Jess Allen: a champion (again)
We catch up with the new criterium national champion, Ms Jess Allen from the Orica-Scott team. It’s been a fast start to the season and there’s more yet to come…
On the third day of 2017, Jessica Allen sped ahead of the peloton to win the Williamstown round of the Mitchelton Bay Cycling Classics (aka. ‘The Bay Series Crits’). The season was underway.
It was Tuesday and the 23-year-old from Western Australia finished alone and had time to savour the feeling of her first win of the season.
On the fourth day of 2017, ‘Jess’ – as she likes to be called – did it all again: line up for a crit, ride fast, speed ahead… win!
She had raced every day of the year and had a strike rate of 50 percent: two wins from four starts. The second victory happened to be one that earned her another prize jersey for the wardrobe: ‘Australia champion 2017’, that’s what it says right up there to the left of the zipper.
By her own admission, she’s not done “a hell of a lot of note in recent years” but that doesn’t mean there’s no history for Jessica Allen. The junior time trial world champion from 2011 wasn’t exactly sure where her cycling career was going but in recent months it seems to have found direction.
A little less than a day after her win in the national criterium championships on the streets of Ballarat, Jess spoke with RIDE about the win, the early years of her career, and a little bit about The Big One on Sunday, the road race for the nationals…
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Read the transcript below and/or listen to the interview on SoundCloud.
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RIDE: It’s the fifth day of 2017 and I’m talking with Jessica Allen who yesterday earned her green and gold jersey as national criterium champion. Well done on a solo breakaway win…
Jessica Allen: “Thanks so much.”
I don’t know if you were aware of it: there was a fair crowd watching because of a Facebook live stream…
“Yeah, it was fantastic. I knew the live stream was on so I told all of my family back home, and all my friends, so there was lots of support back home… and I actually watched the replay last night – because I couldn’t sleep – and to see all the comments from people posting and everything was pretty special.
“It was great that they were able to do that this year.”
I guess, because you got to watch it again, you get to see what everyone was doing while you were riding up ahead and trying to keep that distance of about 20 or 30 seconds [advantage]. Were you surprised by the reaction of the other girls? Did you think that they might have swapped off a little harder? What was the expectation – that you might come back?
“Uhm, yeah… at first, when Jenelle Crooks and I were in the breakaway of five, I said to her, ‘We have to attack and we’ve got to do it pretty soon…’
“I didn’t want to leave it down to only a few laps because I think the harder the race for [Orica-Scott] the better.
“Actually, I thought it’d take more than what it did to get away so once I went I was quite surprised it did stick. But I knew that, if it did come back, Jenelle would be sitting on ready to go as well. She had an absolutely fantastic ride.
“And if it did come down to a bunch kick, we had our sprinter Sarah Roy there – who is in really great form as well.”
You’ve had, basically, a 50 percent success rate for the year: four races, two victories…
“Yeah, actually I never thought of it that way.”
You told me before we started the formal interview that you never know with the Bay Series or the national championships, because you’re basically training and not racing one another. Did you get a good idea of other peoples’ form on the first day of the year?
“Yeah definitely. It’s always an interesting one, coming into the first race of the year. Everyone is preparing back at home and I knew I had a great preparation, did a bit of local racing, but you still don’t really know how you’re at compared to the best women in Australia.
“After the first day I knew I was in good form and particularly after Port Arlington (2 January) – that’s such a hard criterium and if you do well on that course you know you’re in pretty good form.
“That was a big confidence boost coming into the nationals for sure.”
I’m going to plead a little ignorance: I don’t know too much about you. I wonder if we can get a little bit of an overview of how you came to cycling… and can I ask your age?
And how did you come into cycling?
“I started when I was pretty young; I was only nine years old and my dad got me into track cycling. Then, through my junior career, I raced both track and road around Australia which was really awesome.
“I won quite a few national titles and then my first junior world championships was in the under-19s in 2010 and 2011.
“In 2011 I won the junior world time trial in Copenhagen. That was the first huge win of my career.
“The year after that I had the Amy Gillett Foundation scholarship and that allowed me to race in Europe for three months with the national team as a senior. That was my first experience with elite racing in Europe and it was a great [season]: I learnt so much.
“I also had Gracie Elvin on the team that year… and Chloe McConnville who is a former Orica rider as well so that was pretty special.
“Then I signed my first professional contract in 2013 with Vienne-Futuroscope which is a French professional team. I spent most of the year in Europe – in France – racing with them. That was a pretty tough year, both mentally and physically – more so mentally.
“I just found myself pretty lonely over there and I was the only foreigner on the team and… yeah – it wasn’t a great one.
“So after that year I really had to reassess if I wanted to continue cycling.”
You’re only 23 now so you’ve just come out of high school when you were living in France?
“Yeah. I was only 19/20 years old.
“I finished high school and then I went to TAFE and did a certificate four in fitness and athlete support services.
“I started working and then… yeah, I was over in France.”
It’s a rapid-fire steps to get to a pro career. Does it feel like you’ve settled with Orica-Scott?
“Yeah definitely. The last couple of years have been really tough and there’s been quite a few times when I’ve thought, ‘I don’t know if I’ll be able to do it or not…’ because you do sacrifice a lot.
“But the last year I’ve just really found my love for the sport again and [I] raced really well at the start of last year and once Orica picked me up – like the last six months – I’ve really just excelled.
“I think it’s because they’re backing me and I have their support and belief, which is really awesome.
“They’re a great bunch of girls and I’m really motivated and excited for the rest of this year which them.”
Going into the criterium yesterday… you said you had Sarah as the sprinter. Were you the wildcard?
“Uhm, we had quite a few cards to play yesterday. Any one of us could have won.
“The plan was for Amanda Spratt and myself and Jenelle Crooks to be aggressive early on and save Gracie, Sarah and Georgia Baker for the later part of the race because they are our quicker riders.
“If it did come down to a sprint… well, we’d have full belief in Roy.
“But with it being aggressive, that suits us really well.
“I was just lucky enough to be in the move when that happened…
“We had full belief in each other.”
The criterium is kind of a good way to get the show on the road, so to speak. The Big One is on Sunday. Can we consider the criterium to be a bit of a preview of the road race?
“Yeah. The criterium is big but the road race, that’s the one we really want to win.
“There’s not many criteriums at [the] WorldTour – I don’t actually think there’s any… so we want to win the road race. And we want to keep it in the team.
“We’ve got some girls who are in great form (like Katrin Garfoot who didn’t do the criterium but did win the TT by almost two minutes) and I’m sure we’ll approach it in an aggressive way like we’ve done in the last week of racing.
“I think we’re going to support anyone who is in good form on the day.”
Again, you’ve got [a wealth] of options. We know Gracie can win on that course. How do you cope on the up and down of Mount Buninyong?
“Previous years I haven’t done so well on that course. I’ve just never really come into the nationals in the form I’m in at the moment.
“It’ll be actually quite interesting to see how I go but I am happy to ride my butt off for the other girls: they’ve done an awesome job supporting me the last couple of days so whoever has the legs out there, we’ll give them the full support – but we do have quite a few cards to play on Sunday.”
– Interview by Rob Arnold