Oct 26, 2021
This week we sit down with Whitney Allison, BWR Cedar City Champion and Co-Founder of the Foco Fondo in Fort Collins, CO.
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Automated Transcription (please excuse the typos):
[00:00:00] Craig Dalton: Hello and welcome to the gravel ride podcast. I'm your host Craig Dalton. This week on the podcast, we have Whitney, Alison who recently won the BWR Cedar city event. I don't know about you guys, but at the beginning of 2020, we are all poised and thinking about gravel racing and looking forward to a whole new crop of athletes coming into the mix.
[00:00:25] With the pandemic. Many of those athletes have to sit on the sidelines. Lines as events were few and far between. We're at the Alison was one of those athletes who was poised to make a great start. In 2020, but with sidelined into 2021. Early in the season, she had a win at Co2UT. And started to be on people's radar.
[00:00:45] Although. Although she deserved to be on the radar far before that.
[00:00:48] With a strong ride to fourth place at Unbound. Around in 2021. I suppose it was no. Surprise that another wind was right around the corner. I originally met Whitney at. The ENVE Grodeo event earlier this year as she's an ENVE sponsored rider and it was great to finally get her on the podcast And Cast We talk about her racing career What brought her to gravel riding and also the Foco Fondo that her and her husband produced in Fort Collins, colorado.
[00:01:13] I hope you enjoy the conversation. And with that, let's dive. Right in
[00:01:17] Whitney. Welcome to the show.
[00:01:19] Whitney Allison: Thanks. Thanks for having me.
[00:01:21] Craig Dalton: Yeah. I'm excited to talk to you about your season and gravel and what's next for you, but I always like to start off by learning a little bit about how you came to the sport of cycling and ultimately how you came to riding off-road with gravel.
[00:01:33] Whitney Allison: Yeah. I find cycling after high school.
[00:01:37] When I got to college, I went the pledget route. I thought I was going to go for. Soccer to being a normal college student got immediately bored. And, but I do lot. And and I ended up going on a group ride with a cycling team and women are worth a lot of points in collegiate racing. So they like really took me under their wing and kind of showed me the ropes and like collegiate cycling is such an incredible way to get into the sport.
[00:02:06] You get to find this really unique balance of both seriousness and fun at the same time, I think, as unique to any other area of cycling
[00:02:16] Craig Dalton: right now. Yeah. It's so interesting and mean, we talk about teams in cycling, but nothing really compares to the idea of a collegiate cycling team.
[00:02:25] Whitney Allison: Yeah. And you have just such a range.
[00:02:28] Athletes from maybe athletes who've never participated into a sport to people who've always been in a sport or maybe even always in cycling and you show up and you're S you're unified, whether you're in like the age category or when I was there, they only have A's and B's for women. So it didn't matter like how good you were.
[00:02:49] You were just still a very essential and important and welcome part
[00:02:53] Craig Dalton: of the. And we'll you riding both road and off-road at that point?
[00:02:57] Whitney Allison: Mostly just road. I didn't really have a mountain bike. I think I borrowed somebody's bike a couple of times for some mountain bike races, but mostly just the road.
[00:03:08] Craig Dalton: And what part of the country where you located in for college? I went to
[00:03:12] Whitney Allison: UT. So it's, I think it was just exclusively Texas for the conference, which is plenty big state.
[00:03:19] Craig Dalton: And was it a pretty popular sport? Was it a large program that you were involved in?
[00:03:23] Whitney Allison: It was really large. My first couple of years, I want to say that there were almost like 30 women competing in the A's, which was like so rad.
[00:03:32] Like I remember my first race and the A's on. I didn't know how to sprint. I didn't know how to get out of the saddle and just like sprinting and saddle and like still ending up on the podium. I had no idea what was going on, which is really funny if you know me too, because I'm not really, I'm a sprinter.
[00:03:50] So that's extra funding.
[00:03:53] Craig Dalton: Did you immediately start seeing post-collegiate opportunities in the professional cycling ranks? Was that an idea that you had early on in your collegiate?
