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Posted by Q&A by Allison Arensman on September 07, 2016
We had the pleasure of meeting Allison Arensman during the Amateur Road National Championships in Louisville last July. She had quite an impressive weekend coming away with first place wins in the time trial, road race, and the crit. Since then we've kept up with her and recently had the chance for a Q&A. Read below to find out more about Allison and get a first hand account of the European racing. Also make sure to follow her on Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter.
Above: Allison winning 2016 Amateur Road National Championship. Photo: Drew Miller
Location: Valdese, NC
Current City: Brevard, NC
Specialty: Breakaways; Bike handling; Time Trials; Long, hard races; gravel
Previous sports: Baseball, Soccer, Swimming, Triathlon,
Nickname: Alli Cat, Little Rocket, Big Al,
Years racing: 5
"It's supposed to be hard. If it were easy, everyone would do it."
-Tom Hanks in A League of Their Own
“For God did not give us a spirit of timidity, but one of power, of love, and of self-discipline.”
-2 Timothy 1:7
Connect with Rider:
Allison is from North Carolina, and grew up playing multiple sports: baseball and soccer in middle school, and swam competitively along with trying a few local triathlons in highschool. She got into cycling at age 17 by racing the local cyclo-cross series, and since then has also branched out to compete in road and mountain bike. She is currently studying at Brevard College in the Appalachian mountains of North Carolina and is half-way through achieving a BS in Exercise Science. She also rides for the Brevard College Cycling team where she has experienced success in individual national titles as well as team national titles in several different disciplines. Her favorite discipline is cyclo-cross which requires the combination of ability to time trial and race criteriums with the technical aspects of mountain biking, all of which she loves.
Allison is passionate about riding and can’t stop smiling when she is on a bike...although during intervals the smile is more of a grimace. She is always looking for things, big or small, that she can improve to make herself a better athlete, a better ambassador for her team and sport, and a more rounded person. She loves the team aspect of cycling and enjoys nothing more than doing her job so that the team can succeed. One of her favorite things about the sport is getting to hang out and work with junior riders and kids who come to race or to watch, wide-eyed and excited: “they’ve got so many questions, are so genuinely interested about what we do, and pumped on life, it’s contagious”.
Where did you grow up?
I grew up in the little town of Valdese in the foothills of WNC
What’s your favorite thing about living and training in Brevard, NC?
Ha my favorite thing, as if there’s just one ;)….I can narrow it down to 3: the mountains, especially the Blue Ridge Parkway; the diversity of training mediums: there’s literally any kind of terrain available, here; the weather: it never gets unbearably hot or cold and bar the 1-2 times a year it might snow, one can train outside year round (which is AWESOME because I abhor riding inside).
When did you start riding?Did you play/compete in any other sports prior to cycling?
I started riding mid-summer of 2010 in a local time trial series and then quickly got involved in cyclo-cross. Before getting into cycling I swam competitively for 4 years, dabbled in triathlon and running a few times, and played soccer during elementary and middle school.
How did you get into cyclocross?
One of my coach’s athletes got injured after her Iron Man season and heard that I was interested in competing in some ‘cross races. So she offered me her Blue cyclo-cross bike to ride for the season. I did the full North Carolina CX season and won the category 4 overall…after that I was hooked.
Above photo credit: Kurt Van Hout
Apart from racing, do you prefer to ride with a group or rather go solo?
I love getting to ride with a group! …Though riding solo does have some excellent training benefits.
On an average afternoon “fun ride” – are you going out on a mountain bike, TT, road, or cross bike?
Definitely a mountain bike or a ‘cross bike, I love to play in the dirt!
What is your favorite place you've traveled to?
Probably Bend, OR …Though I have really enjoyed every time I’ve been in the Salt Lake area in Utah.
What's your favorite thing to do when not riding?
Well, if its’s a nice day out, I love to head up in the mountains for a hike (preferably with friends) …Just doing stuff in general with friends and family.
I like most every color except pink. I don’t get along with pink.
Tell us about your family.
