Chris Allison has been in and out of Manila for almost 5 years. “I decided to come here after doing humanitarian work in Asia with a good friend of mine who is a Filipino doctor,” he shares. “Secondly, after retiring from years of racing in the cold and rain of Northern Europe, I wanted a little beach and sunshine in my life!”
But he’s been doing a lot more than enjoying our tropical weather. As coach and project director of the LBC-MVPSF Pilipinas team, the 31-year-old has been busy training the country’s best cycling talents. “The LBC-MVP Sports Foundation team is a development project I started to select, train, and begin developing world-class Filipino cycling talents,” he explains. Together with LBC Express logistical and financial support, Chris created the Ronda Pilipinas, “a grueling 12-16 day bike race across the entire Philippine archipelago.”
“Ronda is run under supervision of officials from the UCI international governing body and these same officials have also been commissars at the Tour de France for many years,” he continues. “From the Ronda Pilipinas, we scout the country's best young talent and invite them to develop in our program.” Among their long-term goals is to get the first Filipino to the Tour de France. They also hope to win big in other events like the Sea Games, Asian Games, and the Asian Championships. “We would also like to make a return to the Olympics for road cycling, as the last Filipino to qualify was in 1992,” Chris adds. “The MVP Sports Foundation has joined us in targeting these long-term goals and we have made tremendous progress for the sport.
Most recently, Chris has been tasked to start coaching the Philippine National team and “restructure the sport as a whole in our country.” “Some exciting plans are on the horizon!” he smiles.
Chris with their talented climber Junrey Navarra getting the King of the Mountains jersey in the Tour of Borneo
How and why did you get into biking?
I actually started my career in triathlon and did my first full Ironman at 19 years of age. At 17, I was certified as a personal trainer and became inspired by tales of competing in the Hawaii Ironman World Championships by a fellow trainer at the gym where I worked. I decided to give it a go and trained for about 8 months leading into the 2003 Ironman Florida. That was the hardest 13 hours of my life… until I started bike racing in Europe!
You were part of the US Cycling development team. When and what made you decide to go pro?
After the Ironman, I felt I had a strong talent for the bike. I loved the feeling of racing up and down mountains much more than pounding the pavement on long runs. I switched to pure road cycling and got hooked with the learning the clever tactics and strategy needed to win bike races. It is very different to triathlon. I raced all around the US as an amateur for 2 years and eventually made it to the US National championships where I finished in the top-25. The following season I was contracted to race in Europe with a US cycling development program. Europe is the place to be if one wants to make it at the world elite level and I packed my bags to give it a try.
What are some of your most memorable races/competitions?
Good memories: Racing on the famous cobblestones of Paris Roubaix and the Tour of Flanders Not-so-good memories: 10 destroyed bike frames, 6 concussions, 2 broken collarbones, a separated shoulder, and lots of skin left on roads all around Europe and the US.
What would you say are the highlights of your cycling career?
Passing on my knowledge to try and build up Philippine cycling. Seeing our best Pinoy under 23 talent lining up for races with Alejandro Valverde and Simon Gerrans in Spain a few months ago.
What is your schedule like as coach of the national cycling team? I know you travel a lot.
The schedule is quite busy as I have many things to manage along with the travel. I just came from two months in Europe with the team, followed by two weeks in Indonesia. Ideally, the riders need to race as much as possible in this part of their career and I challenge myself to get them into the best possible races around the world. I also have to manage all of their different personalities, plus help them transition from their upbringing in the Philippines to the demanding life of a pro cyclist in Europe. This includes a lot of educational instruction off the bike.
Their youngest team member Ronald Lomotos getting his first podium place in an international competition. Tour of Borneo 2013
How do you train for competitions?
LBC-MVPSF riders train every day, with specific workouts geared to the type of race we are entering in and the type of rider they are. Our sprinters have different workouts compared to our climbers and we almost always use a motor for pacing in sprinting drills or climbing intervals. We do our sprint leadouts at 65+ kph for the sprinters and usually set a tempo of 35-45kph on some climbs for the climbers. The boys also have to be quite comfortable at riding between 50-55kph for several hours behind the motor, as these are the speeds we typically race at abroad.
How important is nutrition to your training?
Nutrition and quality rest are everything. If you can't recover properly from hard workouts it is difficult to build top fitness. Likewise, if your nutrition is off it is also very easy to get sick with the amount of training we do.
What are your goals for the team? Pinoys are short and lean. Is height or built a factor in cycling?
Our goals are to create world-class Filipino talent that can be very competitive on an international level. Height is not as important in cycling as it is in basketball. In cycling, body weight takes priority, especially for climbing mountains. I feel Filipinos will be best suited as climbers internationally and we are already having good success with Junrey Navarra, our country's top climber from South Cotabato, Mindanao. More than anything, our boys have to learn how to think with their head in the race. In cycling, it's not the strongest that wins; it's the smartest.
Mark Galedo and Ronald Oranza getting 1st and 3rd place at the 2013 SEA Games Individual time trial—a first for Philippine history that two Pinoys were on the podium together for SEA games road cycling competition
Our country's best climber Junrey Navarra gets 2nd place overall for the King of the Mountains jersey behind an Iranian rider at the Tour de Singkarak (June 2014)
What’s the most rewarding thing about coaching a national team?
The most rewarding thing is seeing the team progress every year, especially having started from nothing. In three years’ time we went from an idea on a sheet of paper to racing against top Tour de France superstars in Europe.
What is your preferred biking style?
My personal preferred biking style is racing down twisty mountain roads on smooth pavement with scenic views. You'll forget all your worries in those moments.
What do you love the most about biking?
I love the high-speed chess game that is bike racing.
Is there anything else you want to achieve in your cycling career?
I only want to see Filipino riders bring pride to the country, help their families, and prove to the world we've got the talent and puso. Lastly, it is my goal to convince corporations and sponsors in the Philippines follow the lead of LBC and MVP and invest in other sports outside of basketball. There are many other athletes who have enormous potential, they just need the support, proper guidance, and patience to see that talent grow. Superstars aren't made overnight.