“It will be okay, I’m trying to keep my strength up.” said Alison Starnes (TIBCO/To The Top) who went down hard on stage 1 of the Cascade Cycling Classic on July 21 2010.
Two days after, while waiting for her flight to take her home in Northern California, Starnes described the crash.
“It was a stupid straight descent. Some girl crashed, others started panicking. I was totally fine, avoiding it but some girl took me out. I went head over the handlebars, landed on my side. I knocked myself out pretty good. I fractured my pelvis in two places, I lost consciousness a little bit.”
It is the first broken bone in her young racing career. Her dad was waiting for her at the hospital when she was airlifted to Bend, Oregon.
“I had my Road ID on, that was cool. They could call my dad, he had ridden his bike up to Three Sisters to watch the finish, they were actually able to call him so he could be at the hospital when I got there which was pretty nice to happen.”
The 25-year old was looking forwards to the next stage, the time trial on the same course where she finished fourth at USA National Time Trial Championships in June.
“The prologue was good at Cascade and I was totally stoked to win the time trial. I know it, after my time trial at the Giro was good.” she sighed. “I was feeling good after the Giro, it’s very disappointing.”
While racing at the Tulsa Tough, Starnes got the call that she was on the USA National Team for the Giro. She was part of the squad that made history, with the first American woman, Mara Abbott, to win the Maglia Rosa.
Now it’s time to recover. “It’s tough. It’s the most painful thing I have experienced. They said I don’t need surgery, it’s on the non-weight bearing part of the pelvis.”
Following is an interview with Starnes that was conducted prior to the start of the Cascade Cycling Classic.
There are always a lot of laughs when talking with Alison Starnes but don’t let the chuckles (and blonde hair) fool you, underneath is a serious and hard-working bike racer.
2-year rise. In her very short 24-month career, Starnes has made a name for herself in time-trials and has shown a big engine. In 2008, while racing triathlons, she made her way to Nature Valley Grand Prix as part of the Nature Valley Pro Ride team. There she surprised everyone with a 10th place finish at the time trial but she couldn’t finish the event.
Fast forward to 2010 where Starnes won the time trial and wore the yellow jersey for three days at Nature Valley.
“It was a definitely a fast trajectory but there was a lot of learning. I had good opportunities racing with TIBCO last year and this year.” Starnes finished 2008 guest-riding for TIBCO at Cascade and joined the team as a developmental rider in 2009 and rode with the USA Development team. In 2010, she graduated to full-time pro with the same squad.
“At that point it was getting experience and being able to race and entering this year with a little more concrete goals, a pretty good picture of where I want to be. Doing all the races, being a full-time member as a full-time professional and also looking forwards to bigger goals, such as Nationals and work towards 2012.”
For Starnes, most of her growth has been on the physical front. “I think you have natural abilities but racing a lot this year has really helped me. Being able to do all the races and also knowing where you belong and knowing how you can change the outcome of a race, the strategy, the team around you. A lot has changed, my body is changing physically too.”
And she has a new coach this year, the 2008 Olympic Gold Medal winner and 2009 World Time Trial Champion Kristin Armstrong. “Kristin Armstrong has been coaching all this year and TIBCO giving me the opportunity to race. I am definitely getting my legs underneath me and I’m super excited about it all.”
TT in the genes? Though she finished fourth at the USA National TT Championships this year, Starnes improved her results on the same course by almost four minutes from the previous year.
“Isn’t that crazy?” she laughed again about her 4-minute improvement in one year, “it’s cool to see that. I definitely think I have a lot more to improve but also it’s a great start, it’s good opportunity.”
“In a TT you have to be willing to hurt.” replied Starnes when asked what makes her a good time trialist. “My grand-father, who’s 78-79 years old, he actually has probably 15 National Time Trial jerseys so I’m working on getting my first one, I tried this year but it didn’t work out. I have the TT gene.”
Her grandfather, Paul Tetrick, won the National TT title in 2006 and 2008 in the Masters 75-79 category, and her parents also ride. Which is what got her on a bike in the first place.
