By Ben Welnak (Twitter at @Bwelnak) with Kelly Magelky
Photo Credit: Rob O'Dea
Humble, appreciative, and down-to-earth are not normal characteristics associated with modern athletes. Golden, Colorado resident, Kelly Magelky, is not your normal modern athlete. His hard work and positive attitude have paved the way to becoming one of the top endurance racers in professional mountain biking while building his own production company. He is dedicated to becoming the best in both worlds and is a true “nice guy” of the mountain biking world.
As a proud member of the Trek Team for the last three seasons, Kelly feels that the experience has helped to “shape his cycling career into an experience that (he) would have never dreamed of.” He has also formed many positive relationships through the team, including high-level executives, pro and local riders and racing teams.
Kelly started his successful 2010 season by dethroning the mountain biking icon, Travis Brown, at the very popular Gunnison Growler. He continued posting strong results throughout the season, including two top-10 finishes at Mountain States Cup races. During his final training leading up to the 24 Hour National Championships in Moab, he handled the Crested Butte 100 by taking the win by over four minutes. Moab was the last test of 2010. With redemption on his mind from his 2nd place finish in 2009, Kelly gave it everything he had in preparation, training, and racing for the National Championship.
I sat down with Kelly to discuss Moab, racing, career, and life. He was very engaging, informative, and eager to discuss many topics on and off the bike.
[303Cycling] Tell us a little about Kelly.
Originally from North Dakota, Kelly has very supportive parents, a brother, stepbrother, and half-sister. Although he is fond of his roots in the upper Midwest, it didn’t take long for him to move out and away after high school, moving to Colorado at 18. He admits that he was never very athletic, “I never really rode a bike and wasn’t athletic during high school. I ran cross country in middle school. I just worked and was really into cars.” Kelly doesn’t own any collector cars currently, but he reminisces about his early roots in racing. When he was 15 or 16, Kelly started racing stock cars at the local dirt track oval.
[303Cycling] Why did you move to Colorado?
“I was a huge ski bum.” It didn’t take long for Kelly to meet a lot of great people through skiing. “I got into an amazing group of people, was a ski bum, and taught snowboarding at Keystone.” He taught full-time for a year and weekends for the next four years.
[303Cycling] Ok, enough skiing….how did you get into mountain biking?
Appropriately, Kelly received his first Colorado mountain bike from a friend. “I went out to Apex (Apex Park in Golden, Colorado) and started riding up it. I was telling people (as he was riding up) that I didn’t think I am supposed to be here. There were huge rocks and logs across the trail.” Hikers on the trail assured Kelly he was on the correct trail. “Then I saw another rider come down and thought to myself, ‘Ok, I can try to make it to the top.’” Was this a successful first try? Sort of. “I got about halfway up and puked my guts out.”
The first attempt at Apex Park was only the beginning. For the next six days, he made attempts at conquering the climb to the top. It took all six days and, on the final day, he made it. “From that point on, I was hooked.”
Photo Credit: Mountain Moon Photography
[303Cycling] Where did you go from here?
Kelly began hitting the trails more frequently in 2002 and 2003. At the time, he was working at Starbucks. This wasn’t just any Starbucks either. It happened to be the store that a number of Wheat Ridge Cyclery employees frequently visited. Wheat Ridge Cyclery is one of the Denver area’s largest bike shops, which boasts Ron Kiefel, seven-time Tour de France competitor, the first American to win a stage in the Giro d’Italia, and 1984 Olympic bronze medalist, as the General Manager. “I (constantly) picked their brains and then one day I was asked to be on the Wheat Ridge team.” Kelly was pumped because he had never been asked to be on a team.
The team was a great break in Kelly’s mountain biking life. Through connections within the shop, he was able to train with several high level cyclists. “I would tag along on training rides and would get dropped constantly, everyday.” He continued to seek out advice while receiving great guidance and meeting many great people. All of the learning and hard work helped Kelly move from the sport class (at which he finished 80th out of 87 in his first race), through the expert class, up to semi-pro.
[303Cycling] Being a pro, business owner, and son.
Kelly “started taking everything seriously” when he started riding as a pro in 2006. He continued to learn from the people around him and put himself in the right place at the right time. At the same time he raised his level in mountain biking, he was starting up his own production company. Kelly credits his parents for being “100% supportive of everything I ever wanted to do…all the way. The first time I showed up in North Dakota with spandex and shaved legs, they were like ‘ooohh, ok…’” Now, his parents are his biggest fans and supporters.
