Alison Sydor of Edmonton, Seattle, Portland, Denver, Calgary, Victoria, Vancouver and Victoria (in that order) is well know as the three time Worlds champion of Mountain Bike in cross-country ('94 - '95 and '96).
She's a wonderful athlete and a person worth getting to know.
Already when she was a child, Alison has showed some predisposition to ride on a bike like this small story which will explain to you how she learnt to ride for the first time.
"She didn't use training wheels for anything,'' said her dad, Hank, who said the great event happened when the family was living in the U.S. She might have been five. "The kid next door had a new
bike and couldn't ride it. She just picked it up and rode it."
Problem is, she never rode a tricycle. Never rode a bike with training wheels. Just hopped on one day and rode away.
She is former Alberta junior champion in the triathlon. Her dad came to Edmonton as a mining engineer, took the family to several U.S. locations and then moved to Calgary for 13 years. "The only reason we left Calgary is so she could go to the University of Victoria,'' reported her mom. "Do you know that Alison plays hockey in the winter? With her legs she can outskate everybody. And she's an excellent skier. Those are some outstanding leg muscles.'' Papa was proud, too. "Alison always knew where she was going and how to get there,'' said her dad.
Alison Sydor’s progression as an athlete has been nothing short of astounding. In a span of 10 years, the Calgary native has evolved from a decent high school athlete (jack of all trades, master
of none) to world mountain bike champion. Sydor didn’t even take up cycling as a recreational pastime until age 20 (1987), during her first year of biochemistry studies at the university of
Within a year she was on the national team. Three years after that she became the first Canadian woman to win a world championship medal in the individual road race competition (a bronze). « I did a lot of different sports in high school, but I was always second- or third-best, never the best in anything, » Alison said.
«By the time I arrived at Uvic, I had basically tried every sport under the sun. » Alison decided to tackle the demanding sport of triathlon during her first year at UVic, «basically just to keep active. » Realizing that competing in the triathlon is more than just a part-time fling, Alison elected to concentrate exclusively on cycling.
« By the end of that year (1987), I went to the Western Canadian Games and won gold in all three cycling disciplines, » she said. « Obviously, it was the sport for me. » Her rise was meteoric, by the end of 1987, she was on the Canadian national road racing team.
In 1990, at the world road championships in Japan, she came in dead last. But Alison has never dropped out of a race, even when there was no point in going on.
In 1991, the North Vancouver resident decided to concentrate more on cycling’s mountain bike discipline, for that she was riding for the Rocky-Mountain team. And only after few races, she won her first Grundig World Cup round in Chateau d'Oex (Switzerland).
By 1992 she was ranked the number three road racer in the world. Alison competed at the 1992 Barcelona olympics, finishing 12th in the road race. With the benefit of hindsight she calls the result "a learning experience". " I've been a bike racer since 1987 and mentally, physically and technically I am approaching my best years in this sport", she says. " I didn't feel that in Barcelona. I still felt I was learning a lot as an athlete and I wasn't ready to take the pressure and be one of the favourites."
In 1992, she took also a Silver medal at the World Championships in Bromont (Quebec) and she decided mountain biking suited her best.
Since ‘93, when she turned pro, she has focused more aggressively on mountain biking, a sport she pursues for Volvo-Cannondale.
She won the World Championships in 1994 and 1995, took a gold medal in the 1995 Pan American Games and has put in her best performance ever on the Grundig World Cup circuit in 96, topping it off with a silver medal at the Olympic Games in Atlanta, the Grundig World Cup and a third title of world champion.
Olympics Games in Atlanta :
Gold was on everyone's mind when Sydor went to the start line of the inaugural Olympic mountain bike races.
"I thought I would be disappointed (with silver)," Alison said. "I'm not. In sport, you have to take the best you have on that day and go with it. I'm content that I did that."
Alison knew almost instantly she was not in "awesome" form. She took an early lead, not to drop anyone, she said, but to control the pace to her liking. In 33-degree mid-afternoon temperatures
and high humidity, this was not a day to be reckless.
"Heat was a factor. You don't normally race mountain bikes in humidity like this,'' she said.
It's a funny thing, being a mountain bike rider. For years you go about your business, mobbed in Europe, ignored at home in Canada. But then mountain biking becomes an official medal sport at the Olympic Games and suddenly everybody in North America cares about what you do for a living.
"It seems like its time has come," said Alison, the foremost women's mountain bike rider on the planet. "This is the opportunity to show the world what we do."
"Alison's tough," said her coach Yuri Kashirin. "Whatever she has on a given day, she's going to fight to the end. I've never seen her give up."
The '97 mountain bike race season wasn't really funny for Alison.
« Obviously, it wasn’t a great season, even coming second in the World Cup ... compared to 1996 (when she won the World Cup and world championship). »
Last year, Sydor’s performance was hampered by two injuries, one of them more problematic than the other. Regarding her better-know injury, which occured when she separated her shoulder while training on the Vail World Cup course, Sydor quipped, « you don’t pedal with your shoulder. » The injury that gave her real trouble, though, was a deep bruise sustained in a snowboarding accident, which became a problem when it created scar tissue.
Where did Sydor fall ? « Oh my butt ! Where else for snowboarding ? » she said. « Some people charitably said it was my hip. »
The upshot of her downfall in snowboarding was impaired power during the cycling season. But with the rest and the good physiotherapy this winter, she’s regaining her power. « You don’t know what you’ve lost till you’ve gotten it back ,» she noted.
And although she underplays the separated shoulder - « It took five weeks from riding the mountain bike ... but it was just a matter of discomfort » - the injury still kept her from competing in such races as the Tour de ‘Toona, which she admitted affected her training schedule. « Every single workout counts in your preparation, » she added.
Sydor is a self-proclaimed optimist, however, so she sees her disappointing 1997 season as just the tonic to set her back on top in’98. « It is hard to stay on top - that’s one thing I always thought was an amazing ability Juli (Furtado) had - to keep winning when you’re winning ... Sometimes when injuries like this happen, when you recover, then you end up working that much harder and reach the next level. I’m using it positively as material to get back up there. »
Getting back up there will also require experience - and confidence. « the main thing is getting that confidence back, » she said. « When you’re mountain biking and you’re used to being in front and no having too many people pass you ... then to have people pass you ... it’s difficult to keep that confidence, to stay in front ... Confidence is a fragile thing, but it’s absolutely crucial. I just need to get out there and start leading races again. »