[00:04:01] Whitney Allison: I definitely cat it up pretty quickly. I was also doing a lot of races in Austin at the time. I ended up getting on a development team out of Dallas that I believe it's still loosely associated with DNA pro cycling.
[00:04:14] But this is this would have been like 2008, 2008 or 2009. And so I was able to get on this team and it had a lot of the national level, like each 23 women at the time. And so that was something I was on the team, it was a regional writer. But immediately did really well. So I ended up with more opportunities than what was originally planned.
[00:04:35] And it was definitely like wild, like looking at some of those women. I had a lot of admiration for the. Just really talented women that, who wouldn't want to be an athlete like that. So I did get a race, do a lot of the national stage race stuff, starting my junior year of college.
[00:04:51] And then and my senior year. And then after that, I had to get a full-time job
[00:04:56] Craig Dalton: As many professional cyclists have to do unfortunate.
[00:05:00] Whitney Allison: Yeah, the student loans don't pay themselves.
[00:05:03] Craig Dalton: And then, so what was next for you and the cycling career?
[00:05:06] Whitney Allison: So I definitely still had, I still wanted to race professionally and do well there.
[00:05:12] I've always wanted to be an athlete. It's just something that's very much a part of my identity. So while working full time at this office job in port Collins, which is where I live now, I somehow convinced my the company owner to one Spencer me, and to let me go race all summer while working remotely, which had never been done.
[00:05:33] And it was to their demise because essentially as soon as I paid off my student loans, I like left. And eventually I would get a contract with Colavita in 2013. And stayed with them for, I think, four or five years until joining Superman, Huggins, Roman Superman with my former teammate, Lily Williams, who you've talked to before for the 2018 and 2019 season.
[00:06:02] Craig Dalton: And I've heard everything I've heard about that program as it was such a tight knit group of women and everybody had each other's backs, it sounded like a great experience. Those two years,
[00:06:12] Whitney Allison: it really was. You usually get some of that. I feel like on teams, but it's very rare that you could get it across such a high percentage of the writers.
[00:06:23] So it really was like a special time. We still have a WhatsApp text thread that still gets used. Most of us are all still in touch, which is really.
[00:06:31] Craig Dalton: Was 2019 a planned retirement from the road scene or did something happen? I know the team obviously stopped existing, I think at that point.
[00:06:40] But what was that your trajectory or your expectation prior to that?
[00:06:44] Whitney Allison: My trajectory part of, if we pedal back a little bit in August of 2018, I was hit by a driver with an Airstream a couple of days before Colorado. In Colorado. Classic is like a race I've always done really well at. I broke a bunch of bones, had PTSD, went through all sorts of therapy for that.
[00:07:03] And, I was really fortunate to be on a team that was really supportive. And so they're like, of course you have a contract for next year and let us know what you need, let us know how to support you. But it also meant like I couldn't be on social media and I'm focused on coming back. A good mind as best physical ability as possible while still healing from injuries that will have for their spirit life.
[00:07:26] And managing that's like really hard. And I was really proud to come back for the 2019 season, but it was really hard for me to put together performances that were. I was as good as I was having in 2018. I did finally in 2019 with the last race of the season, I did get on the podium at Colorado classic couple of days after the one-year anniversary of my crash.
[00:07:53] And that was like really powerful, but unfortunately from a professional road standpoint, it wasn't enough to find a similar contract than it. So it was a sad reluctant retirement. And so I thought what about the Scrabble thing? It was something that had always interested me, but I really wanted to ride that professional growth wave wall.
[00:08:16] It was there. Just because those are really special times. Yeah. The green teres and Europe, and do a lot of these like iconic spring classics and things like that are just there once in a lifetime opportunities. So 2021 is going to be my big you're getting into gravel and I'm still off of social media because I'm still in litigation.
[00:08:36] And then the endemic hit. So that was like really isolate. Cause you're like, oh, I I could be a really good gravel racer, but nobody has any idea.
