Peloton Watch
  Jessica Allen Interview  
  February 24th 2014  
  West Australian Jessica Allen shot to the attention of cycling fans in 2011 when she won the World Junior Time Trial Championships in Denmark. In a close result she took the win by under two seconds ahead of Great Britainís Elinor Barker. Earlier in 2011 she had claimed her first Oceania Championship in the Junior Time Trial. The following year Allen rode as part of the Australian National team before joining French professional team Vienne Futuroscope in 2013.

Initially planning to ride both the time trial and road race at the Oceania Championships illness forced her to miss the time trial. "I pretty much spent two days in bed and my coach Donna and I decided that it would be best if I missed the time trial" said Allen.

In the road race Allen was part of a five rider group that formed inside 10 kilometres. Chloe McConville (Jayco-AIS) initiated the move with Allen the first to bridge across. The two riders were joined by Jess Mundy (Jayco-AIS), Lisa Keeling (Bicycling Superstore) and Sophie Mackay (Specialized-Securitor).

Mundy and Mackay dropped off the pace and when Keeling attacked inside the final 20 kilometres Allen was the only rider able to stay with her. With the finish coming down to a sprint Allen comfortably took the win to take her first Elite Oceania title.

Below Jessica Allen talks more about the Oceania Championships, her first year as a professional, what the future holds and her thoughts on womenís cycling.

PelotonWatch: For those who may not know how did you first come in to the sport?

Jessica Allen: As a young kid I was heavily involved in all sports. When I was 6 years old I lived in a small town called Karratha (North of Western Australia). My dad raced club level road races up there and he got me into triathlons. When I came back to Perth a few years later my dad decided to take me down to a Midland Cycling Club track session at the Midvale SpeedDome. My first proper taste of cycling was on the track and to be honest I was so scared and really didn't like it. It actually took me about 3 months to ride on the banking of the track. Once I got my confidence up I started loving the track and road as well. At this time I was still heavily involved in triathlons as well as netball, cross country and little athletics and it was all getting too much for a young kid. I decided that I just wanted to stick to cycling and Iíve loved the sport ever since.

PW: You came to the attention of a lot of people when you won the World Junior Time Trial Championship in 2011 looking back what does this mean to you now?

JA: Winning the Junior World Time Trial Championships in 2011 was definitely the most memorable moment of my cycling career. I worked so hard leading up to it and to stand on the top podium, representing my country with the world bands on my chest was a feeling that I will never forget.

PW: How significant was the Oceania Championship win for you?

JA: This was my first ever Elite Oceania Championships since being in the elite ranks. The Oceania Championships is always a prestigious event as there is a lot of pressure on riders to win as you qualify yourself and country an extra spot at the world championships if you win it. At the end of the season last year I set myself some targets and goals for the start of this year. I didn't tell many people but I had in the back of my mind that I really wanted to win the Oceania road race. I knew it would be a serious task to win and a lot of people would have thought I was crazy but I think what Iíve proven this weekend is that anything can happen in cycling. To win the race I had to be in a break away without the major contenders. The early break went after only 8kms and I knew that it would be a sink or swim move but I took the opportunity and it payed off. This win is definitely the best result Iíve ever had in the elite ranks and I am so proud and happy to be able to wear the Oceania stripes all year.

PW: You didn't start the time trial at Oceania's what was the decision behind that?

JA: My plan was to do the time trial and road race but two days out from the time trial I came down with a cold. I pretty much spent two days in bed and my coach Donna and I decided that it would be best if I missed the time trial and rest my body for the road race. It was disappointing to miss the time trial but I think it was definitely the right decision as I felt a lot better for the road race.

PW: Having won the Oceania Championship you have qualified an extra spot to compete at the World Championships. Australia hasn't always taken advantage of this but is it something you will look to target?

JA: After crossing the finish line my coach Donna Rae-Szalinski came up to me and said 'you know what you've done right?' and Goosebumps just ran through my body. Representing my country at an Elite Road World Championships would be a dream come true. It's going to be bloody hard but I am willing to work as hard as I can to prove to the national team selectors that I am worth taking. I love riding in a team environment and I really hope I can represent my country and help the team win the world title. It is definitely going to be my main goal for this year.

PW: You spent your first professional season on the road with Vienne Futuroscope last year how did that go?

