An interview with Mark McCormack, January 17, 2007
At the 2006 cyclo-cross nationals, Mark McCormack, a multiple national champion on the road and in cyclo-cross, revealed that he would not race as a pro on the road in 2007. With no formal announcement during the off season, Cyclingnews' Mark Zalewski called the veteran North American racer to see what was behind the decision, and what lay ahead for him.
For more than twenty years, Mark McCormack has been a part of cycling in North America in one way or another, from amateur to pro, enjoying success on both levels. McCormack found his greatest success alongside brother Frank on the Saturn team, winning the USPRO road championship in 2003. Following the end of Saturn, the two joined forces again on the newer Colavita team, with Frank moving to the role of director and Mark leading on the road. In those four years, Mark continued to ride among the top domestic pros, helping propel the team upwards, and mentoring younger riders.
The team was owned and managed by John Profaci who also ran the Colavita Company at the same time essentially working two full-time jobs over the past three years. "It's always been me, at my desk," said Profaci about running the team and company simultaneously. "I juggle the business, with sales and marketing, and then the two teams or ten teams, if you include the regional teams! It was just too much for me."
"So it is tough to leave. [Cycling] is all I have known since 1985 the only thing I have done with my life, to this point, is ride my bike. It will be interesting to start thinking about other things as my primary focus." -Mark McCormack on leaving behind life as a pro cyclist
This year, Profaci decided to hand over the day-to-day operations to Tom Schuler and his Team Sports management company, after successfully merging the Colavita women's programme with Schuler's former Quark team during the 2006 season. When talk of this began to circulate back in August, Profaci and Schuler said that both Mark and Frank were going to remain with the team. However, since that time, financial and other issues resulted in reevaluations; and the money to pay Mark was not found.
"The management changed everything," said Mark. "If Profaci was running the team, I would still be racing, plain and simple. Not because of personalities, but because of dollars. I could easily race for Tom if he wanted to pay me a fair wage. That was a hard thing to accept. We had all assumed that when the team changed management, the only change would be someone else would be signing your paycheck. We hoped the team would grow in sponsorship but it didn't go that way."
Mark is a veteran and professional in every sense of the word, therefore he knew that getting a late start in contacting teams for 2007 was going to mean an uphill task. "Things just didn't work out with the teams I was talking to," said Mark. "I guess at the end of the day it was a money thing. But weighing money with family life and other opportunities made me think about things more. I wasn't willing to go backwards in my earnings, especially to the level that teams were proposing. It was a difficult decision but in reality I have a family to look after. Once mid-November rolls around I was pretty sure knowing what I know about contracts, if you aren't signed by then, the money is spent and what is left is not enough for marquee riders. I'm not renting an apartment with three other guys, living paycheck to paycheck I'm saving for my kid's college educations. I'm not at all bitter; it's more an exciting opportunity to try something new."
"I look at my seasons, and I have achieved a lot, at a personal level and contributing to team levels," Mark said, reflecting on his more than twenty seasons. "Looking at the Colavita program over the last three years, how much it has changed and improved -- I feel like I have added a lot of value to that. So it is tough to leave. [Cycling] is all I have known since 1985 the only thing I have done with my life, to this point, is ride my bike. It will be interesting to start thinking about other things as my primary focus. I still want to ride, race and train; it just won't be my primary source of income."
In the eleven months since his last interview with Cyclingnews, Mark's career goals have not changed much, nor has he been able to accomplish the elusive final goal of winning the USPRO criterium championship. But that does not mean he is at all dissatisfied with his palmares; and Mark definitely has the career wins and highlights that taken individually would make a noteworthy career for any professional.
"I would definitely say [the highlight] was winning the USPRO road championship in Philly. I think it is the same for any US pro cyclist -- especially for a domestic pro road racer. Criterium nationals would have been my second goal, but that remained elusive. That is the one race that still haunts me! I guess I'll have to live without it...unless I turn pro again down the road. Really the main reason why I wanted to win it is it would mean I won the road, crit, and cyclo-cross titles as an elite, which reflects a well-balanced racer. But I still think my career symbolizes that, if you look at my results. Being a roll-player in most races was something I prided myself on, as long as it wasn't a mountaintop finish! 2003 was a highlight year for me, to be a part of that dominating Saturn squad and to have the jersey and win the NRC overall title. I would never have set that as a goal, because as a youngster they didn't have that."
