Allie Dragoo: A case study in making the most of the collegiate cycling experience


by Gus Grissom
A quick glance at her results on USA Cycling’s website reveals numbers of the sort which most cyclists would commemorate with a wall of commemorative race numbers. Low single-digit numbers are the norm and that elusive “1” beside an event is not infrequent. A more careful analysis of the page, however, reveals what is most interesting about Allie Dragoo: every discipline in cycling is represented — track, road, BMX, mountain biking, and cyclo-cross. From one perspective, this young lady has already done it all. From another perspective, of course, this young lady is not only just beginning to do it all, but is already conquering it all as well.
Dragoo, who currently races for one of only 13 officially recognized varsity cycling teams, Marian University, got her start in the dusty world of BMX racing. She remembers her first races at the age of six and admits she only “got started with BMX because my brother was doing it.” But it was not long before she was making an impression of her own and winning races. By the time she was a teenager, Dragoo had already made the leap to the professional women’s class in BMX and was winning consistently on that circuit.
But some simple realities of growing up put some difficult decisions in front of her. “I realized I had to go to [college] sometime,” Dragoo explains, “and BMX wasn’t really offered in collegiate cycling programs.” Though this is no longer the case and BMX is now part of USA Cycling’s collegiate cycling program, the reality of choosing a college forced Dragoo to shift her focus. She ended up choosing Lindsey Wilson College in Kentucky and quickly decided to try every discipline she could. “I really just like to ride my bike,” she says, “and did everything I could for the fun of it.”
After one year, however, the opportunity for a change arose and Dragoo decided to transfer to Marian University in Indianapolis based on their structured approach to training and some of the educational programs they offered that piqued her interest. She explains, “I have problems with my attention. I’m actually pretty ‘ADD!’ So the structured program they have for the team was something I knew I needed.” This structured approach, enviable by any aspiring racer’s standards, includes a full-time coaching staff, a team-managed account on and several weekly opportunities to train together as a team while individuals balance their training and academic loads. Dragoo explains that the team “gets together maybe three times per week for group rides or team time trial practice. Other times we will be riding together and everyone has to do certain intervals on their own before we regroup and recover together.” It’s a pattern that helps the riders and the team perform at a very high level across disciplines. The proof of the pudding, of course, is in the taste and Marian University has certainly tasted victory: thirty-seven national championships across three disciplines.
But for Dragoo, it is not about the individual championships or the personal rewards she gets from her consistent podium spots. When asked what she likes the most about racing in so many disciplines, she is quick to respond, “I really just like to help the team.” The team, as she explains, set an early season goal to win the collegiate omnium title this past year. In Dragoo’s words, “we had a goal set to win the overall this year, and everything we did was just about that.” Though it sounds simple enough, winning the omnium is what pushed Dragoo and her teammates to compete in so many disciplines. “In collegiate cycling,” she explains, “all of the seasons go really quickly. So racers go from one discipline to the next and it all happens so fast that you just have to keep competing and getting stronger.” This consistent approach to competition gave Dragoo the opportunity to race and to win throughout the year. Her results over the past year include top-10 results in nearly 40 events and podium spots in criterium events, road races, time trials, and cyclo-cross races.
Though she is from a BMX background, she is quick to admit that off-road racing is no longer her favorite discipline. “Cyclo-cross,” for instance, “was not my favorite last year. I got a lot of flats and that didn’t help me do well in the races. But I would still say it was fun, just different.” Fun but different, of course, is how many racers describe cyclo-cross even when they don’t have the top-10 national results that Dragoo has.  It is actually the track and road events that most intrigue Dragoo these days. Marian University, as she explains, has its own velodrome. So it is available for her and her teammates to train on consistently. This is without doubt one of the reasons for their success but their coaching staff, as Dragoo explains, is also very involved in their development. “The coaches are really busy,” she adds, “because they are all teachers. But they do get out with us sometimes and they will videotape us when we are practicing for our team time trials so we can see what we’re doing wrong and where we need to improve.” That, she adds, is very helpful and when combined with their team sessions on the Computrainers in the winter means they are very competitive in all of their short, but intense, race seasons.
The obvious question for a racer with Dragoo’s qualifications is “are you hoping to make a career out of this?” To that question, however, Dragoo’s collegiate-focused palmarès belie her mature outlook on life’s realities. “I would say that if someone offered me the chance to go pro, I’d take it. But I really just have to see what happens next year.” The team, as she explains is hoping to repeat its omnium title and Dragoo says her main goal is “to be on the podium in every race. Well, maybe not every race. Maybe not at the road race national championships… I might just shoot for top-10 and work from there.” As her results from the past show, that still might be setting her sights low.
But she says of her future career “you just have to take each race as it comes. And even though the idea of going pro is nice, it is what it is,” an idea that might get in the way of her intense focus on helping Marian University win another national championship title. “The team and the school does so much for us as athletes,” she adds, “that the only way we can give back is to be focused on the team goals and doing everything we can to achieve them.” With a selfless attitude like that, of course, a professional contract can’t possibly be far away from this young lady who not only likes riding her bikes in all conditions, but also loves helping her team achieve loftier goals.

This Article Updated August 8, 2013 @ 02:53 PM For more information contact: