From NFL to bike racing, former pro finds competition, community

For years, Michael Dritlein (Fleming Wealth Strategies) made a career of going fast.
As an NFL wide receiver for the Kansas City Chiefs and the New England Patriots, he ran routes and made clutch plays at the top level of football.
He also took some debilitating hits in the process. One came after an errant pass by Drew Bledsoe while Dritlein was playing for the Patriots. It ended his career.
But Dritlein, 44, found another way to apply his agility, power and tactics – on the bike, in crits.
Now he’s the one doling out hits with new-found endurance, a closing sprint that packs a punch and an intimidating physical presence that, well, can look like an NFL player on a bike.
Dritlein made his way through the ranks, upgrading this year from Cat 4 to Cat 3 and took second at Arizona’s state crit championships in Yuma. He stood atop the podium in his Masters state championship for the 40 to 44 age group.

My football experience has taught me to work hard and to never quit. I thought football was a tough sport and I figured it would be the sport to make me want to quit, but endurance sports like cycling are far more challenging both mentally and physically.

Clipped In interviewed Dritlein on everything from football to Tim Fleming:

CI: Tell us a little bit about yourself.

MD: I have four wonderful kids (three daughters and a son ranging from 6 to 17 years of age) and an amazing wife.
I went to Washburn University [in Topeka, Kansas] and played Division II football. I was an academic all-American for three years and graduated pre-med in 1996. I was picked up as a free agent for the Kansas City Chiefs and played for them during the 1996-1997 season. From there I played in NFL Europe for the Rhein Fire.
The 1997-1998 season I played for the New England Patriots, and I was injured and left the NFL. I then went on to get my master’s degree in physical therapy at Rockhurst University [in Kansas City, Missouri], and shortly after graduating I went into pharmaceuticals working for Eli Lilly and Company. I have worked for them for the past 16 years.
I transferred to Arizona in 2006. I traded in the gloomy winters for sunshine.

Michael Dritlein (Fleming Wealth Strategies) races at Avondale Crit #2 in February.

CI: How did you first learn about bike racing and what made you think, “I should try that!”?

I have a local group of guys that live in the West Wing subdivision in Peoria, Ariz., and we needed something to measure who was the best rider – typical male machismo. Our first race was the state championship in Show Low. The goal was not to be last in our group. Thank the lord it wasn’t me, but my buddy TJ was, and still to this date he is ridiculed for it. Sorry TJ, but anyone can look up the results on

With regard to your past career in football – college, World League, NFL – what was it like playing at the top level of that sport?

Amazing! I grew up in Kansas City and watched the Chiefs, and then having the opportunity to play in Arrowhead Stadium as a KC Chief was a childhood dream come true. The chance of making it to that level is so rare. I was so lucky to have the opportunity and life experience.
The athletes in the NFL are so talented and the difference between the majority of players is microscopic. So you have to work extremely hard every day on the little things to separate yourself from others. During the season the hours are long and grueling and it reminds me of being on a long training ride that never ends. It takes commitment and dedication to the next level.

Michael Dritlein, left, runs a drill at a Kansas City Chiefs practice in 1996.

What is your best memory about playing football? What was your worst?

Worst memory was trying to catch a ball from quarterback Drew Bledsoe of the Patriots. I dove for one of his errant passes and broke my clavicle to end my season and career…no wonder [Tom] Brady took over for him at QB.
Best memory was playing on the same team as NFL Hall of fame players such as Marcus Allen, Curtis Martin, and Derrick Thomas. I also had some amazing coaches such as Marty Schottenheimer, Al Saunders, Pete Carroll and Mike McCarthy.

It sounds like you also suffered a knee injury during your football career – how detrimental was that, and what other injuries have you dealt with?

So besides my clavicle, I tore my ACL three times and my meniscus twice. I also had over 10 severe concussions during my playing days. My wife says I am currently still in the concussion protocol.
I plan on defying the odds of CTE (Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy) through endurance sports. This is actually why I started cycling. My ortho advised me to stop running and try something that has lower impact like cycling.

