Report by Chris Wentz
July 31st, 2002
After beginning the preseason with strong showings in the Redlands Classic
and cyclocross events Alison Dunlap (Luna Women's Team) began to grasp every
series she entered with a ferocity seldom demonstrated by Americans. But before
recounting this seasons achievements, lets look at how she began it.
July 2001, the 4th round of the National Championship Series- GT bicycles,
Dunlap's longtime sponsor, has not been able to fulfill its financial
obligations and is on the brink of bankruptcy. Dunlap is left with team support
and love of the sport to fuel her necessary performances. Despite future sponsor
uncertainties and strong European competition in the NCS Dunlap wins the short
track at Mammoth, California, podiums in the cross country, and at the short
track finals at Mount Snow, Vermont, places second. Weeks later she is in Sydney
at the Olympics, and places seventh despite a crash- a disappointment that will
give her resolve come September's World Championships.
Heading into the Worlds in her home state of Colorado, Dunlap was motivated
for a strong performance with her fitness being at one of the highest levels of
the season. Then September 11 happened. She and the rest of the competitors
battled for a reason to compete, while UCI struggled with the decision to even
continue with the event. Whatever answer she found within herself, it was the
right one. After fighting for podium positions during the first half of the race
Dunlap found her legs, passing Alison Sydor of Canada on the final climb. On the
plateau Dunlap found Gunn-Rita Dahle with a flat tire. She held a 12 second lead
over Sydor until the finish. Later she said "When I saw Gunn-Rita I thought:
there's the jersey I've been chasing my whole life." Dunlap was visually
ecstatic after reclaiming the jersey that hadn't been won by an American in 10
After seizing the world championships Dunlap was confident that she would be
able to ride for a great team next year, but it wasn't until Gary Ricks of Cliff
Bar approached her about starting an all women's team that Dunlap found her
place. By not having an in-industry sponsor the team was able to choose the
co-sponsors they felt were best for the team. One unique partnership was made
with the Breast Cancer Fund, for which the team has held several fund-raisers.
While team details and clothing were sorted out Dunlap continued her passion of
racing cyclocross in a feverishly red Cliff Bar skinsuit. It ended up reflecting
her red hot results, as Dunlap scored multiple wins in the Supercup Cyclocross
Series, and won the Cyclocross National Championships.
The 2002 Redlands Classic stage race is where the new team made its first
official appearance. In their cream yellow and blue outfits the five girls put
on an exhibition of their strengths, professionalism, and most of all,
dedication to performance by being the only team composed solely of mountain
bikers. Even downhill specialist Marla Streb partook in the nearly week long
competition which included powerhouses such as the Saturn and Rona cycling
teams. From the opening time trial Dunlap began to fly high by claiming a sixth
place result while conserving for the circuit race. Day 2 the Highland circuit
race began. At 6 laps to go Mari Holden attacked on the grueling 1/2 mile climb,
establishing a 2 minute gap, and was chased by Genevieve Jeanson of Rona and
Lyne Bessette. Dunlap paced herself, and on the last couple laps was the only
rider able to bridge the two minute gap and came fourth on the stage to climbing
specialists Bessette and Jeanson. With barely two months of preparation Dunlap's
fitness was well on track to make a statement come the first goal of the season-
the Sea Otter MTB stage race held in Monterey, California.
Dunlap knew Sea Otter would be a challenge- she was gunning for at least one
stage win, the overall tittle, and all that while partaking in several events
aimed at launching the Luna Team into the eyes of spectators and the media.
Adding to the challenge was the presence of the Specialized, Gary Fisher, and
Trek-Volkswagon world cup teams. One new piece of equipment on her side was
quite special though, the rainbow jersey, and her tears of pride at stretching
it over her body showed how much work she put into earning it.
The first stage gave Dunlap a leg up- it was a road criterium. She would be
able to use her superior power and road racing experience, something few women
have concrete understanding of, to capture the inaugural stage. Coming down to a
field sprint she held off the favorites, ala Robbie McEwen, to power herself
into the top GC position, which would not be relinquished. Dunlap was unable to
win another stage, but her string of close second places kept her in the yellow
jersey, and rainbow jersey, until the finish of the final cross country stage.
What a stupendous kick off to what has come to be Dunlap's season.
In this year's World cup she has again posted her best results ever claiming
two seconds, a third and a fourth. First overall and with a 75 point lead over
second, she needs to have a 3rd place performance to guarantee victory, which
seems truly possible given her ever increasing confidence and fitness. In the
NCS series Dunlap is dead-on to win the short track tittle after winning the
first three rounds hands down, and with a little luck she may set a precedent by
winning every short track round of the season. As the leader in the NCS cross
country series as well, there has never been such a crowd favorite, or such
volume of cheering for a single rider.
After the 2000 Sydney Olympics Dunlap said she would retire before 2004, but
that seems hard to imagine when she is having her best season yet. Will the
humble power-plant from Coco Springs stick around for one more shot at destiny?
The only certainty is that while Alison Dunlap is with us, cycling is a blessed