Brian McCulloch: A Return To Racing, Earlier Than Expected, And With Success!

Photo Credit: Danny MunsonPhoto Credit: Danny Munson

Returning from injury in any sport is no cake-walk. But you already knew that, especially when it comes to hip-socket injuries in cycling. An injury like that can be a game-changer.

Needless to say, suffering three fractures to my right hip/pelvis at the Redlands Bicycle Classic was a significant blow to my season. Especially when doctors termed my diagnosis as a “potentially career ending injury”. Ouch, that was hard to swallow.

Flash forward through three-months of non-activity which wore out a pair of crutches, I was ready to start my rehab with a 45 min. “spin” on my home-trainer. What commenced was a humbling series of incremental improvements over days and weeks in which I dreamed of competing again alongside my KHS-Maxxis-JLVelo teammates. Hope is a powerful thing!

As soon as I knew I could ride again, the hope in my mind was to race the Mt. Whitney Stage Race. This event is a brutally tough two-day climbing race that I have fond memories of. Back in 2014, I won the first stage before going on to finish on the podium in the general classification.

This year following my injury and only being able to ride for 8-weeks leading into the race, I was simply looking to compete again. Finishing each stage with the peloton would make me happy.

My experience and result at this years’ Mt. Whitney Stage Race was incredible! On stage-one, after six-laps on a brutal circuit that featured nearly 7,000’ of climbing, it came down to myself and one other rider, sprinting for the win.

I am excited to report that I took the victory on stage-one, sprinting to the line with a maximum effort. It was a huge rush to think that I had come from three-months of complete rest to win a stage of such a tough bike race! What made it better was having my lovely wife and teammate Joy McCulloch at the finish line, having just won her race too!

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The second stage of the Mt. Whitney Stage Race is equally grueling and absolutely relentless. To give you some perspective, we ascended nearly 8,000’ in a race that is just over 2.5hrs long covering 34 miles. The route was incredibly steep for nearly the entire stage.

When scheming up my race tactics for the second day of racing, I knew that repeating my stage-one performance would be tough especially in a field of very good climbers, yet I remained hopeful. My goal was to withstand the many attacks that would come and hang-on for a great result… maybe even compete for the win.

During the race my legs were good and I was able to answer attacks from all competitors on the relentless ascent to Horseshoe Meadows. With the barrage of attacks the peloton gradually whittled-down from a robust group to ten, then to six, then to five, to four, and then three. One final attack, still 45 minutes from the finish (all uphill) and it was just me and Stefan Zafislov who I sprinted against the previous day.

My confidence was growing, but I was also getting fatigued as the repeated attacks were taking their tole. Stefan and I distanced the rest of the field and he began to attack, repeatedly. I withstood the barrage until 2km to go where we crossed the 9,000’ elevation mark and I could no longer match the high pace. I had to settle for second, my maximum effort was no longer fast enough.

Admittedly I was somewhat frustrated that I had come so far on the climb, only to get distanced in the final 8 minutes of the race. However, that brief moment of disappointment was replaced with a solid sense of accomplishment. Just eight-weeks prior I was on crutches and dreaming of riding my bike again.

In the heat of competition it was easy to forget the ‘bigger picture’ and how far I had come since my stage four crash in the Redlands Classic left me unable to stand on my own two-feet.

Photo Credit: Danny MunsonPhoto Credit: Danny Munson

After reflecting on the weekend, I can only be thankful. The support I received from family, friends, my KHS-Maxxis-JLVelo team, team partners, host families, and most of all, my beautiful wife through my injury was incredible. Although there were dark days during my injury when the possibility of racing again was in limbo, I am pleased to report that those times have passed!

Thank you to everyone who supported me through this difficult time. I was thinking of you when I was suffering on stage one and was channeling your positive energy in the sprint to the line. And because I had overwhelming support, I was able to dig deep two days in a row and have a great performance on stage two. No doubt, I owe this great result to the wonderful people who helped inspire, heal, and support me following my injury. Thank you all, it feels good to be back!

Thank you to our sponsors: KHS Bicycles, Maxxis Tires, JLVelo, Serfas, Shimano, Velo Saddles, Praxis Works, Xpedo Pedals, Kali Protectives, Infinit Nutrition, Bicycle Blue Book, WD-40 BIKE, Chamois Butt’r, Cycling Illustrated, Rennie & Associates, 4iiii, Big Wheel Coaching, Ultra Cycle, and Q2.

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