[00:08:46] Craig Dalton: Yeah. I feel like at the beginning of 2020, which there was all this, we knew a bunch of new events were happening. We knew obviously there was other professional athletes, both men and women coming into the scene, but none of that happened and we had no idea.
[00:09:00] So when 2021, when racing actually happened, For me, like watching the women's scene. I just saw all these names that I hadn't heard of before. And obviously when you do a little research, that these women didn't come out of nowhere. They were incredibly talented for a number of years, but I feel like you, they were ready in 2020, but they just didn't get an opportunity to expose their skillset, which is making 20, 21 very exciting as a fan of women's gravel racing.
[00:09:27] Whitney Allison: Yeah, totally. I was entirely under the radar. Just waiting out the pandemic. It did help a bit. Like I was able to finally settle my case and not have to go to trial, which was really, it was a huge relief in a lot of ways. Cause it, I also unfortunately with how our modern world works, you really have to be online.
[00:09:49] And without being able to be online and represent myself as an athlete, it was a. It was a pretty large hit and these other ways that you don't necessarily think of. So I was literally a secret for several years. So yeah, in 2021 rolls around,
[00:10:06] Craig Dalton: did you feel like in 2020 that you had the kind of gravel skillset, the technical skillset to be successful or was 2020 a good opportunity to just spend more time on the dirt and really get those skills underneath?
[00:10:19] Whitney Allison: It was definitely helpful. Cause like that was the only thing that there was to do because everything else was so depressing. It was just like spend a lot of time in the mountains. Yeah, we have lots of incredible writing super close to us. So then that is definitely a gift of 2020.
[00:10:34] Craig Dalton: Absolutely. And so for 2021, did you have your heart set on a certain series of races that you wanted to tackle throughout?
[00:10:41] Whitney Allison: I knew that given my circumstances that I would need to hit up a lot of the quote, unquote like most prestigious or most followed events in order to get my foot in the door and establish myself.
[00:10:59] I. I was curious about Unbound. I thought that there was a chance that I could do pretty well there. Just based on the type of road rider I was, which is just like all power all day, but I've always been curious, like how long does that last, if you actually like try turns out, that 12 hours?
[00:11:22] Yes. I kicked off the season. One of my early season races was Cotuit, which I wanted, which was in Fruita. And it's funny because I was under the radar for so long. Remember some of the feedback I was hearing was is she even fast? Did she win by a fluke in feedback like that?
[00:11:42] Which was funny
[00:11:44] Craig Dalton: That it, that is the booze social media moment when you just get trolls like that coming out.
[00:11:51] Whitney Allison: Yeah. And it's it's whatever I don't really care that somebody off the couch has to say in regards to something like that, but it's still pretty funny. Like I've been here the whole time. It's just.
[00:12:03] You didn't know that
[00:12:05] Craig Dalton: exactly. Hopefully, and I think this is going to be true after 2021. There's not going to be many people who follow this sport who don't know your name. We'll see. So you followed that up with a fourth place at Unbound unbounded, a 200 mile event, which is pretty spectacular.
[00:12:22] And that was like, I honestly thought I was somewhere in the top 10 when I finished, because I had 300. And 47 minutes of stoppage of crash with the front flat. I use like the neutral support paid service for aid stuff. Cause we didn't have a aide support person and the person ripped my candle back apart.
[00:12:46] So I didn't have my Camelback for the race after the 50 mile mark. So I rode with literal plastic water bottles in my pockets for the rest of the 200.
[00:12:56] Craig Dalton: Yeah, I think it's actually a good lesson for a lot of racers that like shit happens and you just gotta roll with it along the way. And so many you can be in first place and go to 10th place and vice versa with just the, the whatever's going to happen on the course.
[00:13:15] Whitney Allison: Yeah. And I think like success in these events, it's not necessarily. Okay. Do you experience bad luck? It's more do you have an absence of bad luck versus having good luck? Like it, it doesn't matter. Like you could ride over the same thing as another person, but for whatever reason, the rock just hits your tire.
