California native Alexis Ryan gives Rapha an insight into life in the women’s pro peloton, and why being an American in Europe isn’t always easy.
Take a peek at Alexis Ryan’s results to date and it’s clear to see that the 21 year-old is on the brink of achieving something special. The history of Americans trying to make it in Europe is littered with examples of talented riders who couldn’t get their heads around living on foreign soil. Yet as the sole American rider on a European team Alexis is carving herself a space in the professional peloton.
Hailing from Southern California but based temporarily in the Netherlands, Ryan returns home for the AMGEN Tour of California. We talked to her ahead of the race at her home in Ventura, where the eternal sunshine is a stark contrast to the grey skies of Europe.
Tell us about your schedule?
I’ve been spending a lot of time in the Netherlands but the US is always home. Wherever I am in the world I spend a lot of time on the road, and if I’m not on the road I’m either unpacking from one trip, or packing for the next one.
When life is that hectic it’s important to have some kind of routine – it drives me crazy that I can’t do the small, adult things like making dinner for myself, so when I can I shop for food, cook, do yoga in my room, and just be quiet for a while.
Are you getting used to the Dutch way of life?
Yes and no. There’s a phrase ‘getting Dutch-ed’ that applies to life on and off the bike. If you’re drafting a wheel, full gas, and the rider in front flicks you into a ditch, that’s ‘getting Dutch-ed’. Off the bike it’s about getting use to the quirky ways of life in another country, like my debit card being rejected because the grocery store only accepts European ones – that’s pretty annoying.
Is the racing different in Europe to in the US?
Without a doubt. I’ve spent a couple of stints in Europe and it takes a long time to pick up on the nuances of racing here, and at this level.
At first the races are mentally draining – you can’t see it if you’re watching from the roadside, or on TV, but as a rider you’re paying attention and making decisions for hours at a time, in place you don’t know. I used to finish races mentally exhausted but after a while racing three times a week for the last eight weeks in bad European weather things are started to feel more natural – I don’t have to think as much now.
What’s the difference between a good day and a bad day on the bike for a pro?
It depends on your measure of success. When I first got here a couple of years ago finishing a race was a success. But now it’s about making the selection and being there for my teammates at the end of a race – when the selection is often just 10 or 11 women out of a field of 100 that’s a tough call.
A WorldTour race is the pinnacle of racing but how does it differ from the amateur scene?
As an amateur you can win if you’re strong. In the pro ranks you can’t win unless you’re strong and smart. Pro riders have controlled aggression, along with a confidence that says that they deserve to be in the fight. It took a long time for me to figure this out, then one day I had a lightbulb moment and it clicked.
You’re new to CANYON//SRAM this year. Has riding for one of the top women’s teams changed the way you ride?
When I came on to this team I had raced in Europe quite a lot but I didn’t have many results, the successes I’d had were on the American scene. The girls were really welcoming and excited to have me on board and they knew that I was strong and probably a good bike racer, but they didn’t really know me, so I had to prove that I could be trusted to do a job.
In the photography that comes from your races and the team camps it looks like everyone is having a really good time. Is that true?
Yes, we have the best time! This is a new team but the core group of riders have been together for a while. Those girls went through alot together – they won a lot together, they lost a lot together. Seeing that group and seeing the culture they shared at the beginning of the year was really important, and it’s the key to why we work so well together.
You’re here for the AMGEN Tour of California, which is now a Women’s WorldTour event. You’ve already raced a couple of different ‘styles’ of races this year – flat races, hilly races, stage races, Classics – do you think that in the future you’d like to specialise?
The women’s schedule is more varied than the men’s and it’s harder to specialise, there’s a sense that you have to fight for everything in every race. You need to have the legs for whatever the race throws at you – climbing, sprinting, time trials, and you need the brains too.
My ambition is to be a good, all-round bike rider. We’re not going to get rich racing bikes – most of the women in the peloton could earn more money doing a day job, so you know that the majority of us are racing because cycling is our passion. When you love something that much you just want to be the best you can.