Oct 3, 2016 – For 22-year-old California native Alexis Ryan, 2016 has seen her take a huge learning curve—one that is finishing on a high note with selection to the U.S. national team at the world championships in Doha, Qatar. Already a fourth-year professional, Ryan has been winning races since she was 15.
Words by James Startt/Images by WMN Cycling
But this year brought on significant changes after she signed with the Canyon-SRAM racing team in Europe. Living and racing abroad full-time had its complications, but she embraced the experience, getting stronger and more technically proficient along the way. And the results of her progress earned her a worlds spot despite her rookie status.
Peloton: Congratulations! Were you surprised to be selected for the worlds in your first season as an elite racer?
Alexis Ryan: Thank you! Hmm, no I wasn’t really surprised. I knew I had a good chance, but there was still a chance that I wouldn’t make the team. And I was just really happy that my year of hard work paid off.
Peloton: Well you’re no stranger to success; you’ve been winning races on the national and international level for a long time….
Ryan: Yeah, well, I’ve been a pro for four years, but this is my first year with SRAM and my first year on a European team. I’ve done trips to Europe in the past with the U.S. national team, but this is the first full season I’ve spent in Europe. That changed a lot of things for me. I came over in February and did all of the spring classics and then stayed for the summer campaign. It’s been hard. I’ve had my highs and lows. I’m still young. It is hard for me to hold my form throughout the year because I’ve never done a full season on the biggest race calendar. But it’s been great! In the spring I was based in the Netherlands and then I moved to Girona, Spain.
Peloton: What races did you like the best?
Ryan: Oh, the spring classics! And I’m already looking forward to them next year. I liked the terrible weather and the cobblestones. I liked the chaos of the spring classics. And next year I’ll be adding big races like Liège-Bastogne-Liège and Amstel Gold, which I’m really looking forward to doing as well. I preferred living in Spain because the lifestyle is closer to that in California, but when it came to the racing, I really loved the northern classics. I just learned so much about the dynamics of racing. You know, things like the basic geography in Europe makes the racing much different. Just something like the fact that the roads are so small changes a lot. It completely changes the flow of the peloton. In the U.S., you are constantly moving to the front, over and over again. Positioning is not as important. In Belgium or Holland, if you get to the front, you stay there. The roads are so small that there is no shuffling around. On the downside, you can turn a corner and suddenly be dropped in crosswinds, even though you feel fine. You just have to be so focused for the entire race. At the end of a race, even one that wasn’t so exhausting physically, you are just wasted because you have been “on” for the entire race.
Peloton: Now that you have made your first worlds team, what do expect? There are a lot of different opinions on how the racing could play out.
Ryan: Well I’ve never raced in Qatar and I really don’t know what to expect. I’ve followed the races in [the Tour of] Qatar and I know that it is often hot and windy. But the worlds come at a different time of year. I know it is going to be hot, but I don’t know what the wind is going to be like. In addition, the women’s race is different than the men’s because most of it will be held on the city circuit in Doha. We’ll be surrounded by big tall buildings and I don’t know how that may affect the racing. No, I don’t know what to expect, except that it will be hard and hot.
Peloton: Living and racing in Holland this year should be a big help to you if indeed wind plays a factor.
Ryan: Yeah, that was a big thing that I learned this year—riding in the wind. It was no small victory the day I finally made the front echelon.
Peloton: Can you explain that, because personally, I can tell you, I never figured it out!
Ryan: Ha-ha! Well a lot of people have asked me that and I would have to say that a lot of it is feeling. You have to feel the peloton getting nervous. And you have to know that, when certain teams and certain riders move to the front, you need to get to the front. But even then making the front group is not easy. You are going to get elbowed. You are going to get pushed. You are going to get yelled at. But you have to just keep pushing, and suddenly you look back and there are only 10 of you. You have to pay attention to the wind of course. And you have to know the course. But mostly I would say that it is feeling. I really learned a lot this year and it was definitely one of the reasons that I was chosen for the national team at the world championships.
Peloton: So what are your responsibilities at the worlds. Do you have a defined role?
Ryan: To be honest, I don’t know yet. Unless the race gets shredded by crosswinds, it will probably come down to a sprint. In that situation Megan Guarnier and Coryn Rivera both have really good sprints and will be our top riders, but if someone sees something going up the road that they could be a part of then I hope they have the opportunity to seize that.