I am the second oldest of 9 kids, making us a family of 11 in total (all from the same parents, no twins or adoptions). It is a very big, energetic, loving, loud, mostly musical, busy house. We have all been homeschooled K-12 and then dual-enrolled at our community college for the last handful of semesters of high school. My sister Hannah and I are the only ones who bike currently… though my youngest two siblings are really getting in to it as well.
What does "like a girl" mean to you?
There’s a negative and positive connotation that can be chosen when speaking about ‘like a girl’. I choose the positive: one of the reasons I expect myself to take risks, to be strong, to go far is because I’m a girl. Personally, I like to prove people and their opinions wrong, and I hope to help pave the way for other girls to go against the norm and expect more of themselves because they are girls. So instead of being beat down by society’s stereotyping them as weak; or using ‘I’m a girl’ as an excuse, let’s invite girls to recreate the insult ‘like a girl’ currently is. Make it a motto for the reality that girls are different, but equal to their male counterparts, and in this regard definitely worthy of respect—self respect and respect from men.
What is your major in school?What year will you graduate?
I am an Exercise Science major with a minor in Coaching. I will graduate from Brevard College in December 2016.
Any pre-race rituals or music that you listen to? What helps get you focused and prepared?
I have a certain playlist I like to listen to before racing. I also have a handful of bible verses that I’ve memorized and like to repeat to myself to get my mind focused on racing all in… A big part of my prep is related to the track runner, Eric Liddell (gold medalist at 1924 Paris Olympics), who was an incredibly inspirational athlete. He was an fantastic runner but more impressively was sold-out-passionate about his relationship with God. I like to dwell on Eric’s perspective as I get ready for a race: “I believe that God has made me for a purpose. But He also made me fast, and when I [ride], I feel His pleasure.”
Ankle socks in a road race? Intentional rebelliousness or just personal a preference?
Haha yeah, with the heat and humidity my feet get super temperamental during longer rides, so I was wearing a particular pair of socks that prevent my feet from hurting.
Congratulations on your trifecta of convincing wins at the recent US road national championships!Out of the Time Trial, Road Race, and Crit, which was the most challenging and which was the most satisfying win?
The time trial was definitely the most challenging and most satisfying…I’ve been trying to win a title in the ITT ever since I did my first road nationals as a 17-18 junior back in 2011.
I typically feel best on the 2nd and 3rd day of racing, so the first day is not always the best race for me. Plus it was a time trial, so you’re in the box pretty much the whole time and trying to push deeper into the pain. It was a team effort for sure: Team Twenty16 rides some of the most aerodynamically advanced bikes (Felt) and has partnered with other aero-advanced companies like JLVelo and Catlike. I also had the team director, Mari Holden (Olympic silver medalist and world champion in the ITT), and our amazing mechanic, Ralf Medlloff, in the follow car honking and yelling to encourage me as I hit the 31 minute effort. It’s a special (albeit painful) memory because of the support and focus I was afforded so that I could ride my best for that day.
The day after the national championships you were on a plane to Europe to ride with USA cycling.What were the races, where were they and what was your experience like?
The races were hard, per-usual in Europe. We competed in two stage races; the first in the Czech Republic (The Tour de Femine) and the second, shorter race, in Belgium and Netherland (Ladies BeNe tour).
My sister Hannah and I posted a race report on our tumblr blog (Blue Ridge Belgian Waffles) of our eventful time arriving and racing in the Czech Republic:
“No, your luggage isn’t on your flight. It will come in on later flight. You fill out baggage claim and we contact you when it arrives.”
…Touch down in Czech Republic straight from U23/Jr. Nationals in Louisville, 14 hours of smooth travel between airports and flights, and we’d met up with the 4 other girls who’d also been invited to be a part of the two week Euro trip with the USA National team. We hit a small hiccup when Hannah and I discovered that, due to the size of the double bike box, our bikes hadn’t taken the tiny plane out of Louisville with us when we started our journey across the pond.
I filled out the baggage claim paperwork and we all headed to customs and then outside to meet Andrew Hawkes, our team director for the week, and Natalia, one of the rad soignuers for USAC. Two more hours of transfer in the van until we reached the hotel where we stayed for the week while racing the Czech Tour de Feminine.
