Tapping Filipinos’ intrinsic ability to endure, Philippine National Cycling Team coach and manager Chris Allison is paving the way for local talents to land coveted spots in international cycling events
By Eric Nicole Salta | Photo by Pia Puno | Shot at NUVALI |Special thanks to Pam Figueroa, Lito Soltura, and Dionn Wynn Dionio
“When we have events, come out, compete, and see how you go. You might get noticed there.”
For Chris Allison, working with young talents was a natural progression after retiring from an amateur and semi-pro career. “Back in my day, I finished in the Top 25 of the US U23 National Championships,” he recalls. “Then I got a contract over to Europe, carving out my own small career before that finished due to injuries.” Five years later, Allison has picked himself back up in astonishing form to pedal the Philippine National Cycling Team, a group of rare and transcendent talent, to its absolute peak. Not bad for someone who originally came out to the Philippines for “a little sunshine in my life.”
You’ve been trying to get Filipino cyclists to make it to the Olympics and Tour de France. What made you decide to make this your mission?
The last time a Filipino qualified for the Olympics for road cycling was in 1992. It’s been a while and now the qualification system has gotten a lot tougher than it was back then. It’s more stringent and on top of that, all of the countries, especially in Asia, are stepping up their game. You also have to realize that the Olympics includes all the top Tour de France riders. It’s not impossible but we’re on that road. We’re also keenly interested in seeing the first Filipino in history make it to Tour de France. That’s one of the underlying missions of what we’re doing.
The attitude, the willingness to fight and suffer. That’s very intrinsic to Filipinos and that gives us a lot of strength when we compete abroad. Sometimes, our guys are the last to throw in the towel because they know hardship
Why do you think we haven’t made it yet?
Back in the day, we had the Marlboro Tour, which was a massive multi-stage cycling race that invited a lot of the top European guys. When that was going on, you saw a lot of talent emerge. They had a big national race to shoot for so it got people excited about cycling. Since then, the Marlboro Tour sort of faded away and we lost a generation because there wasn’t a continuation of the momentum that the tour generated. We weren’t developing guys as much. It’s something that we’re trying to rejuvenate. Now obviously you have Le Tour de Filipinas, Ronda Pilipinas, and Ironman doing their thing, which is fantastic.
Has triathlon paved the way for people to see cycling as more than just an underground sport?
Cycling has been there, don’t get me wrong. There have been a lot of cyclists on the radar, the problem is a lot of your A and upper B market weren’t into cycling until triathlon came along. It wasn’t on the radar of top industries or sponsors or people wanting to put events together because it was sort of considered a masa sport. And yes, I definitely agree that triathlon has helped bring an interest toward bike riding.
Talk about your responsibilities in the Philippine team.
What we’re trying to do is create the development pathway. If a grassroots kid in Mindanao or Cebu loves cycling and is passionate about it, what is that pathway? How do we shape that child’s future if he wants to pursue cycling to the highest level? My responsibility is to get that infrastructure in to start scouting these kids, get them on the pathway, and get them the international experience, exposure, and funding. It’s a grooming process. Not only in road cycling but helping out mountain bikers, looking at what we can do at BMX, and also on the track.
If a grassroots kid in Mindanao or Cebu loves cycling and is passionate about it, what is that pathway? How do we shape that child’s future if he wants to pursue cycling to the highest level?
What happens next when you spot a talent?
They have to have the passion. If they don’t have the passion for it and you don’t nurture it, they’re not going to last long. Then we have to see the genetic capabilities of that rider. In other words, what is their aerobic engine; we go through a lot of testing on them—V02 max, blood work, power testing—just to get a good road map of the possibilities this athlete has and how far we can take this athlete.
Why do you believe Filipinos can make it big in cycling?
The attitude, the willingness to fight and suffer. That’s very intrinsic to Filipinos and that gives us a lot of strength when we compete abroad. Sometimes, our guys are the last to throw in the towel because they know hardship. Cycling is about dealing with those hardships; when it’s hot, raining, or you’re on the climb. You can’t teach that. That’s the beauty of developing this sport in the country. Filipinos persevere and that’s a talent you cannot train.