[00:13:37] Just that much different. And it's not necessarily oh, you don't know how to choose a line or. You chose a bad tire pressure. It literally just could be a tiny bit of that. Yeah.
[00:13:49] Craig Dalton: Yeah. I talked to so many people who like throw away their favorite tire set because it failed them at Unbound.
[00:13:55] And I keep thinking to myself, it's because the person in front of you turn that rock over the wrong way and you just happened to hit it. It's not that particular tire is too.
[00:14:04] Whitney Allison: I know. I fought it in the most benign sections, which I thought was super obnoxious. I would have rather flooded and the really like pokey technical sections.
[00:14:13] Craig Dalton: the most recently prior to recording this, you had a big victory at BWR Cedar city, which is amazing. Congratulations on that.
[00:14:22] Whitney Allison: Thanks. It was a really nice way to end my first year of gravel racing.
[00:14:27] Craig Dalton: I have to say, as a spectator on the couch, it was great. The coverage of the women's event, you felt like you were there, you got a lot of information along the way, and you felt the ebb and flow between you and the other riders and the top four or five, which was great to watch.
[00:14:40] I also noted that there was a lot of technicality in it. BWR San Diego, for example, not knowing. An extremely tactical event, but this course was technical. I read somewhere that you were there as fraught with the source endurance team and you'd actually previewed some of those technical sections.
[00:15:00] Whitney Allison: Yeah. I was actually there as a camp instructor for the course. I hadn't seen me that and that was actually really helpful. Like I got to see all, but one technical section over the course of the week and even ride some of them multiple times, such as the single track section, which I mean, by the time you get to race day and when you get to the single track section, you're not really sure what you're doing.
[00:15:24] Cause I was really cross-eyed and desperate and just trying not to like flat or crash, it was like my only goal going through there. It didn't matter if I went really slow or. Just as long as I didn't get it delayed by either of those other two options.
[00:15:39] Craig Dalton: How would you rate it in terms of its technicality versus an Unbound?
[00:15:42] For example,
[00:15:44] Whitney Allison: I thought it was significantly more technical. It was I had done a more technical race this year. So the races I did would be like code to. Unbound. And be gritty is not erased, but that is also quite technical. BWR San Diego Steamboat last best ride. And I would say like a lot of those sections in that race were really hard and a lot of really deep sands.
[00:16:09] Craig Dalton: Yeah. It was interesting. I think more so on the men's side, because there was maybe a pack of 12 or 15 together at one point, but you could see it start to be. Decimated in those technical sections, as one rider would bobble and take out two others. And ultimately, I think half that lead group got shed by accidents and misfortune in those technical sections
[00:16:31] Whitney Allison: at times, there is either one line or no lines.
[00:16:34] So if you're in a group that would be really hard.
[00:16:37] Craig Dalton: Yeah. I'm curious to get your perspective because as a, as someone who enjoys the different events around the country I prefer the more technical events, because I just think they're challenging more of a rider's full bag of tricks as a racer at the front end of the spectrum.
[00:16:52] Do you appreciate that? In course, design,
[00:16:54] Whitney Allison: I think it just goes into your strategy, right? When I go to think about an event I'm looking at anything that would make a change in the race. So For VWR Cedar city, like there is a four minute climb. Maybe it's a little bit longer, like four, eight minute climb.
[00:17:12] That was about 30 miles in. And I knew that was going to be the most important part because after that was a technical descent. And so I knew as long as I could get over the top or near the front, I would be okay. So I see those sorts of technical things as a feature that changes the story. And then you have to decide how you're going to change with the story.
[00:17:36] Craig Dalton: That's interesting. And I imagine most of the people at the front end of the race are taking the course into heavy consideration in their mindset. Is that how they plan their race day?
[00:17:46] Whitney Allison: Yeah, absolutely. And I am coming from a red background. I'm not a mountain biker, like a lot of other people that are coming into gravel.
