World Triathlon Podcast #87: Dylan McCullough
The World Triathlon Podcast returns for 2024 in the country where the World Cup season begins in a month’s time and with one of New Zealand’s brightest young talents to punch through last year, Dylan McCullough.
Born and raised in Auckland, Dylan dialled in from some solo training time in Arrowland, some 1200km south of the Napier World Cup venue, where he will line up for the first year’s taste of action on 24 February.
Currently sitting in 32nd place, McCullough’s rise and rise up the Olympic Rankings was down to some breakthrough displays on the blue carpet, starting with an agonising 4th place sprint finish at nearby New Plymouth and ending with a first World Cup podium in Miyazaki. In between there were big showings at the Paris Test Event relay, an excellent first Championship Finals and all the signs that the 22-year-old could be on course to join Hayden Wilde on the Paris 2024 start line on 30 July.
“Twelve months ago, I was in a completely different scenario,” admits McCullough on episode 87 of the podcast. “I wasn’t really in the Olympic frame, my ranking before the start of the season was 115th or something like that.”
To hear how he finds himself in pole position to help steer New Zealand’s Mixed Relay team to Paris success, how he feels about the team tactics that could help secure a fifth Olympic medal for New Zealand, and the time Justin Bieber visited his school, follow and download the podcast on Apple, Spotify and Google.
Youth Olympic Champion emerges from the shadows
It was a case of huge strides in 2023 for Dylan McCullough, rising from the fringes of the WTCS to finding himself in the midst of that Championship Finals front bike pack in Pontevedra and scoring a first World Cup podium with silver in Miyazaki.
The aggressive racing that has been his hallmark ever since winning the Youth Olympics title in 2018 was still right on show, only now with the experience to still be in contention down the closing stages of the run. Now he wants to start off the season with the Oceania Cup in Wanaka a week before Napier gets things going on the World Cup circuit once more, where as well as the likes of Olympic medallists Hayden Wilde and Alex Yee, there are some familiar foes like Ricardo Batista, Nicolo Strada and Alessio Crociani on the start list for the curtain-raiser.
“It’ll be good to have them here because they’re strong swimmers and cyclists, so it’d be nice to get a bit of a breakaway or something going. It’ll be good to see where everyone’s at. I’ve actually never been to Napier before so that’ll be new to me. We’ve got such a big history in New Plymouth, I remember back in the day, Bevan Docherty and Kris Gemell had a pretty iconic sprint finish… but I’m sure Napier and the tri community there will put on a good event.”
The Mixed Relay waiting game
As for breaking in to what has been a very established New Zealand mixed relay squad, it has been far from plain sailing, with even his shot at starting the Paris Test Event hampered by the format switch to duathlon. The team is well set in the automatic qualification places and is among those hoping to upset the favourites in Paris, namely hosts France, defending champions Great Britain and reigning World Champions Germany.
“There was quite a few guys ahead of me with Ryan (Sissons) and Sam Ward, Tayler (Reid) and those guys. But Ryan and Sam have retired now, Kyle (Smith) has gone to long course, so it’s been quite a sudden moving up the ranks. It was probably too big of a jump back in 2021 doing that WTCS Montreal… but I think it was really good for me to grow. I was selected for the Sunderland Mixed Relay, but I got really sick… so I couldn’t start that and then the Paris Mixed Relay was a duathlon, so I’ve had some good chances to be in the team, but I haven’t been able to do ‘proper’ Mixed Team Relays.”
Team tactics could be the key
Then there is the matter of the individual race, where McCullough won’t be taking anything for granted but knows that form is on his side when it comes to taking the second starting place if Tayler Reid doesn’t make an improbable leap into the top 30 to secure a third men’s slot for the kiwis. Have there ever been any discussions about a domestique role for Hayden Wilde either at Pontevedra or looking towards Paris?
“No, I thought there would be going into the (Pontevedra) race, but no, there was no discussion at all about that. So I don’t know, maybe that was a mistake, or not, but yeah, you really can work as a team if you want to, but it’s not up to me it’s up to the Tri NZ high performance and Hayden and his team. So yeah, there was no plan going to the race… unlike the French by the looks. I think (Hayden) just likes to race hard and do pretty much everything by himself. I’m sure the French will be wanting to do what they’ve done in Pontevedra and Abu Dhabi again on home turf in front of a home crowd. So yeah, that’d be exciting.”
You can listen to the full interview below and the World Triathlon Cup and Mixed Relay Napier weekend will be streamed in full on TriathlonLive.tv.
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