Like a cat, Mark has managed to land softly on his feet, with a new position that will utilize his cycling knowledge while still serving as a departure from racing. "I was pretty nervous about the change, but everything worked out. The right thing came across at the right time," said Mark. Starting in January, Mark will be working for a nonprofit in the New England area called Best Buddies, an organization similar in concept to Big Brothers, Big Sisters, but directed at people with certain intellectual inabilities.
"It's a nonprofit founded by Anthony Schiver whose mother is the founder of Special Olympics," said Mark. "It's a company that creates partnerships for people with intellectual disabilities. They want to help them integrate with friendships and jobs from middle school programs through high school and college. They help them get reasonably paying jobs to help them feel productive. The gist of my job is more sales, involving the two charity rides they organize per year. The first in May is from Boston to Hyannis Port, and my role is to help grow the rides by bringing in new riders which will help increase the revenue for the nonprofit. This will in turn help grow the programs that they organization offers."
"This ride in Boston has been going on for six or seven years. They also have a September ride from Carmel to Hearst Castle in California. Bill Sykes runs the rides, making sure everything is set-up. He was there when I first got into racing -- he was the team director of the first team Frankie and I raced on! I participated in the event last year and it's five-star, point-to-point, and everything is done first class. There is a huge clam bake after the Boston ride and last year the Go Go's were the headlining band. It's a cool opportunity for me to transition within the sport. I'm able to stay within the sport which is great for me. And it's a great cause. People are already signing up with my name attached to it!"
In case you did not read between the lines earlier, the only change for Mark in 2007 will be that he will not race professionally on the road meaning you will still see him racing on the road (just not on a pro team,) and racing professionally in cyclo-cross. Much of this comes thanks to his long relationship with Clifbar. "I'm still going to race elite cross nationals, and I may even do better than this year. I was only ninth and had a rough fall my dad is battling with cancer right now, and I was his primary caregiver, taking him to all his doctors. Eventually things smoothed out and I was able to get back to training. The result wasn't what I wanted but I felt really good about my level. It still serves as motivation for my going into the future."
"Cyclo-cross is one of those sports, because it is weekend only and [does] not require as much travel, I can still be competitive next year. Actually, I talked to Clifbar to maintain that relationship, and will race for them year-round, whenever I race a bike. I will race regionally for them on the road and maintain an elite presence for them in cyclo-cross. I won't call it sandbagging! It's funny though, whenever I show up at races, even as a pro, people would complain. Maybe I'll ride masters now?"
But now Mark will have to learn to race and train like the majority of us weekend warriors. Yet this is something he is looking forward to; especially being around racers in a more relaxed atmosphere. "I'm optimistic that I will still train and race competitively. I can't see far enough into the future to know if it will be once a weekend or twice a month, but I hope it will remain part of my life. I really like the atmosphere and the people. It is just a fun group of people to be around they are from all walks of life, but you get on a bike and all the dissimilarities go away."
As for brother Frank, he, too, decided not to return to Colavita after Mark's decision and will continue working on his carpentry business in New England for the foreseeable future. "Frank is also not with Colavita next year. He was holding off hoping things would work out with me," said Mark. "[My decision] was based upon Mark not renewing," said Frank. "It was an awesome time with John [Profaci] and Mark. It was a great experience for me. I'll just keep on with my carpentry work I suppose. I have made a couple of phone calls, and would like to stay in the sport. I love the sport and still have a great passion for it. But at this point, I don't have anything organized."
US racing's future
Given Mark's long career in the US, winning both the USPRO road and NRC championship (in the same year), I felt it was appropriate to ask him about the changes to the national calendar. "I think it is a good concept, but my guess is that the NRC will become very unimportant. This past few years it was a big to-do to win the NRC it was a marquee that teams wanted to have. Now with this new US ProTour, that is going to replace the marquee that teams will look for."
"In the end, the team [that] does the best in the ProTour will likely be the best team in the NRC it is just a highlighted version of the NRC. I don't think the results will be much different, but the value of the NRC will be deflated. But maybe it will be good for all these teams that have way too many riders to give them a chance to race at these other events. Maybe that is how it will get resolved."
As for his now former team, Mark wishes them all the best, even though he will only have raced with a few of them. "The roster is down to only three or four returning riders from last year I think. But sometimes change is a good thing, and I hope it works out for John. I have a lot of respect for him, the team and I was grateful to be a part of it the last four years."