Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Masiguy exclusive interview; 2001 UCI MTB World Champion- Alison Dunlap!

Yes, I am a full-on died in the wool jersey road and track geek. I have far more scars (of the physical and emotional kinds) from road and track cycling- though I did tear the PCL in my right knee many years ago (1996 or 97) in a MTB crash. Truth is, I am a devout Bike Nerd- I go to the the church of Bike Nerdery and I have read all the hymns, which means I love all my cycling brethren, regardless of how they choose to celebrate cycling. With that in mind, it is a fantastic privilege to get to present to you an exclusive Masiguy interview with Alison Dunlap!

Alison is the 2001 UCI MTB World Champion and has won more than a dozen US National titles in road, cross and mountain. To say the least, the woman is insanely talented. On top of it, she is rather universally regarded as one of the nicest people in the sport of cycling. Alison and I happen to have a friend in common and through this connection, I was able to get the chance to put a few questions to Alison. (I'm also hoping to eventually get the chance to actually speak with her directly and get a podcast with her... so stay tuned for that as well.)

This 2009/2010 cross season, Alison came out of retirement to do a bit of racing again. Apparently, the racing itch hasn't completely left this amazingly gifted competitor. Though not a full-blown launch into a full season of racing, her ability to rejoin the pointy end of the racing was pretty incredible. With 6 National titles in cross, she obviously knows a thing or two about the the event, so it isn't entirely shocking that she's been able to do so well in what might look like a very short amount of time.

I recently caught up with Alison as she had pretty much wrapped up her season of racing and was preparing for her adventure camps and coaching. Here's how that conversation turned out...


First, Alison, thank you for taking the time to let me ask a few questions. I know you’re a busy person and I am very appreciative for your time.

I have it on fairly good authority that you got into cycling because soccer didn’t really work out for you in college. Since you wanted to get into sports and meet guys, you got into cycling instead. We obviously know that the whole cycling thing worked out for you pretty well- all things considered- so that begs the question; did it work for meeting guys? Were you already “into” skinny guys with shaved legs at that time? Now that you’ve been one of the most successful and decorated cyclists in US cycling history, do you find you prefer guys with shaved legs or hairy legs?

Ironically the guy I started dating my first year of college wasn’t even a student. He was a rock climber and I met him at Garden of the Gods. However I did end having a crush on most of the guys on the Colorado College cycling team. They were all so cute and very friendly and helpful every time we rode together. I don’t think I had ever seen guys with shaved legs before college. I definitely prefer guys with shaved legs!

Living in Colorado, you obviously have a lot of really great places to ride and most riders who have reached a high level of success tend live where they like to ride. When you aren’t home, where do you like to ride and do you have a discipline that you prefer to do most? You’ve won so many races in cross, MTB and road over the years, is there one type of riding you prefer or are you a riding omnivore and anything with two wheels is good?

When I’m not home, I most prefer to ride in Summit County, near Breckenridge. Some of the best trails in Colorado are in Summit County. My favorite riding is above treeline. I still prefer riding my mountain bike. I love my road bike but I get so tired of traffic and angry motorists. The cross bike is great but you can’t do a whole lot with it, other than ride the bike path or the pavement. I have always loved the out of doors, so mountain biking fits in with my lifestyle perfectly.

You’re coaching now; how many athletes are you currently working with and are there any we might know? As a coach and active athlete at the same time, how do you balance your own training with coaching other riders? Do you feel that still being a competitor helps you or hurts you as a coach?

Right now I have eight athletes. During the summer I’ve had as many as eighteen. My most well known athlete is Kathy Sherwin. She raced pro for Kenda. I am also working with Kyle Ashton, one of the top semi-pros from California. Balancing training and coaching was a challenge this year. There were times when I neglected some of my athletes because I was so busy getting ready for a race. On the other hand, being an athlete also helped with my coaching. Makes it easier to relate to my athletes and fully understand their suffering. Haha! It’s also been fun for me to see athletes at races and even race against some of my athletes.

On those epically long rides, how do you stay focused? Do you listen to music while you ride or do you just have that ability to cut out the rest of the world and focus? Did you find it hard to focus on training in your earlier career or later part of your racing career? What do you tell the athletes you coach, to help them find the ability to focus?

On long rides I am usually busy thinking about projects I’m working on, phone calls I need to make, programs I need to write etc. The only time I listen to music is when I ride the bike path. I don’t think it is safe to listen to music while riding on the road. My acute hearing has saved me from many a dangerous situation. On the mountain bike I never get bored. It’s just too much fun! I think it is harder to focus in the later part of my career. There are so many other things that demand my attention, that I feel like cycling gets only a small part of my energy. When I was young and life wasn’t as complicated it was easy to focus on bike racing 100%. I usually tell my athletes that if they can’t focus on their training and racing, their main competitors will. That’s usually enough to motivate someone. Haha!

What is your favorite flavor at Josh-n-John's Ice Cream and has it changed since college?

Coffee has always been my favorite, ever since I was a kid. But now I am in love with Chocolate Fudge Brownie.

Pop Quiz Tech Question; Where is the transmission tensioner and frequency modulator on your cross bike and what does it do?

It balances the inertial q factor with the I drive regulator inside the ovulated shell of the power meter.

We all have our “proudest moments on a bike” – what’s your least proud moment? Mine is from a training ride where the seam on a pair of shorts split all the way from my thigh to my waist, leaving an entire butt cheek in the breeze for the remaining 20-30 miles of my ride. Have you ever had your “assets” in the breeze?