“My grandfather told me you’d be good at this time trialing thing, and you’re like ‘yeah yeah’ and now wow this is the real deal.” she chuckled. “Pinch me, Kristin Armstrong is coaching me and I get to ride for the USA, that’s pretty cool.”
What goes through her mind in a time trial? “Who knows.” laughed Starnes. “Actually I’ve had a lot of interesting inner dialogue when time trialing but I have to say the more successful a time trial has been, the less inner dialogue and more focus. I used to have to these two way conversations with myself which are really bizarre but now I think you go in knowing it’s going to hurt so you accept that and knowing what your body can do and going for it. It’s a little risky but knowing when to take the risk and to settle in at your level. Sometimes I try to get a song into my head but that doesn’t always play out.”
Wearing yellow. “My first bike race was in March in 2008, and so by June I was racing Nature Valley. That’s also I got cut in the crit, I didn’t know how to ride,” she laughed, “I was strong but now that was just crazy to me, last time I couldn’t finish Nature Valley and this year I wore yellow for three or four days which was pretty cool.”
Starnes set the fastest time, beating her closest opponent by 4 seconds which put her in yellow, which she and her team defended for the next two days.
“That was probably one of the coolest experiences to have that. I had never a big NRC race and to win; when going from not being able to finish Nature Valley to wearing yellow, that was really cool I think. It was a good time to show that I’m ready to move up and move on, I’m getting stronger and I’m there. I was really excited about my result in Canada, I thought that was a very good result and I’m very proud of myself for that but then going from third place to winning the time trial at Nature Valley was pretty cool.”
Prior to NVGP, Starnes had placed third at the UCI race, le Chrono de Gatineau in Canada.
“It’s definitely getting there, I’m getting stronger and trusting Kristin to get me ready to be where I need to be. This whole year, I’ve been working at it and being a good teammate, working for my team which makes me stronger in the end. And then it’s your turn of just you against the clock.
But more than TT. While Starnes is definitely a force to reckon in the time trials, she is looking for more.
“It’s been a fast two years but now it’s getting serious time, I’m definitely developing as a rider, I don’t want to be just a time trialist, I want to be an allrounder and that’s coming. Basically changing the outcome of a race, I like to race aggressively, I like to have fun with that and definitely be a force to reckon with, that makes bike racing fun and also being the best teammate I can be too, working for your team, that’s also fun.”
One weapon in her corner to continue developing as a rider is Armstrong. “She’s tough alright, but she’s really available, we communicate well and I have the highest respect for her. It’s crazy to get advice from her and have her as a resource and a mentor, I couldn’t ask for a better opportunity.”
And her coach has brought focus. “She gives me focus and a plan and allows me to be the best teammate that I can be. You can have your own goals but then also my goal is to be the best teammate and work for my team. She fully has me prepared for that but also using those experiences to further my experience and my strength along the way. Learning from my racing and using that way.”
Like many other women cyclists, her next big goal is the 2012 Olympic Games in London.
“Continuing my experience, my strength.” replied Starnes when asked where she wants to be in two to three years. “Ideally I would love a shot at 2012. That’s one big goal I have and looking past that as well. Every little bit is coming along. I’m pretty confident in the people helping me and I’m working towards that. Definitely setting little milestones along the way to mark my progress, that would be an ultimate goal for sure.”
Starnes is not worried about the mounting pressure. “Luckily, I probably put more pressure on myself than anyone else does. I expect more out of myself than anyone else and probably anyone else can ask of me. I’ve always had very high expectations, I can handle that fine and I can definitely rise to the occasion when necessary.”
Another weapon is her brain. Starnes graduated Summa Cum Laude with a B.S. in Biochemistry with emphasis on Molecular Biology and a minor in Nutrition from Abilene Christian University.
“I’m a big dork.” she laughed. “My background is in biochemistry, nutrition and physiology and I use that in my training and understanding what Kristin is having me doing and why. I do apply that to also know why we’re doing certain things.”
So what about racing in Europe. One more laugh, a pause and then “We’ll see.”
Best wishes to Alison on her recovery. We’ll check in with her throughout the next months.