Kelly began riding with Trek/Volkswagen Team in 2008. In 2009, Volkswagen ended their sponsorship of the team and Trek started the “Mountain Co-op.” After a strong second place showing at the 2009 24 Hour National Championships in Moab, Kelly continued on with Trek for 2010.
[303Cycling] What is the typical day? Week?
There is no typical week for someone who is professional in two areas. Usually, Kelly gets a head start on each day by being an early riser. Up around 5am, he downs breakfast, grabs coffee, and is quickly off to his office near downtown Denver because he “gets more done before noon than if I worked a schedule from 10 to 6.” He focuses on flipping the switch from business to bike when it’s time to leave the office, admitting that “it’s hard because I feel so creative during the middle of the day and I consider myself a filmmaker - it’s exciting!” These thoughts are not what you would expect from a pro-level mountain biker. However, as soon as he hops on the saddle for his usual weekday 2-3 hour ride, he is certain that “that’s all I want to do!”
The daily split between the production company and the mountains does prove to be very challenging, even for such as talented individual. Kelly has stints of travel that may span up to three weeks, which forces him to do whatever training he can fit in, including running and various gym workouts as “it’s hard because during shoots we work 12-15 hours days.” There is a positive that comes from the travel. The time off the bike helps his body to absorb the training and stave off any overtraining or burnout. However, when Kelly has training blocks leading up to big events, such as Moab, he “needs to have his ducks in a row” to allow for focused time on the bike. The filmmaking also affects racing. He often needs to pass up on certain races so he can focus on the business although is confident in saying that “I will take a full-on professional attitude towards any race that I’m focusing on.”
[303Cycling] 24 hours. We all remember the first time…
Similar to many other life “firsts,” Kelly’s introduction to 24 hour racing was rough. As one of the toughest 24 hour courses, Moab is the black hole for first timers. With tough, technical climbing, rock ledges and technical lines, as well as patience-testing sand, it’s just a battle for even veterans to stay upright, let alone race the duration of the race. He admits that “it beat me down so bad that I told myself that this course isn’t for me...I couldn’t pump gas the next day!”
[303Cycling] What is it like being passed by Tinker Juarez?
Kelly was fit and poised for a top placing at the 2007 24 Hour World Championships in Monterey, California. The race was going as planned – he was riding strong and keeping a small lead through the first 22 hours of the race. The second place racer was eyeing Kelly like a stalking mountain lion, but Kelly added some attacks and managed to push the lead up to a couple minutes. It sounds like it was a manageable position. Unless, of course, that second place rider was Tinker Juarez. Tinker’s talent and experience was too much to hold off. “It was intimidating,” he recalls. “It’s weird racing someone like that – someone you’ve read about and is kind of a hero,” Kelly describes with a big grin.
[303Cycling] Moab, again…and again?!
After a “disastrous race” at the 2008 24 Hour World Championships in Canada, Kelly was motivated for redemption in 2009. Enter Moab, again. The Moab that rendered him unable to pump gas or even simply stand. Climbs, drops, rocks – that Moab. This time he was prepared. Unfortunately, it wasn’t the course that beat him this time. Josh Tostado, another of the strongest endurance racers around, showed up with a little more fitness and finished a lap ahead of Kelly. A second place finish was good, but only further stoked the burning motivation.
The 2010 24 Hours of Moab was sure to include fireworks as the defending champion and runner-up had another year of training and experience to bring to the battle. And a battle it was. Kelly and Josh started throwing down lap times similar to most 4-man team racers. The fast laps continued throughout the afternoon and into the night, as neither seemed to be letting up. Kelly was confident that Josh would pay for his early efforts and assured his pit not to worry. But, Josh never slowed and he picked away at the lead until it was too big to overcome. Both finished an amazing 18 laps, but Kelly was second again. Kelly was proud of the effort and acknowledges that he “gave it everything he had” and “tore himself inside and out.”
[303Cycling] What are your future plans?
Kelly is going to continue doing the same mix of races as in previous years. He enjoys the mix of ultra endurance, cross country, and endurance type races in the 50 to 100 mile range. Races in the 50 mile range are some of his favorites.
Kelly plans to toe the line at the 2011 24 Hour National Championships, and, if it fits into his crazy schedule, he may make the trek to Europe to race in the 2011 24 Hour World Championships.
It’s hard to argue with Kelly when he says that “I love it all – if it’s mountain biking, I’m all over it!”
You can expect to find Kelly out riding the Colorado Front Range foothills, racing various distances throughout Colorado, and out in the TV world. With his professionalism, positive attitude, passion, and talent on and off the bike, expect to see his name among the top ranks for years to come.