Peloton Watch
  Jessica Allen reflects on 2014 season and Rio 2016 tandem goal  
  November 13th 2014  
  2014 was a mixed season for 2011 Junior Time Trial World Champion Jessica Allen. It started with bronze in the under 23 time trial at the Australian National Champions and the elite Oceania Road Race title. Success continued in Canada but illness impacted her European campaign. "This year was definitely a lot better than last year but you always have your ups and downs. I think the hardest part was my time in Europe," said Allen. "I was in great form at the start of the year, knew that I potentially had a spot at the World Championships and not showing that form when it was needed was very disappointing."

Despite disappointment of missing out on a hard earned spot in the worlds team Allen put it aside and with the help of her coach Donna Rae-Szalinski, has found a new target to focus on. After starting her career on the track Allen's career will return to where it started. 2015 will see Allen become a tandem pilot for two time Winter Paralympic medallist Jessica Gallagher as they target Rio 2016.

Below Allen talks her 2014 season and her change of focus that has reenergised her cycling career.

PelotonWatch: After a difficult season in 2013 you started 2014 on a strong note. Bronze in the U23 time trial at the National Championships and then your biggest win since Junior Worlds with the Oceania Road Race title. Did you sense this was a turning point?

Jessica Allen: Yeah I sure did and it was quite unexpected too. After such a tough 2013 season I thought Iíd be head cracked for quite a while but once I came back to Perth, spent time with my family and friends I was a lot happier on and off the bike. I went into 2014 happy and really wanting to prove to some people that I am a good bike rider. I was in a really good headspace and Iím so happy I could turn around one of my worst seasons on the bike.

PW: You spent most of this season racing in Canada how did that go?

JA: I had an awesome season in Canada. I raced for a team called the NCCH p/b DEC Express based in Ancaster, Ontario. I lived near a lot of the team, we trained together and did some awesome races like the Philadelphia Classic and GP Gatineau. I lived with a wonderful host family and I really enjoyed the environment I was in, so I think that contributed to a few wins over there early in the season. I really like North American racing as itís not as intense as European racing. I was able to get amongst the races instead of struggling to hold on like in Europe. I think it is a great stepping-stone for Europe.

PW: A guest ride for Specialized-lululemon at the North Star Bike Festival. What did you learn from the experience?

JA: I think guest riding for Specialized-lululemon was the best experience of my year. To guest ride for one of the best professional teams in the world was amazing and I learnt so much in that week. I loved having Carmen Small as the team leader, learning new tactics and seeing how the professional team runs. The girls race aggressively, respect one another and have so much fun together. I hope to race in a team like that one day.

PW: By winning the Oceania Title you earned an extra spot for yourself in the Australian World Championship team. Did this then become your main goal for the year?

JA: It sure did. You donít earn yourself an extra spot in the Australian worlds team often so this was definitely a huge goal of mine. After winning the Oceania title, I was told that I would get to do a stint in Europe with the Australian national team in the lead up to Worlds. I thought that my racing and training in Canada would be a great lead up to a few tours later in the European Season and then hopefully confirm my position in the national team.

PW: You went over to Europe to ride with the national team to show you should be selected. Heading over how were you feeling?

JA: I found out only 3 weeks before La Course that I was to pay my own way to Europe to race La Course and Route de France for the national team to confirm my spot for the senior World Championship team. I was definitely not confident going over to Europe as I had been struggling with illness and on/off antibiotics in the previous four weeks. I wasnít going to go as I thought I wouldnít be in good enough form but that wouldíve meant that I miss out on the world championships. So I decided to give it a go otherwise Iíd always be thinking Ďwhat if?í

PW: Your first race was to be La Course but you had to miss it after going to hospital a few days earlier with kidney stones. How big a disappointment was it?

JA: Missing out on La Course was a huge disappointment. I know I wouldnít have been in great form if I did it but it was one of the biggest womenís races of the year and I think itís every female cyclist dream to race on the Champs Elysťes. I was super upset but at the end of the day, I believe everything happens for a reason.

PW: You then started La Route de France but had to withdraw on the first day. Another big blow what was going through you head?

JA: I knew it was going to be a big ask for me to finish the 7-day tour with my lack of preparation but to not finish the first day was mentally straining. I knew immediately that it meant I wasnít going to worlds and that my season of racing was pretty much over. I was very grateful to have my coach Donna Rae-Szalinski and also Loren Rowney there as they were great support and helped me look at the bigger picture. There are a lot more bike races out there and looking after my health should always be my number one priority.

PW: Did you get to the point where you thought I don't want to do this anymore? I just want to stop and go home?

JA: Yes definitely. Once I pulled out of the first stage of Route De France I didnít even want to think about racing. So many things had gone wrong in the last month and I really needed to take a break and get into the right headspace.

PW: Have the past 2 years been character building? You have had some hard times but do you feel you are now walking out the other side stronger because of it?

JA: They definitely have been, last year more so. The last two years may not have made me physically stronger but I definitely think Iím mentally stronger. Last year showed me that if youíre not happy and in a good environment you wonít succeed on the bike.

PW: You initially started your career on the track and now you are going back as a tandem pilot. How did this come about?

JA: While I was in Europe, my coach Donna asked if anyone knew of a rider that would like to be a pilot rider for a vision impaired girl in Melbourne aiming to get to the Rio Paralympics. Tandem riding is something Iíve always wanted to do as I rode as a pilot rider for a vision impaired school when I was 14. I had a think about it, thought itíd be a new and fresh opportunity and said Iíd do it.

PW: You said being a tandem pilot was something you always wanted to do. What is it that excites you about it?

JA: When I was a pilot rider at the age of 14, I realized how much the vision-impaired riders appreciate your time and effort to help them achieve something they cannot do themselves. Iíve always loved team events like teams pursuits, teams time trials and working my butt off for my teammates in road races, so being able to help someone else achieve a goal definitely motivates me and excites me.

PW: This new project seems to have reignited the fire. Is that fair to say?

JA: Yes I think so. I was originally going to have a year off the bike to have a mental break, work and spend more time at home but by doing the tandem racing I can still be involved in the sport in a more positive way, travel a bit and also work and spend more time at home.

PW: You are going to attempt to set the WA Hour record in November with your training partner. Do you have a particular goal you are looking to set?

JA: I am attempting the hour record this Saturday the 15th at 10am with my training partner Alisha Anderson. I rode with Alisha was I was 14 years old and she hasnít ridden a lot since then. Iím honestly not sure what we are going to aim for as Alisha is still getting her fitness back and none of us have ridden an hour non-stop on the track before. We are going to have to pace ourselves well, communicate well and Iím hoping we will do around 120 laps of the track in the hour.

PW: The World Tandem Hour Record is 42km 930m set by Lindy Hou & Toireasa Gallagher is this something you think you might look to target in the future?

JA: The World Tandem Hour Record is honestly something I havenít even thought of yet. Our main goal is representing Australia at the 2016 Rio Paralympic Games and if things are going well Iím sure that record is something we will look at breaking in the future.
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