Editor’s Note: Interviews and words by SCOTT Sports/Zack Vestal with photos by John “Jay” Schultz.
Although they specialize in nearly polar opposite competitive disciplines, riders Neko Mulally (Gstaad-SCOTT) and Erin Huck (SCOTT-3Rox) met up for four days of riding outside of Asheville, North Carolina, in early December. Like most competitive athletes, they each are using the off season to step back, review the season past, and plan for the year ahead. And while they wouldn’t seem to have much in common other than occasionally crossing paths at the same UCI venue, they both have “home improvement” projects for the winter.
Neko is coming off his first season with Gstaad-SCOTT and he’s trying to get back to the form that saw him snag 4th in the 2014 downhill World Championships. In Erin’s case, after her first year with 3Rox, she’s honing her technical skills in anticipation of a full World Cup XC season and a potential Olympic berth.
Challenges in the rearview mirror for Neko
Reflecting on 2015, Neko said, “I came off a really good result at the end of 2014, got on the new bike, the new team, and was riding on a high of confidence and excitement, but maybe not managing my time well. I was just riding my DH bike all winter,” he said.
“Then I got to the first race, got a flat tire, and after that, went to the first national where I crashed and hurt my shoulder,” Neko continued. “After that I had to take time off and then immediately go to Europe. All season in Europe, I just didn’t have the feeling I wanted on the bike after the crash.”
At home in Brevard, Neko views the past season as a chance to move ahead for 2016. “Now that the season has been over I’m looking at it with a different perspective,” he said. “Since the end of the season I’ve taken a lot of steps to turn it around for next year, so that I can come back and get better than I ever have.”
“I’m disappointed that I didn’t have the results I wanted this year and I want to do better for everybody, mainly myself,” Neko concluded. “I’m doing what it takes to do better again and I’m excited to see what happens.”
Erin anticipates World Cup opportunity
Erin exits 2015 with a different set of opinions, following her first year with SCOTT-3Rox. “I’ve never been on a pro team before so that was really next level in terms of support,” said Erin. “The Windham World Cup was a highlight – I managed to get 12th there. To have such a result told me, ‘hey, I’m right there, I can do this!’”
As well, Erin was one of just four American women invited to participate in the Rio Olympic XC test event, and it gave her a nudge to keep pushing her cycling career forward.
So to better focus on racing, she’s taking a leave of absence in 2016 from her professional, non-athletic career. “I work for a biomedical device company. I started as an engineer and now I’m a program manager. I’ve been with them for 10 years and I work 32 hours a week,” said Erin.
That explains the short four days in Brevard. “I’m still working so I have limited time that I can be out of the office,” said Erin. But starting in February, she will be able direct her full attention to racing.
“Going into 2016 I really want to focus more on the world cups and make them even a bigger priority,” said Erin. “So I identified that improving my confidence with descending is an area that I can work on.”
The Brevard ride camp: December 2015
And so after meeting up at the World Championships, Erin planned her trip to Brevard. “Our SCOTT team pitted with the Gstaad team at worlds in Andorra,” said Erin. “I got to meet Neko there and we just talked about our routines at home where we’re from and he mentioned how awesome the riding was in Brevard, North Carolina, where he lives.”
Erin continued, “I was like, that sounds great, like exactly what I need to work on – riding technical trails with more roots and rocks and wet conditions. Most of what I have on my home trails in Boulder, Colorado is dry, sandy rocks,” she explained.
With unseasonably warm and dry conditions in early December, the two riders didn’t get the wet, slippery conditions that Erin was looking for. But every day for four days in a row, they spent up to 4.5 hours on the bikes, looking for challenging terrain.