JA: I was very fortunate to have a contract with Vienne Futuroscope last year. The French based team have a close relationship with Australian riders and usually have one or two riders from Australia on their team each year. Carlee Taylor was on the team the previous year so she gave me a lot of advice on what to expect and I thought it would be great for my development racing with the team for 8 months in Europe. To be completely honest, last year was definitely the hardest year of my cycling career. Not so much physically but mentally and emotionally. The team were great! They were so professional and did everything they could to help me fit in. Unfortunately for me the language barrier, living in a foreign country half a world away from friends and family at the age of 19/20 proved too much. My form over the year wasn't great and I think it was because I wasn't happy. Cycling is such a demanding sport and for women, if you're not enjoying it, there's no point doing it. I was considering coming home half way through the season but I wanted to tough it out and Iím so glad I did as the last few months were the most enjoyable. Those 8 months definitely toughened me up mentally and I now have so much respect for riders that go over to Europe in a foreign team.

PW: No longer with Vienne Futuroscope what is the plan for 2014?

JA: The team asked me to ride for them again in 2014 but I turned down the offer. The team were brilliant and I think for French riders itís the perfect team to be. It was a tough decision to say 'no' but at the end of the day Iíve got to do what's right for me and if I'm not enjoying something I don't want to do it. All I wanted to do at the end of last season was come home to Perth, be with my family and friends and learn to love the sport again and that's exactly what I did.

When I was over in France I was fortunate enough to spend a month in Canada with my old coach Rick Lee. He really opened my mind to racing in North America. He runs a cycling team called the National Cycling Centre of Hamilton in Ontario Canada. He wanted me to come over and check out the team and what they have to offer. After spending the month in Canada and talking about potential opportunities for me to race over in North America in 2014 I was pretty motivated. Towards the end of last season I decided I wanted to race in North America. Everyone that Iíve spoken to who have raced over there have loved it and I think it is going to help my development and transition to European racing. I will head over to Canada early May with my first major race being UCI Chrono and GP Gatineau in June. I would also like to get some guest rides in bigger US teams for other UCI races over there. Towards the second half of the season I would like to race in Europe and try to secure myself a spot in the Australian team for the World Championships.

PW: You will turn 21 this year and with many riders riding in to their late 30's do you think the gap for younger riders coming off successful results as juniors is too big to move to the senior ranks immediately and could benefit from an under 23 level the men have?

JA: It has definitely been tough transitioning from juniors to seniors and I think having an U23 category would make it a lot easier. However, there are a lot of U23 riders (particularly the Europeans) who are strong enough to be major contenders in the elite ranks and even medal and win the elite World Championships. This year there is an U23 classification for all the World Cups in Europe and I think that will really encourage more U23's to continue competing and help their transition.

PW: What role has your coach Donna Rae-Szalinski played in your development?

JA: Donna has not only been one of the best coaches Iíve ever had but also a wonderful friend and pretty much a second mum.

As a junior I was coached by Rick Lee who produced incredible cyclists like the Meyer brothers, Josie Tomic, Sarah Kent, Michael Freiberg and Luke Durbridge. I am very thankful to Rick for all his hard work in my junior days. Once I got into the U19 ranks I was coached by Gordon Hindley and WAIS coach Daryl Benson. They did a great job and I made the Australian Junior Road team in 2010. It was then that I met Donna as she was the head coach for the junior women's road team. Ever since then Donna has played a vital role in my development. She took over my program in the lead up to the Junior World Road Championships in Copenhagen and was one of the reasons I won the Junior World Time Trial title. She has so much knowledge from when she raced professionally in Europe and Iím so thankful to have her. We will be friends for life.

PW: Born in Perth but you were riding for the VIS team how different are the opportunities available in the Eastern States to WA?

JA: Perth and Western Australia will always be my home. I was part of WAIS (Western Australian Institute of Sport) in U19's and I am very thankful for all their hard work and support. They played a huge part in me winning the Junior World Time Trial in 2011 and I will never forget that. Once I got into the elite ranks there didn't seem to be many road specific girls in WAIS. Melissa Hoskins, Josie Tomic, Sarah Kent and Bella King were all track specific and I lacked team mates in National events. It was then that I decided I wanted to be part of VIS as they have a great women's road program and my coach Donna is head of the VIS. The VIS girls are a great bunch and will be my friends for life. I have learnt so much from them, particularly team work and ethics in the National Road Series. We have so much fun together on tours I look forward to making more memories with them in the future.

PW: Women's cycling has had a big increase in popularity the past two years what would you like to see fans do to get more involved?

JA: It's great to see women's cycling increase in popularity. This year, all UCI World Cup events for women are going to be televised and I think that will really change peoples perspectives of women's cycling. Fans just need to keep coming to races and supporting us. We train just as hard as the men and have so much passion for the sport and it'd be so wonderful to one day see women's cycling as popular as the menís!

You can follow Jessica on twitter @JessicaAllen93
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