I crashed in a Norba National at Snowshoe, WV in a terribly muddy race. I somehow clipped a tree and tore a big flap into the shorts of my skinsuit. It was around the front of the chamois. As long as I was riding you couldn’t see much. But when I crossed the finish line I immediately grabbed our manager’s towel for cover.

Are there any things that you want to accomplish still on a bike? It’d be hard for many folks to imagine that there could be anything else left for you to do, so maybe the only thing left for you to do is to do a ride across the globe?

The only thing I didn’t accomplish was winning an Olympic medal. Unfortunately that will never happen because I will never be at that level again. But I’m ok with that. I would like to ride the entire Colorado Trail (not all at once) as well as the Continental Divide Trail.

Are there any projects you are really passionate about- either on or off the bike? What gets you motivated to get out of bed each morning?

There really isn’t one thing that I’m most passionate about that gets me out of bed each morning. I have so many things each day that I love to do. I love to eat. I love to play ball with our Border Collie. I love my coaching. I love going out for a ride. I love cooking. I love hanging out with my husband. These are the things that make my life worth living.

You’ve enjoyed a long relationship with the Luna Chix. Is there any one thing that really stands out in your mind from the years? The team has been a big force in women’s cycling in the US over the years. It’s hard to find another example of a team with the kind of footprint and legacy- is that something that you think about ever or is it something that will “sink in” years after you truly retire… for real.

My time on the Luna Pro Team has been amazing! Every year has been a incredible experience. My biggest accomplishment with LUNA was winning the 2002 World Cup Overall. The things I’ll remember the most about being on Luna are the friendships I’ve made. I think that’s what makes this team unique. The riders get along, the staff loves what they do, and the owner of Clif Bar is our biggest supporter. The entire company is behind our team. This is something I’ve always known and that’s a big reason I’m still with the program.

Going back to your collegiate cycling days, were there any rival schools that you really dug deep to try to beat?

We always enjoyed beating CU and CSU.

You have a well-earned reputation of being an incredibly nice person- on and off the bike. Is there anything that actually gets you worked up and angry? Did you ever have a moment where you raced on the fuel of anger?

I get super angry at riders who cheat during a race, or cheat by using drugs. I also get very angry at promoters that don’t support women’s racing. For example, the promoter of Cross Vegas gave the men’s winner $2000 and Katie Compton got a paltry $250 for winning the women’s race. That infuriates me! There is absolutely no excuse for that. Have I ever raced on anger….occasionally but it usually because of something I’ve done. It might be a crash or a stupid tactic that makes me angry. The adrenalin goes way up and I definitely ride harder. 90% of the time I race hard because I feel strong and I’m motivated to do well.

As a public cycling figure, it’s a delicate thing to ask… but I’m gonna anyway; is there any current or past trend in cycling that makes you scratch your head? Helmet mirrors? Knee-high socks? White shorts?

Ok the white shorts thing is absurd, especially in cyclocross. Have you ever tried to wash a white jersey and white pair of shorts after a muddy race? You might as well throw them away. White shorts can also be semi-transparent, which is never a good thing.

Have you ever considered track cycling? I’ve never seen or heard anything about you doing any track cycling, so unless I am missing something, there is at least one more discipline you have the chance to excel at! Seriously- if you haven’t already, maybe you should consider an attack on the track. Points race? Scratch? Maybe even just the Pursuit? You obviously have the engine for intense efforts and Colorado has one of the best tracks in the US… just a thought.

I have only raced one day on the track and I was terrified the entire time. I am still a cat 4 on the track. I have done a lot of motor pacing and interval training on the track when I was focusing on the time trial, especially before the Olympic Trials in 1996. The biggest reason I didn’t race track was because I just didn’t have the time.

What kinds and how many bikes do you have in your garage/ home? What bike is your “go to bike” for just having fun? Is there a bike you once had that you wish you still had?

All of my current bikes are Orbea. I have a road bike, cross bike, 29er, and a sweet full-suspension. I also still have my Olympic bikes from Atlanta and Sydney, and my Worlds bike from Vail. I wish I still had my Santa Cruz Blur. I loved that bike!!

Do you do any work on your bikes yourself or do you have a mechanic who takes care of it all?

I can do basic stuff to my bikes, but anything complicated goes to my husband. He is an awesome mechanic.

Roof rack or rear carrier?

Roof rack.

Romantic ride on a tandem taking in the Colorado vistas or side by side on your favorite ride with that somebody special?

Definitely side by side. I like to be in control.

If calories were no question, what is the one food that you absolutely can not live without?

I love ice cream!

Lastly, what is something that you would want people to know about you that they might not already know? Is there a favorite song, book or movie?

I have played the flute since 4th grade. I am an avid tele skier. I am addicted to LOST. I have been a vegan for the past two years. I love to read. And I love pancakes!


Again, I want to thank Alison for taking the time out of her very busy schedule, as well as our mutual friend Deb for connecting us.

In case you missed the links above and want to learn more about Alison or take advantage of her experience, here you go;

Alison Dunlap (via Wikipedia)

Alison Dunlap Adventure Camps

Alison Dunlap Coaching

And you can also find Alison periodically on Twitter; @ADCoaching

I hope you enjoyed this as much as I did!



Deb Robison said...

Great job Tim! And thanks for the shout out! I know Ali will love it!

Dan O said...

Fun interview. Being the old school mountain biker, enjoyed it fully.

Alison sounds like a nice, all around person - who can also kick ass on a bike.

Very cool....