[00:17:55] And so for me, it's trying to figure out how do I leverage. My strengths and bobble through my weaknesses. In training, always trying to improve them right
[00:18:05] Craig Dalton: now. I noted that in the BWR event that the women and the men started 10, 10 minutes apart. Was that true? How did you feel like that played, obviously this year, there's been a lot discussed about women and men racing together.
[00:18:19] Do you prefer that type of format or are you in different.
[00:18:22] Whitney Allison: I think with my ability, I am more indifferent to it. I think that for example, BWR San Diego had almost a 200 woman person woman's field. And so having a separate women's start there was really amazing. And because it had that size and it allowed like women that are getting dropped, they're probably going to have other women to run.
[00:18:47] And at that particular event, you also had the uncategorized men behind you. And so then once again, you're not necessarily having an entirely lonely day. So one thing that was hard at Cedar city is that the women's field was very small, maybe around 50 women. So the walk women started in front of us and then we were behind.
[00:19:09] And so then you have some women that are not as strong to stay with the women's field. And now they're alone 130 miles. And to me, that's maybe that's probably a consequence of that separate start when the field isn't that large the way for men did catch and we had overlapping courses for about half of the day.
[00:19:31] So some of those women probably had some people to run. But I do think like that is a consequence that has to be considered in those circumstances. But overall, if it's a large women's field, it's super awesome to have a separate start. And if it's a small women's field or a very long distance, like Unbound, it's nicer to have that mixed art because draft ability like helps us get through
Dalton: the day.
[00:19:56] Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. That's the interesting thing when these sort of quote unquote controversies come up, it's. So much of it is getting through the day and that shared experience, whether you're riding with males or females, that's part of the joy. I realize when there's prize money on the line, there's obviously different things to consider.
[00:20:12] And I certainly fall in the category of Hey, if you're pre-planning these kinds of things, that's probably a negative, but that organic, like I get to ride with someone regardless of the category they're in, for me as a mid pack rider is something that I really enjoy about racing.
[00:20:27] Whitney Allison: Yeah. And I think it's pretty obvious when you say it, if you come there with people that are planning on securing your result across categories, that's lame, but if it just happens on the road, that's like totally normal.
[00:20:44] Craig Dalton: Yeah, exactly. So it sounds like we're at the tail end of your season. Do you have any more events planned for.
[00:20:50] Whitney Allison: I'm running one more camp. So my husband, Zach, Alison and I, we have our business bikes works and we run a couple of three-day camps out of Fort Collins. And so we call them gravel grease land, and we just do three totally distinct routes out of Fort Collins, which includes a lot of single chalk ones.
[00:21:09] More out east with big rollers. And the third day is like out in the mountains. So we have one of those coming up in two weeks. But otherwise, like trying to get through some of those like bucket list rides and stuff that you like really want to do all year, but it doesn't quite work out with training or your schedule.
[00:21:26] Craig Dalton: And you've got to get that in Colorado before the snowfall.
[00:21:30] Whitney Allison: Yep. I am checking the forecast quite frequently.
[00:21:33] Craig Dalton: In addition to the gravel Graceland events that you just described, you've also got your own gravel event. Can you talk a little bit about Foco Fondo
[00:21:43] Whitney Allison: yeah, Foco Fondo. The first year of that was in 2015. So it's been around for awhile. It's just grown. Organically and grads grassrootsy it's very fun if you've ever been to Fort Collins, like it has a really big outdoor culture that is also extremely welcoming.
[00:22:03] People are very excited to take people back country skiing or, out on gravel bikes or mountain biking or climbing. And everybody is oh, here, let me. You can borrow this equipment if you don't have it. So focal Fondo has a similar welcoming vibe and we have a lot of people who come to the event, having never done a gravel event before.
[00:22:27] So it's their first experience. We have everything from 12 miles to 107 miles and the 12 mile is focused on family. We donate a portion of the profits to safe routes to school here in Fort Collins, and they use the funds that we give them for free afterschool bike clubs. Mostly at socially economic disadvantaged schools in our area.
[00:22:51] They'll do other services. For families that can't afford it, they'll show up with a mechanic at an apartment complex and fix up kids' bikes because not everybody has a car to put their kid's bike, to take it to the bike shop and just like other really thoughtful solutions that really elevate our community.