Hawkes got the bike issue figured out quickly (it was like this wasn’t his first rodeo or something ;)) and told us that the bikes were in Frankfurt and would be at the airport in the morning. We all settled in, 3 to a room, and then headed down for lunch before going out for a spin. Since we had arrived on Tuesday and the race didn’t start until Thursday, the race organization only secured the hotel from Wednesday and on. This meant that, for the afternoon, we were at the mercy of whatever extra food the hotel would serve us. So our lunch was crispy fried chicken and french fries. Thus the week started with team bonding over ‘crispy chicken and fries’ and since then we’ve all enjoyed jokingly throwing this combo out as an option when deciding on meals or snacks.
The irony in this situation was that, as many of you know, elite cyclists’s diets involve, well, a lot of healthy (so, plants). Like kale and beets and other delicacies ;) Crispy chicken was definitely out of our (my) comfort zone but hey, that’s what these trips are about! Can you roll (literally) with the curveballs and focus on soaking up the experiences and knowledge that is thrown your way? Bring it.
Stage 1: 119km, 5600ft elevation, with the final 3K to the finish on a quick descent into more downhill through town that included several tight turns.
For me the day was a blur of burning brakes and maxed effort over the short, steep hills as I tried to shake jet lag and fatigue from National’s three days of breakaway fun. I may or may not have been so wrapped up with not dying from dive bombing Russians or brake-burning everyone that I forgot to eat until 2 hours in and bonked something awesome for the last hour and 15 minutes. Hannah thankfully remembered a lot from this stage, so she was able to write a solid re-cap
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THIS was one of the mentally hardest stages for me because: 1, I had never raced a stage race before and, 2, If you don't make it through the first one that's it, you’re out. My goal was to make to 100km, if I could get that far surely I could finish. We started with 181 women, but it only felt like 20-40 riders because that's about all the riders you could see at once! I felt so small, like a little island in the middle of the Pacific Ocean! However, it was not bad if you just focused on the road a few people up from you, that way you could see what was going on before it was right in front of you.
I was just getting comfortable moving up and stopping quickly with the field when once again everybody slammed on their brakes. We were only 30km into the race, but I had learned to expect people hitting their brakes hard because it happened so often already. See, everyone liked to move up on the left side, but the roads are not closed so the lead moto would make all oncoming traffic pull off on the side of the road. The roads are completely covered with this mass of riders hurtling down the street, so even if the cars get mostly off the road the riders still have to squish over to one side. This is why, about 20 times in the first 30km, a majority of the peloton had already come to screeching halts. At one point two people got tangled up right in front of me and as I hit my breaks hard I found myself on the ground with a bunch of others...riders and bikes stacked on top of each other like collapsed dominos! It didn't hurt at all since we’d slowed down so much before the impacted (and because I landed on the girl in front of me), but the pile up did bend my derailleur. So after following a chase group back onto the peloton I raised my hand to signal to the com-car that I needed help from my team car. Seconds later I heard the familiar honk of the USA car. After a few words of communication back and forth about the derailleur we stopped off on the side of the road and Merik, the team mechanic, fixed it in no time. Then it was time to ride back through the caravan to the field. That was by far the funnest part of the whole race! I sat behind the cars until they slowed down for a corner and then zoomed around them to the next car. I was praising God for the whole experience as I caught the field just before an up hill (which would not be fun riding behind a car!); I had come away from the stage with no more than a couple of scratches and no harm done to the bike…and an intact derailleur thanks to Merik!
I made it to the last hill and then flew off the back faster than you could say jack rabbit. That was with only 5-6 km to go. I made it to my goal of a 100 km with an extra 13 km of staying on. I told myself, though, that the next day I would not be dropped and I stayed true to that for the rest of the week!
Stage #2: 90ish km, 4300ft elevation, with the final 5K to the finish on a rolling descent that turned into a narrow chicane with 500 meters to go.
This stage involved two long laps that had a pretty steep climb and then 3 10 km laps on a more rolling loop before finishing in the town of Kråsnå Lipå. I was solidly in the box after an acceleration at the end of the 2nd long loop and remained there for the first of the three short laps, wondering if I was going to make it or keel over.