Most of my life I have been training my fast-twitch muscles, which comes in handy at the end of any race. But I also have a kryptonite, weighing in at 200 lbs. Hill climbing is dreadful.

Did you play any sports between football and cycling?

I played most all sports growing up; basketball, baseball, track and field. I actually earned my first varsity HS letter in diving and I didn’t start playing football til I was a junior in high school. I love all athletics and team sports and the personal development achieved through them.

What do you like most about cycling?

The community!  Since riding with Team Fleming I have met so many great people from all areas of life: Doctors, nurses, teachers, dentists, realtors and the list goes on and on.  We all share a common interest that we love to challenge ourselves on the bike and to live a healthier life.

Michael Dritlein, left, makes a move at Avondale Crit #2 in February.

What type of race do you like the most?

Honestly! Do you really need to ask this question…lets just say I like to go FAST!

What are your strengths in bike racing?

Most of my life I have been training my fast-twitch muscles, which comes in handy at the end of any race. If I can get there in the lead pack, I have a chance of winning. Also, I am used to reacting fast from playing football which helps during races. But I also have a kryptonite, weighing in at 200 lbs. Hill climbing is dreadful.

Michael Dritlein, right, stretches with New England Patriots teammate and fellow wide receiver, Terry Glenn.

How does your football experience and background translate to cycling?

My football experience has taught me to work hard and to never quit. I thought football was a tough sport and I figured it would be the sport to make me want to quit, but endurance sports like cycling are far more challenging both mentally and physically.
I have learned to love the “pain cave!” My coach Jason Lentzke uses the tag line “train hard so race day is easy.” I love that mentality, and that translates across all sports.

You’ve had some success at racing as a Cat 4 – what do you think has contributed to that?

Sprinting has always come easy for me, but this season I developed longer sustained power which enables me to bridge gaps and keep fresher legs throughout races.
Ultimately, I started training smarter through Toro Performance Coaching with Jason Lentzke who is an absolute beast on the bike and pushes me daily to achieve more. He accessed where my weaknesses were, and we worked on them this past off season.

Michael Dritlein, left, sprints to victory at Avondale Crit #2 in February.

Do you do any specific training and are there any favorite rides you like to go on in the Phoenix area?

This is top secret! I have to get written permission from my coach to divulge any specific training tactics. But seriously, I have been doing structured workouts more this season than I ever have in the past and it has made a huge difference. I worked on my weaknesses this past off season and then started bringing everything together six weeks prior to my first race.
My favorite ride with out a doubt is a hidden gem. I love riding out at Lake Pleasant. Highway 74 is a busy road you have to take to get out there, but once you get to Castle Hot Springs road the rolling hills are the best!

What are your goals in bike racing?

To rip off the legs of my competitors. Wait that was the old football me. The real reason I race is that I thrive for the competition. I love to compete against myself and see how far I can push my mind and body. Racing is also motivational. With metrics like power, TSS scores and CTL (fitness) I am able to set goals and quantify my improvements. All of this leads to a plan that keeps me consistent and living a healthier lifestyle.

Michael Dritlein, celebrates his victory in his last Men’s 4/5 40+ race at Avondale Crit #2 in February.

What do you think about Tim Fleming?

Besides the fact that he always launches with two laps to go? He eats too much cheesecake, goes overboard with seasonal decorations and has a man crush on Brandon McNulty (don’t we all?). The guy is amazing. He does so much for the cycling community throughout the Valley, especially in the northwest. He sacrifices his time to grow the community and bring us all together. That’s why I race on his team; I admire what he has done and continues to do for all of us.

Anything to add?

Did I mention Strava? How did I miss mentioning Strava. I met my first friend in Arizona (TJ), my insurance agent (TJ), and my slowest cycling buddy (take a guess who) all on Strava. We love Strava so much that when the wind starts howling, usually in the evening, I have been know to excuse myself from the dinner table to get on my bike to chase a KOM (not recommended if you want a happy