[00:23:09] And then Foco Fonda, the event itself after the ride. Like Rio Grande makes tacos. They're like a very large cycling staple in our community. We have live music and it's just a big fun.
[00:23:22] Craig Dalton: And for riders considering it for their 20, 22 calendar, what month is in and what type of terrain should they expect to be riding?
[00:23:31] If they're riding in the longer event,
[00:23:33] Whitney Allison: our event date should be July 24th. Hopefully hoping I can announce that like more publicly with a hundred percent certainty you the train is mostly pretty rolling. It'll gain elevation overall for the first half. And there'll be pretty fast on the way back.
[00:23:50] The big toss up every year is always the wind. Somehow this year, the writer's got a tailwind around the entire, it ran the entire. So we're like back at home, freaking out because the rat, the top riders are going to get back before lunch was even open. But otherwise it has a little mix of everything.
[00:24:08] There's not too much like technical sections, but there are a few spots and there's a few of those pinch points that you would, if you were going for a result there, you would really want to make some considerations in your strategy. Yeah.
[00:24:22] Craig Dalton: Sounds like a great event.
[00:24:23] So with your successes in 2021, what do you hope for in 2022?
[00:24:29] Whitney Allison: I think I have definitely learned a lot about myself in these events, different types of races. And I'm also looking forward to going back to some of the ones that I did this year. Like with some of those learnings, for example, Unbound obviously is a really great one where I just was on the comeback all day long was just always riding with a vengeance.
[00:24:56] I really wanted to do well at VWR San Diego with how the timing worked. It was the week before Foco Fondo. So I raced, I still got top 10, but I was a mess. So I'm really excited to get to go deep that in may, way before that time. But yeah. I'm looking forward to getting to experience some of the similar courses or same courses, but then see that your story.
[00:25:20] Craig Dalton: Yeah. Yeah. I think it is that type of sport that any event. Something's going to go wrong. It's really hard to have a perfect day, whether it's misfortune or just a, something not going your way that day. I think it keeps a lot of us coming back to the same courses, thinking, gosh, I could just do it that much better next year.
[00:25:37] Whitney Allison: Yeah. Kinda a little bit of vengeance that it's just a thing
[00:25:41] Craig Dalton: with you. Yeah, exactly. And for your business, with your husband any changes for next year, we just continue to run fittings and camps and experience.
[00:25:50] Whitney Allison: Yeah. And the recent program is going to do better as well. Like we're really fortunate, like just with having a good year and yeah, I'm excited to share some of the partners that we'll have for next year too.
[00:26:02] And it's fun too. Cause they get to come on like through the Foco Fondo and stuff as well. Like you get to offer a lot to the companies that work with. That's
[00:26:13] Craig Dalton: super exciting. I can't wait to hear about these announcements.
[00:26:16] Whitney Allison: I can't really share them, but it could be awhile.
[00:26:18] Craig Dalton: Thanks so much for joining me, Whitney.
[00:26:20] I appreciate it.
Allison: Thank you.
[00:26:22] Craig Dalton: Big, thanks to Whitney for joining the show this week. I hope you learned a lot about her career and a little bit about her future plans for 2022.
[00:26:30] If you're following women's gravel racing, it's sure we're going to have a stacked 20, 22 roster of elite athletes. Fighting for the win at all. The big events.
[00:26:39] It's going to be super exciting. Be sure to check out Whitney and her husband's Foco Fondo website. Check out for the date next year and get registered. What for what looks like an amazing event there in Fort Collins, Colorado. If you're looking to support the show, you can visit us at www.buymeacoffee.com/thegravelride.
[00:26:59] We're also ratings and reviews are hugely important. So I appreciate everybody who's gone out of their way to provide a review for the gravel ride podcast.
[00:27:08] And finally, if you're interested in joining the ridership, our free global cycling community online. Online simply visit www.theridership.com. Until next time here's to finding. Some dirt under your wheels