by Jeffrey Stern
Apr 20 18

The Belgian Waffle Ride People's Champion: Brian McCulloch

Photos by Danny Munson

Anyone that’s ever met Brian McCulloch knows that he is not only one of the hardest working riders in the pro peloton, but as the longest tenured rider for the Elevate KHS Pro Cycling Team, he is hands down the most positive guy you can find anywhere in the world.

Brian carries his beaming smile and infectious, happy-go-lucky, relaxed attitude to every race, training ride and experience in his life; he always has the right words for a situation and consistently focuses on lifting up those around him before doing anything for himself. He is is the teammate we all want and the teammate we all wish we could be. At all times.

A role model, coach, athlete, husband, soon to be father and now, Belgian Waffle Ride champion - his success this past weekend at the unrelenting gravel event in San Diego, California is no coincidence.

THE MAIN EVENT

Over the course of nearly seven hours, 133 miles and 10,000 feet of elevation gain, Brian worked hard to whittle down the lead group from 20, then to 15, 5 and finally two coming into the final sprint. He used pure grit and determination to launch a decisive move that was unrecoverable, providing little doubt who would be walking away with the win last Saturday. And for Brian, who serves mostly as a domestique for Elevate, his triumph at BWR might be the most impressive win of his career that includes hundreds of races dating back to 2005.

Compared to the traditional road season that Brian has pursued for the better part of the last decade, BWR offers something different that he truly appreciates. “I’ve done a lot of big races over my career and what I love about BWR is that you get to break bread with people in the morning,” he said in a recent interview en route to Monterey and Sea Otter. “The sense of community and oneness that comes with it is second to none, you don’t find anywhere else.”

Race morning starts with waffles, and plenty of them, to fuel the 1,000+ rider field on an adventure of a lifetime in the hills north east of San Diego.

“It’s a shared experience from beginning to end,” he said, “Everyone can come together and take part in the suffering themselves at some level. It’s not as if I did something that you can’t relate to. Anyone can get out there and do it and that’s what I love most about it.”

In true Brian fashion, he explained the inspiration he received from everyone out on course and how it really becomes an amazing positive feedback loop that truly brings everyone to another level and creates a special experience for all.

“My role is being a teammate on Elevate, our big successes are celebrated together; the sum is greater than the parts. Everyone is going to be in a difficult moment and need to get picked up. But that’s what we’re all here for at KHS. I take pride in leading by example on that front. That to me is what motivates me to work hard, but when I get the opportunity to get to go to something like BWR, I get so charged to leave it all out there with everyone. It’s like we’re all on one team on the road, it doesn’t matter what kit you’re wearing.”

It’s exactly that kind of perspective that put Brian in a position, with the last climb of the day ahead of him, in a place to seal the 2018 BWR victory.

With three world class racers chasing him up the hardest climb on the course, Double Peak, followed by a technical dirt sector and a quick road section to the finish one of the longest race days he’ll have in the saddle all year, his friend and moto support on the road Victor Sheldon rolled up next to him with some inspiring final words, “You can win this, do something special. Find more Brian.”

On a course that demands everything you can give, even when Brian thought he had nothing left, found him searching with motivation from others, to make one final push to the line.

LINING UP WITH INTENTION

“My only strategy for the day was to give everything I had, to demand that I give my best. Really, that’s my strategy everyday, whether training or racing and just life in general. It never matters where I finish, it’s all about the effort that I put out.” It was crystal clear that when Jeff Byers had to carry Brian to a chair right after the finish, that Brian had left everything out on the course.

“BWR is about finding out how to get more from yourself. The event reveals true character and when you’re suffering together, it creates a special bond that’s hard to replicate.”

The demanding nature of the course required complete focus, Brian said, “Because it’s one day only, making it simple in a sense, but everyone wants to be their best. You either have the legs or you don’t, but that doesn’t change the effort level everyone is giving. There is no option to stop, the march has to continue and you just to have to find more in yourself around every corner.” Something Brian did all day.

“Very few events give you no mental breaks like BWR. You can’t afford to not pay 100% attention while at the same time giving maximum effort, the balance and finding the ability to stay present in the moment is the ultimate challenge.”

With other riders touting disc bikes, suspension, file tread, 32c tires and other gravel specific gear, Brian road his KHS Flight 900 training bike. With a 32 cassette, 28c Maxxis tubeless tires on Shimano aluminum caliper brake wheels and an Ultegra mechanical 6800 gruppo that’s seen thousands of miles (he even raced the Tour of Utah on it last year) you would think he created another set of challenges for himself, but it didn’t affect his approach for one second.

“First, you’ve got to be able to survive the event, then you need to be efficient and when those stars line up, you can compete. Every rider out there has to make an equipment selection, you have to make a decision on the best equipment for you and where you are at as a bike racer, but ultimately it has little to do with the bike; patience, combined with the right amount of aggressiveness and mental acuity are what brought me to the line. The bike was just my vehicle for the day, to express all those skills that I’ve fine tuned over the years.”

It’s fair to say that Brian has an aptitude for these long, technically challenging, physically demanding and mentally exhausting type days on the bike, and he knows he wants to compete at more mixed-surface type events in the future.

“No doubt, I want to do more events like BWR. I love the choices it forces and the tactics it requires. My strategy was to get it all out and for me at my core I’m drawn to events that allow me to do that. I love that racing forces us to be calculating. Chess with people at 30 miles per hour is exhilarating.”

WE ALL HAVE THE POWER

How has Brian honed these skills as a racer and coach over the past decade? He studies combat leadership skills.

“In combat, everyone makes extremely critical decisions in short time frames, based on training and experience with high risk consequences in very strenuous environments.” Bike racing embodies a lot of those elements in his mind.

“I want to develop those skills and continue to get to my limit, and when I think I’m there, keep pushing it further, no matter how challenging the environment may be. If I can line up at events that allow me to test that and hone those skills necessary to be successful, while helping others achieve their goals surrounded by a thousand like minded people, then that’s where I want to be. I want that in my life as often as possible.”

For Brian, it’s the exploration of these physical and mental techniques that matters most.

“It’s a journey where you are getting feedback, constantly inserting yourself in a feedback loop. It’s comfortable to choose the path of least resistance, exiting the loop when things get hard. Sometimes the feedback comes in a package we don’t like, in the form of injury from over training or in any other number of ways. That’s life and if you can remove your ego and allow yourself to be open to receiving all forms of feedback from everyone in your life, regardless of how it’s presented, it can be extremely powerful and moving.”

THE ROAD AHEAD

During a long season, Brian has learned to listen to the signals his body is sending him. “I always focus on recovery, I do it religiously now. It’s just part of my routine to get good sleep and to use the products that are available to me so I can race, 60, 70 times per year.”

His schedule doesn’t let up either. This weekend he’s racing the Sea Otter Classic and from there he’ll be all over the world, spreading positivity and inspiring not only his teammates, but the new friends he meets on the road at each stop from Colorado to Minnesota, Oklahoma to Taiwan.

“Somewhere in there I’m going to have a son,” his wife and professional rider Joy is expecting a baby boy before the season ends.

For Brian though, there’s no pressure. Day in and day out, he delivers on his promise to consistently dig deep, bring his absolute best to the table and most importantly always get it done with a smile on his face. No matter the result, it’s the process he lives for and the connections he makes along the way that inspire him to keep pushing. Even when he thinks he has nothing left, he's found there is always a little more to give.