The peloton slowed a bit as we came into lap #2 and I was able to move back up near the front and recover. Towards the end of this lap I saw an opportunity for an attack over the one climb in the circuit and jumped, hoping I could sneak away as an unknown on the descent. One other girl came with me and we got close to getting a breakaway, but couldn’t quite get beyond that 15 second point and get out of sight. By the time we hit the long straight downhill towards the town, 5 girls from the front of the peloton had jumped across but had also brought the entire group within 3-5 seconds of us. We were quickly swallowed up into the bunch where I floated around trying to locate the other USA riders. I found Skylar and on the last lap, after the final time up the climb, attempted to get her to the front of the peloton so that she would have a good chance in the field sprint. My effort was cut short when a couple of Orica Green-Edge girls jammed on the brakes and skidded off the side of the road in front of me (they didn’t crash, thankfully). I tried to scoot past but got squeezed out and yelled at Skylar to get off my wheel and go up the middle before she got ‘stuck in traffic’.
I finally was able to move around the sketch mess and got up to 3rd wheel on the far right just in time for the 2K straight shot descent into town. I remember thinking “Perfect! This is great. You’re on the wheel of the yellow jersey and you’ve got plenty of room to go. Just stay here.” What a happy, wishful thought. Next thing I knew riders were screaming and swinging left rapidly with brakes squealing…we all narrowly avoided hitting a woman unconcernedly walking her baby in a stroller down the street. I don’t think she even looked over her shoulder, she just kept strolling. “Great. Now I’m not even top 30. And yep, there’s the 500 meter to go sign”.
Everyone stood up to accelerate and started to swing left to get ready for the right turn. From behind I heard Holly yell at me “ARENSMAN! GO!” So I went. Sprinted up the right side, sat down and almost took the turn too wide, then stood up to sprint again… but the finish was already there. No more real estate. Hind sight, I wish I had taken more risks in those final 500 meters, the outcome would’ve been pretty different.
Skylar was able to be at the sharp end of the stick during the stroller incident and was able to stay in great position for her sprint to 7th place. Sadly her chain dropped mid-sprint and she had to hesitate to get it back on. The team is looking forward to helping her get that podium during the flat stages of the BeNe Tour this coming weekend!
Stage 3a: ITT, 14.6 km, 1000ft elevation.
I was super stoked for the ITT because in the past, by the third stage of a stage race, I start to feel really good. Not this time though. This time I was tired and sluggish and unable to push past an 80% effort. It’s a learning experience in it’s self to go from one multi-day race (Nationals), have a full day of travel to another country, and on arriving do another multi-day race on a 48ish hour turn-around. Like I said, gotta roll with the punches and be willing to let go of frustration and focus on what can be learned from the day.
Stage 3b: 71 km, 3300ft elevation.
The ITT ended around 12:00 and we had about 3 hours to cool down, eat, shower, nap, and get ready for the 4:10 start to the short circuit race. Each lap was about 23 km and constantly went up or down, finishing on 50 meters of brick and cobbles. Short stages are some of the hardest stages of a race because they are so short and because they are on a ‘double day’…think speed (and sketchy riding) of a 1 hour USA Criterium, but for 2 hours with 1000ish feet of climbing per lap having already done a 23-26 minute all out effort earlier in the day. More than once I started going blurry and had to mentally tell myself that I couldn’t check out (since it would cause a pretty big crash). Blink, refocus eyes, deal with the fatigue, pray for strength- -on repeat for the first 40 km. Everyone was really hurting and so things eventually calmed down enough to get a breath, a drink, and locate the rest of the team. We all sat in for the whole race and so by the end were feeling up to the task of fighting for position for the field sprint. That final 5K before the sprint was incredible. Skylar, Holly, and myself were all able to get to the front of the pack and the other three were sitting top 1/3 of the field. The field still had 90 or so of the 174 starters left in it and things weren’t exactly strung out; it was yo-yoing between screeching halt and 50+ kph as we dodged autos, potholes and riders randomly hitting their brakes. So. Much. Yelling. So much. It was amazing the amount of high-pitched noise and burned rubber the peloton was creating. 2K to go I was fighting for position on the far left when last second I saw a pothole almost beneath my front wheel. I only had time to shift my weight back before my bike went crashing through and I heard a nasty cracking noise as my wheels took the impact. I also heard the rider behind me scream, followed by that abominable sound of carbon hitting pavement and other pieces of carbon. I feathered the brakes to see how my wheels were doing, the front made a clicking noise as the pads hit the brake rim and the bike jerked. Broken wheel. Broken front wheel. Bummer. Had it been the back wheel I’d have stuck it out and gone for the sprint still, but sprinting (on cobbles no less) with a broken front wheel was asking for a disaster and possibly a Darwin Award. We were rolling by the pink 1K to go sign as I sat up to take the remaining corners and cobbles easy to avoid completely blowing up the front. Hannah and Payten pedaled by with 500 meters to go, obviously relieved to be out of the crazy field and done with the day.
