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Catching Up with Linda Jackson

We chat with Linda Jackson about her racing days and Team Tibco/To the Top.

Linda Jackson was in Ottawa/Gatineau this past weekend for the La Grande Visite de Gatineau. Jackson, a former elite Canadian bike racer brought her Team Tibco/To the Top to the race weekend for the Chrono Gatineau and the Gatineau Grand Prix. Jackson is known to many bike racing fans for her short but very strong racing career – Jackson started elite bike racing at the age of 35 leaving behind a career in investment banking.

We caught up with Jackson to talk about her life as director sprotif of Team Tibco/To the Top and her bike racing days.

Can you tell us about your role with Team TIBCO?

When I first started the team six years ago, I traveled to every race with the team as the Director Sportif, in addition to all of the other hats I wore. I am actually the team founder/owner. I find the financial sponsorship for the team (always looking for additional sponsorship to increase the budget so that we can get to more international races), secure and manage all of the product sponsors (LOOK, SRAM, HED, CONTROL TECH, Hutchinson, Genuine Innovations, San Marco, Clif, etc) hire the riders and staff, etc. For this race I need to remember how to be the Director Sportif again!! As the DS, I scope out the courses, determine the appropriate strategy for the strengths of our team, and help the team execute the tactics during the race. I will follow the race in our team car; to provide tactical support, mechanical service, and food/drinks.

What prompted you to get involved with cycling again in 2004?

I had been completely away from the cycling environment for several years. I retired in 2000, got married, went back to investment banking, and cycling was the furthest thing from my mind. I took some time off the bike for person reasons as well, but after a few years I picked up the bike again, got back in shape, and started doing a few local races with the Palo Alto Bicycles team. I quickly realized that I did not want to race anymore, but it was there that I met a female cyclist that had an incredible amount of talent. I started coaching her, and started looking for sponsorship to grow the small local team into something bigger that could get her to the NRC races (top national races). One thing led to another, and my competitive instinct took over. I wanted to build the top women’s team in North America. We achieved that in 2009.

You had a very strong career and are one of Canada’s top female racers of all time. Take us back to you racing days – can you tell us about your favourite moment on the bike?

There are so many to choose from. I quit my career in investment banking in 1993 to pursue cycling. In 1994, the Commonwealth games were in Victoria. That’s where my Mum is from. Kathy Watt was off the front, and we were trying to chase her down. With about a lap to go, I ended up off the front after a steep, fast descent. At that point I put my head down and tried to chase Kathy down. There wasn’t enough road to bring her back, but I stayed off for the Silver medal. I will never forget the thunder of the crowd banging against the barricades as I rode into the Silver medal for Canada. My parents and a lot of my Mum’s family were there. That was a really special moment. I still get goose bumps when I think about it; I’ll never forget it.

Which race win for you stands out as being the most pivotal/important in your bike racing career?

It wasn’t a win, but when I first started racing, I came and did nationals in Quebec. I had no idea what I was doing. I finished third; Clara had gone solo and I think Sue Palmer finished second. I rode up to Sue and asked her how to go about getting on the national team. I’ll never forget her response, she said ” you just got a pretty good start, you beat half the team”. That’s when I realized that I not only had the passion for the sport, but perhaps also some talent.
You came to bike racing rather late (at the age of 35) – what initially drew you to the sport?

I had a skiing accident and tore my ACL and meniscus, and underwent knee reconstructive surgery. Cycling was therapy for that. I got really bored riding the indoor trainer, so I started riding outside. I had a junker bike that I commuted to Stanford on, it had flat pedals with missing toe straps. I went riding with some friends and we went up a popular hill in Northern California, Old le Honda. I was the first person to the top of the hill, and really loved climbing. My friends kept telling me that I should race after that, but I resisted. My life was competitive enough being in investment banking, I didn’t want to compete in my spare time on the weekends! But I eventually did take get a cycling licence, and I remember my first race. It was the Morgan Hill road race. I towed everyone around all day, and then someone came around me for the sprint. I finished second, and from that moment on, cycling was in my blood. I had to compete, I had to race my bike.

The investment banker life compared to the bike racer life are on a lot of levels very different. But I’m wondering what you lessons you took from the corporate world to the bike that helped with your success?

I think the main lesson I took away was that hard work is just one ingredient needed to achieve success. In investment banking, we worked all night long many times in order to get deals done. Everyone did, it was just a way of life. You didn’t go home because you hadn’t slept in a couple of days. You grabbed a car, went home for a shower and change of clothes, and back to work it was. We loved what we did, and we were driven. Success in cycling was the same. At the top of the sport, everyone is strong, and my guess is that difference in fitness levels are minimal. The winner will be the one that not only trains hard, but is dedicated to every other aspect of being a winner, the psychological aspect, visualization, nutrition, teamwork, etc. There are no shortcuts to success.

Do you ride for fun and fitness these days?

Absolutely. I love riding my bike. One of the reasons I am not in investment banking anymore is because cycling has become a way of life for me. It’s part of me and makes my happy. When I can’t get out to ride, I am grumpy. Knock on wood, I hope to have this good health for decades to come so that I can continue to enjoy riding my bike. My goal is to ride my age in miles every birthday. That could get challenging in a couple of decades, but hopefully not.

Team TIBCO is one of the top teams in North America and is developing a strong presence in Europe as well. Can you tell us a bit about the team and how you approach the road racing season?

I started this team back in 2004. At that time it existed as the Palo Alto Bicycle women’s team, based out of Palo Alto Bicycles shop in Palo Alto, Calif. Last year we were the top team in North America. We won the team NRC classification, the women’s prestige series team classification, and were voted the number one team in N.A by VeloNews. This year we set our goals higher. We became a UCI team with the goal of getting our riders the racing experience that they will need to shoot for the Olympics. It has actually been a tough year for us, because a lot of our stronger riders were in Europe for all of April and May, leaving us a tad “under-gunned” here in the U.S. But everyone is back now, and everything is coming together. We are going to have an awesome 2nd half of the season. Today’s podium in the TT by Ali Starnes, and Brooke’s win down at the Clarendon cup in Virginia are examples of that.

Any thoughts on the Gatineau Grand Prix this weekend?

I am so excited about this race. I am hoping that this will become a mainstay on the UCI calendar for a long time to come. It has been wonderful being home this week, and seeing all of these wonderful people that I came to know during my cycling career. I will do anything I can do to help this race achieve success. The organizers have been incredible. They did a fantastic job pulling this together in such a short time.