No matter how unfashionable Facebook (and all things Mark Zuckerberg) may have become these days (especially with the younger set), I remain thankful for having access to it. And no, I’m not talking about the numerous cat videos or adverts for designer sunglasses that fill the page, but rather the site’s handy, big-picture ability to keep up with old friends, as well as discover a wide variety of cycling stories. And, it was on a recent scroll through my FB page that I was able to accomplish both of those in one fell swoop.
Marc Gullickson was a long-ago mountain bike racer who I first befriended when he showed up on the national circuit as a Team Iron Horse rider in 1992. For the next decade I followed Marc’s career as he served out successive stints on the Volvo-Cannondale (1994–’95), Team GT (1996–’98) and Mongoose-Hyundai (1999–’02) squads. Oh yeah, late in his mountain bike career Marc discovered cyclocross racing where he would achieve his greatest success by winning multiple championship titles. The last thing I knew about Marc was that he had taken a job at USA Cycling as the program director for the national mountain bike and cyclocross teams.
But, it was a post by Marc’s wife, Margy, that caught my attention, and it had less to do with Marc and more to do with celebrating their 22-year-old son, Finn, and his top-10 finish at this year’s road nationals. Not that I was surprised to find that Marc and Margie had a son, or that he was a bike racer, but that he was an aspiring road racer did make me sit up and take notice. And then days later I saw another post from Margie, only this time it featured even younger son Leo, who, too, was an aspiring road racer.
By then it was simply all too much for me to not want to chase Marc down to find out more about the family dynamic, and how it came to be that two of his kids had decided to pick up the torch and chase the dream of being professional bike racers.
WHAT THE OLD MAN SAYS
Both of your kids want to be pro bike racers. You must’ve forced them into it, right?
Not at all. I think you know me, and I don’t really have that kind of forceful personality. I actually tried to be hands off with it, but it all started to come about when they would join me at the USA Cycling development camps in Germany. Just from hanging out with riders like Sepp Kuss, Neilson Powless and Chris Blevins, they fell into the whole environment, and when we came home, they each started getting more serious with racing.
My parents were good at letting me do what I wanted, and I learned from them about just doing my best to act as a good guardrail. The funny thing is that, like Finn, I also spent time racing in Europe as an amateur on the road before I pulled the plug when mountain bikes came along as an off-ramp. Our goal with the boys is simply to put them in a place where they get the experience and make the best of it for what they want in life. The passion for racing has to come from within versus us instilling it in them.
At the time Switzerland was where the better (harder) junior races were, and our riders really benefited from that. Not only was Germany centrally located between Switzerland and France, but it also had a cheaper cost of living than staying in Switzerland. We stayed in Kirchzarten, Germany, which I knew from being there for the 1995 Mountain Bike World Championships.
Was there ever a moment at the dinner table when the conversation about racing pro came up?
Yeah, when Finn told us that he wanted to take some time from school to race more, Margie and I had to deal with the decision. We had to think about what he would be giving up, but at the same time we recognized what he would be gaining. I think Finn is learning a lot from the experiences of travel and living in Europe. Maybe not as much or the same things as he’d learn in a traditional college experience, but he has still been taking online classes the whole time, and he’ll graduate from college this year.
The bulk of your career was on a mountain bike. Why do you suppose Finn and Leo are chasing road bike futures?Mountain biking is a much different animal now than it was when we were out there. I think they both like the camaraderie of being on a road team, and all the travel is an attraction. And, here in Colorado Springs, being able to say you’re a pro bike racer has its own level of cachet.
They must recognize know how hard it is.
They do, but they both seem committed to it. They know the intoxicating feeling that comes with putting in a hard effort, which, for the lucky one, is its own kind of intoxication!
What about their current team situations?
Finn was on a division one team last year that supplied him with lodging, a bike, travel to the races and a stipend. This year he got hooked up with a division two team based out of Lyon that only takes care of lodging and logistics, and although he had to supply his own bike, they have a really good race calendar. Leo was on Roy Knickman’s Lux team last year, but this year he’s riding under Michael Creed on the Aevolo team. He’s raced in Europe a few times already, and he finished 20th at the U23 Nationals.
