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What Comes Next? Part 3—Mike McCarthy: From A[thlete] to Z[wift]

From Issue 95 • Words by John Wilcockson

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It wasn’t just pure class that made Mike McCarthy the world individual pursuit champion and a two-time Olympian. He was also really fast. So fast, that he once out-sprinted two of the fastest finishers in the game, Britain’s Malcolm Elliott and Italy’s Roberto Gaggioli, to win the criterium stage of the 1997 Redlands Classic. But that California race wasn’t all about winning. “We were sitting in the van before a stage,” McCarthy recalled. “There was a torrential downpour. And we got word that the commissaires had cancelled the race…. I remember being really excited because we didn’t have to race. And I was immediately struck with this realization that it’s over for me. And in the fall of 1997, with a year left on my contract, I sat down and made a list of things I thought I could do post-cycling.”

PELOTON

One name he wrote down was San Francisco investment firm Montgomery Securities, whose owner Thom Weisel sponsored McCarthy’s 1993 team, Subaru-Montgomery. “I’d visited with Thom when I raced for him and he said this would be a great place for me when I was done with racing. I interviewed with Montgomery in August of ’98…. I like to think you’re given a number of opportunities in life to recreate yourself, reinvent yourself, and I thought that would be a pretty cool thing to do.”

McCarthy did well in his new field. He spent five years with that San Francisco firm; another five years at a trading company he started with one of his bosses; and, after the financial crash of 2008, five years with Oppenheimer & Co. Even so, he found that he was “not passionate” about the financial world. “I wanted to do something I was excited about. So I was pretty lucky when Eric [Min] came and knocked on my door,” he said. “Eric and I have known each other since banging handlebars in our junior racing days in New York. We kept in touch…. We had a one-hour lunch and I saw a one-minute video of Zwift. That was in 2014.”

That’s when Min founded Zwift, and McCarthy joined the virtual training company as vice president of business development and a year ago began to develop the running side of the enterprise. “Now it’s a big business,” he said. “And the fact there are so many people who want to be part of the experience is awesome.”

From his home in Orange County, California, he has a 20-mile commute to the Zwift HQ in Long Beach. “I get to ride my bike to work when I want to—it’s about the same time in a car,” said McCarthy, who has an athletic family. Wife Mara once played college soccer; their eldest daughter graduated college after a four-year swimming career; their teenage son plays basketball; and, McCarthy said, “my 7-year-old, she’s my hope. She loves to ride a bike more than anything. And she loves Zwift.”

NEXT: Ruthie Matthes’ Frenzied Rush to Tranquility.