On finishing we learned that Emma had gotten caught in the crash that happened at 2Ks to go and Skylar had slid out in the final turn before the cobbles. I think everyone was happy to see the end of the day.
Stage 4: 98.6km, 4100ft elevation. Same finish as stage #1.
"Alrighty," I told myself, "Last day! I know you really do not want to do this right now and you'd much rather go back to sleep, but everyone else feels exactly the same way.”
Now don't get me wrong I love racing, but sometimes you just want to go back to sleep. Truth be told that's precisely what I was thinking Sunday morning as it dawned on me that I still had one race to go. The whole team was exhausted, but so were all the other teams. So at 9:55 a.m. we rolled out for the last stage. It was a hilly stage like all the others. My goal was to make it to 50 km, but it was not to be. As each climb rolled by our giant field turned to a group about half its size and kept getting smaller. Yet the worst climb was yet to come. I did not realize we were going up the climb because the first part of it was pretty gradual. All I knew was that I got closer to the back every km. Halfway up the 10 km climb I found myself just off the back of the group. I got on a wheel that was going steady and glued my eyes to it. When someone was going a little faster I would jump on their wheel. In this way I found myself at the top with a group of about eight riders. We bombed the descent and held a pace line until we caught the group in front of us. Two of my teammates were in that group so I made sure they had everything they needed and then settled in to the group’s pace-line. The rest of the race was just us rolling around on the last three loops practicing taking water from the team car. On the final climb we started going hard again and I was dying. Suddenly I noticed I could feel the bumps in the pavement through my back wheel. It was leaking slowly. Since we were only 3 km out from the finish I decided to try and finish on it. At the top of the hill the group was blown apart. I started to get on someone's wheel and then I really started feeling the pavement, but I felt like I could make it. I slowed down a bit so I was not near anyone and got into my tuck for the down hill. A kilometer later around a tighter corner the tire blew. Thankfully the Lord kept end me up and I was able to ride off into the grass...I needed to stop, but it wasn't good to go into the grass because it makes more work for the mechanic. More briefing. I guess we are all here to learn these things! We switched out wheels and I finished the descent to the finish.
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The whole team finished and though half of us were missing some skin and several bike parts had needed replacing, we were no worse for the wear and gained quite a slew of knowledge from the week! Very grateful for all the support that has afforded us the opportunity to be out here racing and learning.
After coming off national championship wins, what are you looking forward to most in the next year?
Now that I’ll be finishing up school in December I will be free to race the final cyclo-cross races at the beginning of next year as well as some of the early road races in the USA. I would very much like to get another shot at racing the spring races in Europe. I’ll be focusing on continuing to gather experience and put what I’ve already learned together so that I can be consistent and pick up some W’s in the pro circuit.
What are your biggest aspirations or ultimate goal for yourself in terms of cycling?
Ever since I was little, probably somewhere around 8, I’ve dreamed of becoming an Olympic champion. For a while I thought it would be in soccer, then swimming, now I’m hammering on the bike and I’d like to see how far I can get with it.
If you wanted people to say one thing about you, what would it be?
That I was consistent and humble with what I say and how I live.