WHAT THE KID SAYS
Finn, you finished eighth place at the Elite Nationals—not bad.
Thanks, it was a tough race last weekend, but I surprised myself with the top 10. Yes, my mom told me that you reached out to her. I also raced the U23 National road race on Thursday and placed sixth, and actually, I think my eighth at Pro Nationals is definitely a better result, though, just based on the difficulty of the race and the level of
When did you get serious about racing?
Because of my dad, I grew up around bikes from the time I was really little. He was the USA mountain bike coach and would take us to races where I got to hang out around some of the big mountain bike guys at that time. I always thought they were really cool and wanted to be like them when I got older. I didn’t start taking the sport seriously until I was about 17/18 years old in the junior category. I started out racing mountain bikes (also a bit of ’cross, too, when I was younger), and after a year or two of that I began road racing. I was invited to join the Lux junior development team when I was 18, and I feel like that really was a springboard to where I am now. The next two years after that I was with Wildlife Generation Pro Cycling, and then I decided that I wanted to race in Europe to really accelerate my development, and I think it has paid off.
What role has your dad played in your career? Do you have a coach?
My dad is for sure my biggest mentor/manager/fan and has played a massive role in my development as a bike racer. I do have a coach, too—Nate Wilson, a super-knowledgeable young coach who has been helping me for the last couple of years. I definitely attribute a lot of my success to him as well.
“Our goal with the boys is simply to put them in a place where they get the experience and make the best of it for what they want in life.”
THE FRENCH CONNECTION
Although you came home for Nationals, you’re actually based in France?
This year I’m racing for a French amateur team, CR4C Roanne, so I spent almost three months this spring racing for them in France, racing every weekend. It went well, and I got some good results (no wins but some top 10s and top 5s) at tough amateur races. I was recently home in Colorado for a couple of weeks to prepare for nationals and the second half of the season back in Europe. I hope to get a guest ride with a professional team or something along those lines at the end of the year in order to make it to a couple of big UCI races at the end of this summer.
How did you get on a French team?
After two years of racing for Wildlife Generation Pro Cycling in the U.S., I knew I wanted more race days and wanted to race in Europe. So, that fall I sent out tons of e-mails to different European amateur teams. The way I connected with the French amateur Sojasun team was because my good friend Riley Sheehan raced for them the year before. He put in a good word for me with the team, and they invited
Which do you prefer, cyclocross or road racing?
I definitely am a road racer now and have been for the last couple of years. However, I still love to get out on the mountain bike when I’m home and ride some of the great trails in Colorado Springs.
What was your best lesson you learned from Nationals?
The national’s course is quite tough, with a two-minute really steep hill we did every lap, which we climbed 17 times. I knew I had to save energy for the end of the race and made sure I was in the front selection every time. In the end it came down to a select group where one rider went clear for the win and the rest of us sprinted for the podium. It was quite a competitive field with some of the best American U23 riders, along with some WorldTour riders as well. I just learned that I can be in there with the big guys on a good day, so it’s really nice to take some confidence away from that race.
What does a normal week of training look like for you?
My training varies depending on how much I am racing. During a training period, I aim to ride 20 hours per week, but I do whatever the coach tells me.
How different is the coaching from your dad versus your actual coach?
Coaching isn’t too different between my dad and my actual coach. Sometimes it helps to have someone giving you direction who isn’t your dad just to mix up the dynamic.
So, is your career goal now to be a pro road racer?
Yes, my career goal now is definitely to become a professional racer. It’s tough to do, though, and a lot of guys are going for those same positions I am. But, really, my goal now is just to improve week to week, month to month, year to year. I find that you get the best improvement by just focusing on that.
What advice do you have for up-and-coming juniors?
Race as much as you can, whether it’s a big or a small race, always give 100 percent and treat it as a learning opportunity. Also, when you are young, as long as you keep riding your bike, you will keep getting better (stronger) year to year. So, if you are at the back of the pack now, just stick with it and you might find yourself at the front the next year.
Top photo: Susan Wienke