'Growing up on a bison farm in Alberta taught me the meaning of hard work': How Paris-Roubaix winner Alison Jackson got her toughness

The Canadian Classics champ on how her childhood shaped her racing – and why she wants to win the Hell of the North again but in a different way

Alison Jackson at Paris-Roubaix
(Image credit: Getty Images)

For each article in this long-running WATT WORKS FOR ME series from Cycling Weekly's print edition, we ask a pro rider about their favourite things in training: what has helped them most in getting to where they are today. The aim is to get to the heart of the beliefs and preferences they hold dear when it comes to building form, maximising fitness and ultimately achieving results. For this edition we speak to Alison Jackson...

You grew up on a bison farm in Alberta, Canada. How did that shape you?

My dad loves it when I say this, but it’s true: growing up on a farm taught me the meaning of hard work. We’d be outside running around a lot, and that gave me a lot of outdoor energy. We had to do farm chores too, one of which is funny in light of Paris-Roubaix: we would go rock-picking, gathering up stones so they didn’t damage the farm equipment.

The weather must have been harsh too?

Yeah, generally the winters are -20°C and snow, but you just make sure you choose the right clothing for the weather. We did a lot of skiing and snowboarding, but I was a gymnast, a dancer and played volleyball, so all of that was indoor stuff.

How did you get started in cycling?

After my first year of university, there were three kids in my town who were doing triathlon, so I joined the local club. Later, I was awarded a cycling and running scholarship. It never mattered to me what sport I did, I just wanted to win, and I love how different forms of training change the body in different ways.

Alison Jackson lying on the ground in the Roubaix Velodrome

(Image credit: Getty Images)

You won Paris-Roubaix in a sprint finish – is sprinting a particular strength?

I’d always prefer to solo to the line, but I’d spoken to team-mates who are track riders about how to use a sprint to win. On the day, you just have to trust your instinct. Written on my handlebar tape was the message: ‘Don’t think, just do’.

Was your build-up to that race any different from usual? 

The form came from the previous couple of years. Even during the pandemic year [2020/21] when we had so few races, we were able to have a really big focus on training. I remember doing a lot of really long rides. The year after, I did a lot more high intensity, and I think that layering, the combination, built a great athlete.

You’ve ridden on teams of various different nationalities. Have you noticed disparities between training philosophies?

Yeah, there have been some big differences. I rode for an Italian team who were old-school in their thinking; I had to draw a lot on my own resources. I’m not intensely science-minded – I train with passion and heart. What’s great now is having experts who I can leave all the number-crunching to.

Favourite type of training?

Over the past year, we started doing some training to normalised power. You build it up: first you do an hour at normalised power of just under threshold, then 90 minutes, then two hours. It’s pretty intense but you can do it by riding like a mad person, attacking all the climbs! You go hard at every possible moment.

Any advice for aspiring racers?

Keep it fun. Remember why you first started cycling, and gamify your training – sprinting for every town sign, for example, I love doing that!

Rider profile: Alison Jackson

Age: 35
Height: 5ft 6in
Lives: Girona, Spain
FTP: 295W (estimated)
Rides for: EF Education-Cannondale
Best results: 1st – Paris- Roubaix Femmes (2023); 1st – Canada National RR (2021, 2023)

Quick-fire faves

Favourite distraction on the turbo? Either watch Formula 1: Drive to Survive or try to get all the different badges on Zwift.
Favourite place to ride? Abbotsford, BC [Canada]
Favourite type of parcours? Classics
Person who most inspired you? My ballet teacher Miss Ryan – who believed you’re never too old to become an expert at something. 
Celebrity you’d most like to take on a bike ride? A hockey player from the Edmonton Oilers. 
Dream race to win? Paris-Roubaix – to win it again but in a different way. 
Favourite mid-ride snack? Chocolate-chip cookie. 
Favourite celebratory indulgence? A bowl full of vegetables – a break from the carbs. 
Favourite sport or hobby outside of cycling? Ski touring.
Most important quality in a training partner? Being up for anything, a sense of adventure.

The full version of this article was published in the 11 January 2024 print edition of Cycling Weekly magazine. Subscribe online and get the magazine delivered to your door every week.

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