Neko Mulally – The Interview, Part II

Part two of our interview with Neko Mulally, the young American downhill racer. If you missed it, part One of the interview with Neko is here.

Favourite World Cup track?

I think Mont Sainte Anne, I am familiar with the east coast soil type, and I feel like that although riding in the wet isn’t necessarily that nice, I seem to do well in races when it rains. The track is longer than most too, too many tracks have become so tame and really short which makes it so hard to separate yourself from the other riders, times become so tight and the fitness aspect of the racing doesn’t really apply. So Mont Sainte Anne gives the opportunity to set you apart from others.

Neko racing on his favourite World Cup Track, Mont Sainte Anne. Photo by Gary Perkin

You had a pretty wild crash there last year, are you not afraid of that track now?

Yea, that was a bad crash, it happened so fast! That was the worst concussion I’ve ever had, I only remember being up the top and warming up before the start and my brother was there, in the start gate he gave me a pat on my back before I left and that is the last thing I remember. I recall laying on the backboard of the ambulance four wheeler asking where I was knowing that I had already asked but not remembering the answer to the question, haha. Sure, a gnarly crash but still it is one of my favourite tracks and I’m not scared to go back there this year.

What excites you the most for your 2013 season?

The schedule excites me, the opportunity to return home during the season is always so refreshing and the season layout allows that. The World Champs in South Africa is something I’m really looking forward to also, I have done well there and the place is so enjoyable to visit. If you take out the flat middle section, it is the best track! The top section is wide-open, high speed, big jumps and the lower section is so fast. Practice runs are so much fun there I love it, and on race day the fitness aspect of it makes it for a well-rounded track. It’s worth noting though that the same guys you see on the podium at that track you see all year round proving that its not just a track for the fit riders.

Smiles and relaxed, that was Neko.

We hear about riders using pre-season races to get themselves ‘up to speed’ before it really counts at the World Cup, what is that all about?

I find that so much of going fast in in your mind and I think that being able to go to pre-season races and practicing on a race track is far better than just a regular downhill track. That mindset and that focus you maintain at a race can be practiced before hand if you prepare with a lead up event, and helps you feel comfortable when it’s time to race. Simply put, the best way to bring you up to speed is to start racing.

Do you think the southern hemisphere riders have an advantage of a never-ending summer and continual race season?

Always racing and riding the race equipment has an advantage for sure, and the weather helps for all year around training, but there is a disadvantage that I see. Coming from the southern hemisphere means that you have to travel for so long, six months away from home is hard. By the end of the season where the most important races are, it’s hard to keep yourself in that mindset of racing fast after such a long time on the road. You don’t want to be thinking at the World Champs or World Cup finals “one more run and I get to go home”. I like the ability to decompress after the season and get back into a building mode to prepare for the next.

Neko during the fourth round of the UCI MTB World Cup. Photo by Gary Perkin

Why do you think there are generations of countries enjoying success in numbers in the World Cup? It feels like it was French, Aussies, British and now Kiwis are up the top a lot?

I wouldn’t put it down to their geographic location, rather the fact that when you see someone close to you, someone you know doing well it helps you rise up also. As you can clearly see that you can do it too. Since Aaron Gwin has been at the top we’ve seen it with the US riders.

Who should we be keeping an eye out for from The States?

Mitch Ropelato, he has so much talent and speed, and when he begins to find consistency he will be doing very well. I just see so much natural talent, you see it when he rides the pump track and slalom races, it seems like he does not even have to think about what he is doing, it’s all just action, reaction and instinct. All it will take for him will be time, experience and for him to transfer those skills from the small bikes to a downhill bike, and we will see great things.

Would you say you have much in common with Troy Brosnan?

Our same age has brought us to be in many common situations, and we both used Crankworx to come from nowhere and break onto the international scene. There were no juniors on big teams at that stage, and now there is. Otherwise, we differ a lot in riding style, Troy comes from a drier climate but I’ve grown up on wet trails. He’s a lot smaller and lighter than I am, and hence more agile and nimble on the bike. You can definitely tell that his great natural talent carries him a long way too. With my size I probably find it easier to carry speed and be more powerful. I like that there is great contest there, and we are opposite in many ways. We have both had the same goals at the same time, and he’s the guy that I wanted to beat each weekend!

Tourist in a gloomy Manly.

How has the way you set up your bike changed over the years?

I’d have to say that since I’ve been on the team with Aaron, I have been running my suspension a lot more aggressive and stiffer. Even though he is lighter than I am, his suspension settings are just as stiff, so I thought if he is getting away with it then I could too. I’ve been pushing the limit of how stiff I can make my bike; as it is going to go faster and carry more speed and go through holes in the track quicker but can you still hold on to it? It’s a fine line and most definitely not the stiffer the better.

When you say stiffer, is that in relation to spring rates or compression damping?

I’ve been keeping my settings pretty much the same and simply upping the spring rates.

How does a stiffer setting help you carry speed?

When you are racing, you don’t want the bike to conform to the terrain, as you would in general trail riding, you want to bounce over it. If you watch James Stewart through a whoop section on a motocross track, he’s not conforming to the terrain; he’s going straight over the top. In cornering though if your settings are too stiff your bike is going to want to push and lose traction, it’s a fine line. We do so much pre-season testing with Fox, and even at the races we are experimenting little bits here and there to help match the track.

How did you feel when you heard the news of your teammate Aaron Gwin leaving for Specialized?

I can understand from his point why he wanted to do this, where he lives is quite close to Specialized, and the SoCal scene revolves around the people he’d be working with now. To have the opportunity to call your own shots and run your own program is clear, but I was a bit disappointed. To be honest, I signed up to a team to be the second rider to Aaron, not that it’s a deal breaker but being able to gain the experience from Aaron through practicing, living and travelling with him is very valuable. But it won’t change my plans or goals, and I know I will learn a lot from Brook Macdonald who is joining the team. The team will be so young this year, all three of us under the age of 23.

Neko racing in South Africa.

Who should we be watching this coming season?

Me, first of all, ha. But I think Brook is in for a great season, with the best support available and when he gets on the bike with the great suspension and goes as fast as he does, he’ll be able to hold it together so much more. I’d also keep an eye out for Mick Hannah, with the season the way it is, the tracks are in his favour.

What junior impresses you the most?

I’ve been racing Richie Rude for a while now; he’s very fast and consistent. He was racing against junior world champion Loic Bruni last year, but he’s moved up into seniors now, I think we will see Richie rise to his full capabilities this year.

What is your favourite way to celebrate with your team after a good race?

After Anton Cooper won the junior worlds for cross country, we all just sat back in the pits with his family and the team, mechanics, pizza and some beers and had such a great time. Beautiful day, and a beautiful moment, it feels so good after the race when the pressure is off and you’ve accomplished your goals.

All Neko wanted was a surf.

Thanks Neko, for your time, and an excellent interview.

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