’s so good with the media and that actually helps our team with the budget. Everybody knows Claudio and when I tell people he’s going to be my manager, they already know who he is because of those previews on Red Bull TV. You know what? I’ve never actually watched any of his videos with the sound on
. Everyone says how funny they are too. I’ll actually use them to look at a line and figure some things out. But the sound is always off. I have friends from home who don’t even ride bikes and when I tell them that this guy is going to be my team manager, they’re all so stoked. They never know how he manages to talk so much while he's riding these courses. No one does, apparently! What can you tell us about what you'll be running this season? Stock frame? Size and components?
Right now I’m running a stock Gambler. Everything is as you can buy it. The only difference is that I’m running the new Fox Air Shock. It’s at the point where it’s every bit as good and in a lot of ways better than the coil shock. I’m not running the air shock to compensate, I’m running it because it’s just better than the coil shock. For the season, I think that the plan is to have some lighter weight stuff built for it. The Gambler is a really adjustable bike. The settings that I have found that work best for me are a long wheelbase and a low head angle at 63 degrees. It’s adjustable in either direction by up to 2 degrees. I prefer it right in the middle. I’ll be on a large frame with an offset headset to stretch out the cockpit a little bit. I like to race bikes that are a little bit larger for my height than what I should be running. For the kind of riding that we do, I feel like a longer bike is a lot more stable. It’s not really necessary for everyday trail riding, but when you’re going really fast it helps. I’m really stoked with how it feels and I’m really liking the new Schwalbe Procore system as well. This is my first time with Schwalbe and it's been great so far. I’ve also never ridden a full DT Swiss wheelset; just their hubs up to this point. I’m really impressed with how strong they are. I usually blow shit up and I haven’t been able to yet with these. They’re really nice wheels. It was an easy change though by sticking with Fox and Shimano. Suspension is the most important thing, so I am able to swap over and already know how things are going to work. I know how to set up a fork and shock really well and am familiar with all of the adjustments that I can make. It made the transition a lot easier for me. This year you're largely responsible for the acquisition of new sponsors, which is a departure from the Trek World Racing packages. Who else is supporting you and how were these new relationships determined?
The team is set up nicely with Velosolutions, Gstaad Bike World, Scott Sports, Fox Racing Shox, Syncros, DT Swiss, Schwalbe, Shimano and E*Thirteen. On my end I worked out a really good deal with Royal Racing. I’ve been working with them for the last 4 years and they’re now an American company. They make really nice, bicycle specific gear. It’s really functional clothing and I wrote to them first when I had the option to work out my own gear deal. We worked out a really good deal for both of us. They’re going to put together some custom kits for me this year as well. We’re going to do something cool for World Champs and are looking to do something really over the top and patriotic for Windham. I’ve had great support in the past from Kabuta Helmets, but Bell really wanted to make something happen with me as an American brand. They invited me to take a tour of their place while I was out testing with Fox. I’ve always thought that their helmets were really nice and comfortable and I’m really stoked to be riding in their gear this year. It just feels really good on my head and it’s one of the safest products on the market. I do plenty of stupid things already so it’s nice to have them keeping my head safe.
I’m also with Five Ten again. They’ve been great to me in the past. They’re the best shoes on the market so I reached out to them right away. The guys over at Marsh Guard have taken good care of me for a long time and I'm stoked to continue representing them. Stages Power Meters is supporting me as well. I use power a lot during my winter training and they set me up with power meters for all of my bikes and some spares to take with me to Europe. I’m really stoked to have their support and help with my training. The biggest one of them all though is Oskar Blues Brewery. Oskar Blues is an All-American company with one of their breweries being here in Brevard, so it feels like a hometown relationship. We’ve been working together for a while to get this going and we finally have a clear vision of how we can help each other. I’m going to be in a Dale’s Pale Ale helmet this year. Dale’s is their flagship beer and it’s the best goddamn beer in the world. It’s cool because, for anyone who doesn’t already know, the can is red, white and blue and so my helmet should really reflect some patriotism. They have a big following in the outdoor industry and I’ll be able to introduce them to the downhill world. I just think that most of the people watching these races would much rather have a beer in their hand than an energy drink.
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