The State of U.S. Downhill Racing According to Neko Mulally
When USA Cycling announced the 2019 Pro GRT schedule two months ago, there were grumblings from the downhill community. The grumblings were justified. Only four national level downhill races scantily filled the calendar, down from six in 2018. A 33-percent decrease in the number of DH competitions is easy to view as a snub by America's cycling governing body. Completely understanding that it takes a village to host a DH race and that the responsibility does not fall on USAC alone, it still felt gross and a "Norba Hates You" comment on that schedule article resonated cut all too deeply.
Interview and photos by Jack Rice
I figured every gravity racer, especially serious professionals, would feel the same way about the 2019 scheudle. That's until an audio interview from Neko Mulally came in from Windrock this past weekend. Neko Mulally, World Cup DHer and man behind the first Pro GRT of 2019, The Tennessee National at Windrock, said, "I think the schedule is awesome." That surprised me. I know Neko is patient and lives a deliberate, focused life and figured maybe he's just stoked because his personal race is catching on and doing well with World Cup-level talent showing up. He put some logic behind his optimism, however. It's not perfect, but the reasoning has merit and gave me some hope, too.
Some of Neko's reasoning includes the benefit of a front-of-the-season-loaded series with all four Pro GRT races wrapped by mid June. Neko says this is perfect for racers so they're not "burned out, broken or broke." He praises the fact the races are spread out across the calendar evenly. Throw in National Champs (July) and The U.S. Open (September) and, "we have six really big races in the country." The Open is not part of the Pro GRT, but it's a significant DH race that pulls some weight, so fair enough. The U.S. Open existed last year, however, so there are still two fewer national-level DH races in 2019, but maybe quality is more important than quantity. Neko has the spirit of a giant redwood; slow, steady and with vision for great heights. His perception that the prestige of DH racing in the United States is on an upward trajectory was a pleasant surprise to my ears. -gordo