Cyclingnews talks with Alison Dunlap

Alison Dunlap is a champion off-road cyclist. A winner of many national MTB and cyclo-cross titles, she finally scored the big one this year on September 16 in Vail, Colorado when she won the World MTB cross country title. It was an emotional win, given the terrible events that had shaken the USA just five days before, and one that she will not forget.

Cyclingnews photographer Rob Karman caught up with her shortly after her triumph, and she recounted her experiences this year that led to it. The photo on the right is available in a full size poster format, and Alison herself was at the VeloSwap meet in Denver, Colorado on October 27 to sign posters.

By Rob Karman
Click for larger image
An emotional Dunlap
Photo: © Rob Karman

Cyclingnews: So what was it like winning the World's? I mean you have done just about everything in your career. You've been an Olympian on the road and the dirt, etc...

Alison Dunlap: Winning World's was the greatest thing I have ever done as a cyclist. It was better than the Olympics. It was better than any race I have ever won. It was, it was great to win the world title and it was... you know part of it was also because of what happened that week. It was in Vail, three hours from my home. The whole package kind of came together to make it. It was a magical day it really was.

CN: Were your parents there?

AD: Oh, my whole family. My 90 year old grandmother sat in the bleachers all day. I had cousins running around and you know my husband and parents and tons of friends. I love racing when a lot of people that you know are there. You know they're cheering you on and it is very motivating.

CN: Cool. What are your plans for next year? I mean GT is kind of...

AD: Gone.

CN: Yeah, almost fully gone. I just got back from the show (Interbike) and they are selling K-Mart bikes.

AD: Yeah?

CN: You know, are you thinking of retiring on a high point? I know you've said now that you are married you want to start a family...or do you want to go about the business of finding a new team?
Click for larger image
Descending to victory
Photo: © Rob Karman

AD: Looking for a new team. I don't want to retire. I want to wear the jersey next year, so I will probably sign a two year contract. Now, whether I race two years, I don't know. But I definitely want to race next year and if I do the full season, full circuit...? So I'm getting close but I'm going to keep saying this every year. I don't know if something's gonna... the light switch will just go off and I'll be like, "Okay, I'm ready to quit", or... I don't know. Some people who have real jobs are like race your bike as long as you can, it's not fun in the real world. So I don't know. I do want to start a family soon, so that will probably be the reason to retire.

CN: Any thoughts about trying to hang out for another Olympics?

AD: Right now I'd say no. But you know, never say never I suppose. I mean if I am racing and four years rolls around... you know to go to another Olympics would be incredible so I wouldn't pass it up. That's definitely not a goal of mine at the moment.

CN: You skipped Cyclocross World's last year in order to concentrate on Vail, it obviously paid off.

AD: It worked. (smile)

CN: Are you planning to do 'cross this year? If you do as well as you have the last, what, four national titles you have now?

AD: Yeah, I wanna do cyclo-cross. And the only thing I want is that rainbow jersey.

CN: Now that you've got one you want another?

AD: Yup! I really want it. Now that I've got a taste of it, so it's like yeah, I know I can do this.
Click for larger image
The Rainbow jersey at last...
Photo: © Brett Lindstrom

CN: So you'll have a rainbow jersey every time you race. (Ed note: she can not wear the MTB world jersey in any other sanctioned event than an MTB race)

AD: That's right. (smile)

CN: Has GT said anything about supporting you through that, or is it pretty much gone?

AD: It's done. You know I'm talking to teams and hopefully one of the selling points is I am telling them that if you hire me I can race cyclo-cross for you right now. You can start paying me right away. That'd be great because I am not getting paid now anymore.

CN: They didn't pay the last quarter, did they?

AD: No, so October, November, December we won't get paid.

CN: The finish in the picture that everyone is all wowing about, obviously super emotional moment. What was going through your mind?

AD: Oh gosh, the finish... it was just, I kept saying I can't believe it, I can't believe it. Like it was almost too good to happen to me. You always dream about it and you always work hard for it. You know it's like the good guy finally won, and I got off the bike and kneeled down and just wanted to kiss the ground, it was like it was a sacred place at that moment. After everything that happened the whole the week, something good finally happened.

CN: Earlier in the week you were saying you didn't even feel like riding your bike.

AD: Yes...

CN: Were you thinking of not even racing? You said that you didn't really feel like it, but...

AD: I wasn't going to drop out, but for those couple days I was hoping they would cancel the whole thing. It was just like it was going to make it easier, to not have to deal with the emotional roller coaster of having to try and collect yourself and get ready to race again after such a horrible day. And having them cancel the race is definitely an easy way out looking back on it, and I think it was a good that they kept it going. Not just because I won, but it was a great way to do something just pure and simple as watch a bike race.

CN: ...Something positive

Click for larger image
Her native scenery
Photo: © Rob Karman

AD: Something positive and give people something to cheer about. Otherwise they would just sit at home and watch TV all weekend. You just get to the point where you're saturated. Even though it is just absolutely horrible you can only handle so much bad and I think it was a great weekend to just get away from all that because life has to go on.

CN: It certainly lifted the spirits of a lot of the Americans in attendance.

AD: I think it really did.

CN: The first half of the men's race I couldn't really pay attention to what was going on.

AD: (Laughs) There was a men's race? (chuckle)

CN: How did you feel with Gunn Rita flatting at the very end? You know she didn't even finish?

AD: I know. It's funny, I know I would have caught her. The time gap that I made up on her, and the way I felt, and just my emotional state of mind, I would have caught her. Now, would the finish ended up the same? I don't know how it would have played out. It probably would have come to a sprint finish. You never know. It would have been really, really stressful. It already was hard. But then when I saw her flat, I couldn't believe it. I couldn't believe that some little piece of good luck happened to me and all of the sudden it just made it made it a little easier that I didn't have to deal with her. I mean, I had a terrible year of flat tires that cost me both NORBA National titles and I lost a World Cup the year before. So it was just so incredible that it was finally going my way.

Order your signed copy of the Alison Dunlap 2001 World MTB Championship poster here

Other Talking Cycling Interviews