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A conversation with Tim Allen, an American U23 racer at the world championships

By Ophir Sefiha

Tim Allen

Tim Allen

Photo:

“Hey, man, let me call you back, I’m working at the shop.”

This may not be the response you’d expect from someone who will be representing the United States at the world championships. But much of Tim Allen’s racing trajectory has skirted the norm.

The 22-year-old from Flagstaff, Arizona, was selected to race at the worlds this year in the under-23 category. But unlike other young riders who have been supported by the USA Cycling national program, which often affords opportunities to gain valuable European racing experience, Allen has been trying to work three jobs and finish college. And he’s been doing so while netting some of the best U23 results in the nation.

Although in just his first year in the pro ranks (he won four straight short track races as a semi-pro at last year’s National Mountain Bike Series events), Allen set his sights on a coveted spot on the U23 worlds team.

National team selector Mark Gullickson said there are no free riders on the worlds team. “Our philosophy [at USA cycling] is that we are not just trying to fill teams, but we only take those who we think can get top 10 or even a medal,” he said.

Before he left for the worlds in Italy, Allen took a short break from turning wrenches to chat with VeloNews about his upcoming trip, bugging Mark Gullickson and the single best email he’s ever received.

VeloNews: You came up through the ranks pretty fast. How has your first year as a pro treated you?

Tim Allen: It has been challenging starting in the back of the field, trying to move up
and earn better call-ups. I won the Keysville Classic in California, which included a downhill, a cross-country, and a short track race all on the same bike. They weighed in your bike before each start and the only thing you could change was your tires. I rode my hardtail 29er and got 8th in the downhill, won the short track and was 3rd in the cross-country, which was enough for me to win the overall.

In my first national as a pro at Fontana, I got14th in the short track, starting in like the 7th row, but I got 5th in the Super D later that day. I crashed in the Fountain Hills short track. I was racing in the top five and the next and thing I knew I was on the ground. I got up and my hydraulic brake line was cut and my knee was squirting out blood so at that point I knew I was done. I got 15 stitches and was off the bike for two weeks.

VN: As a first year pro without any previous contact with USA Cycling, how did you manage to get yourself a spot on the worlds team? I heard from Gully that you did a fair bit of bugging him.

TA: Yeah, it was all my doing. I saw that I was placing well among the U23’s in the early races, and it has always been a dream to race in Europe. I’d actually been trying to get to Italy this summer anyway, so I thought if I could quality for the worlds, what better way to get over there? I found out Gully was the person to talk to so I just kept emailing him my results after every single race. He said that if I could show him that I could be one of the top U23 riders in the country, I’d have a good shot at going. So I’ve been traveling my ass off trying to get results.

VN: How confident were you that you’d make the team?

TA: I really didn’t think it was possible. After I crashed at Fountain Hills I thought it was over, but he said I had one more opportunity to get a good result, which was at Santa Ynez. So it was pretty much, if I got a good result I could go. I’d been paying for all my racing and traveling expenses and really couldn’t afford another trip but I knew I had to do this race so I made the drive and got 19th in cross-country (1st U23) and 18th in the short track. I got an email from USA Cycling a few days after the race and the subject line was “None.” I opened it and it said, “Congratulations, you’ve been nominated for the 2008 Mountain Bike World Championships.” It’s the best email I’ve ever received.

VN: Last year’s best result at worlds for the U23 men was Sam Schultz’s 11th place. What are your goals for the race in Italy?

TA: Top 20. I’d be ecstatic.

VN: And what about your future goals?

TA: I want to be the U23 national champ this year [Allen is sitting 4th in the U23 NMBS cross-country standings] so I’ll be doing the remaining nationals. I’m also looking forward to the Brian Head stage race in August. Next year I’ll try to continue focusing on the mountain bike but I’d also really like to be on a road team. [Allen is the Cat. 3 Arizona road champion.] I’ll be trying to finish my degree but more importantly, I’m hoping for some financial support so I’m not working as much. I’d like to not have to ride up the mountain to work at the ski resort anymore. That would be nice.

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