There were no cyclists in the town where Alison Jackson grew up. In fact, there were only a few thousand people in Vermilion, Alta., which meant Jackson’s road to professional sport was not as direct as many others in her discipline.
As a young girl growing up on a grain farm and bison ranch in the small Alberta town two hours east of Edmonton, Jackson, 34, had what she endearingly calls “a lot of outdoor energy.”
Besides putting that energy towards farm chores, Jackson’s mom decided to put her in all the sports possible.
“When you come from a small town, if you become a sports kid, you basically have to play all the sports so that you have a team,” Jackson says with a laugh. “So, that’s what I did.”
The list of sports she was involved in reads like a shopping list: soccer, volleyball, track and field, gymnastics, ballet, and jazz. A proud “yes-person,” Jackson has always loved trying new things and further to that, she loves mastering them.
“A lot of what I learned from the farm is if you want something to happen, then you work hard to do it. That’s the lifestyle of a farmer. You’re your own boss; you manage your own time and effort.”
Jackson continued to pursue her passion for activity and the outdoors by relocating to British Columbia for university, where she added rock climbing, caving, various snow sports and sailing to her already long list of activities.
With an interest in learning to surf and wanting to become a stronger swimmer so she could spend all day in the water without drowning, Jackson hit the water to practice her strokes.
At the same time, she was running to prepare for a trek in the Indian Himalayas, and after a visit home to Vermilion, she picked up an old Canadian Tire bike that a farm employee had left behind, and she rode it 20 kilometres into town.
It was at this time that someone asked Jackson if she was training for a triathlon, something she had never heard of but that immediately piqued her interest. Back in British Columbia, she found a small triathlon club and went with them to a race where she qualified for the amateur World Championships.
The Vermilion native found her way to competing in sports later than many others surrounding her, but she chooses not to see that as a hindrance.
“Do well with what you have now,” is Jackson’s life motto.
“We might think some people have more advantages than us in something but instead of looking at all [our] disadvantages, try to look at what’s really good and then exploit that.”
And she did just that by joining local swim, cycle and run clubs in British Columbia to advance her skills. At this time, she was offered a running scholarship to Trinity Western University, where she became quite a good runner. She competed as a runner, winning the Canada West Championships in 3000 metres before competing in her first local bike race, which she also won.
“I just wanted to be a pro athlete,” says Jackson. “I have had the Olympic dream since I was a kid.”
Jackson didn’t see a future in triathlons as she admits her swimming wasn’t strong enough. Decidedly, she had to choose between pursuing running or cycling as her professional career, but when she was offered her first professional cycling contract in 2015, the choice was made for her.
“I thought, alright, I’m going to go all in and see what happens,” she says.
And what happened is that Jackson was not only fulfilling her dream of being a professional athlete, she was beginning to thrive. While with her first team, TWENTY16, Jackson won stages at the Tour Cycliste Féminin International de l’Ardèche and the Trophée d’Or Féminin.
For her 2017 season, Jackson joined BePink Cogeas, a cycling team based in Italy, and then moved to TIBCO-Silicon Valley Bank in 2018, a team owned by another Jackson—retired Canadian professional cyclist Linda Jackson.
Jackson continued to add to her accolades, winning the second stage of the 2019 Women’s Tour of Scotland and receiving a last-minute spot for the 2020 Tokyo Summer Olympics due to a late race withdrawal. She placed 32nd, seven minutes behind the gold medalist, but the result wasn’t everything. Another life-long dream had been achieved. Jackson was now an Olympian.
With a few more years of shuffling between teams, she found her way back to the now-named EF Education-TIBCO-SVB at the end of her 2022 season, announcing her return to the team in typical Jackson style—with a dance.
Besides her accomplishments in sport, Jackson is well known on social media for busting out her moves on camera wherever the opportunity presents itself. Always the entertainer and an avid storyteller, Jackson brings people together with her exuberant personality.
“In the world of cycling and in women’s cycling in particular, she is paving the path for other people to be comfortable putting themselves out there to say, ‘I can be my own person and craft my own trade,’” says Adam Pulford, Jackson’s coach.
According to Pulford, Jackson’s atypical cycling persona is also working to improve the visibility of women’s cycling in Canada, and with more visibility comes more support and opportunity for Canadian women to compete at a high level.
When Jackson’s career in cycling first began, her mother would have to source information on the races from the most obscure Twitter accounts, and for a long time, the only women’s cycling event of note that many Canadians were aware of was the Olympics.
“Cycling as a sport, there’s such a disparity between men’s and women’s events,” says Jackson, citing that when she competed in triathlons or running events, all events were the same distance with the same prestige for men and women, and the men were equally interested in the outcome of the women’s events.
However, in the world of cycling, wages, prestige, race distances and TV coverage differ greatly for the competing genders. Although this is improving and Jackson’s mom no longer has to tune into her daughter’s races via obscure Twitter accounts, there is still a way to go for the sport to be considered equal.
Another step towards that equality was celebrated this year at the third edition of the Paris-Roubaix Femme. The Paris-Roubaix is one of the oldest cycling races in the world, dating back to 1896. The race was finally given a women’s counterpart in 2021.
Aptly named the Hell of the North, it is one of the most famous cycling races due to the notoriously difficult riding conditions. Riders must brave treacherous terrain and cobblestones as they push their bodies to the very limits.
At 1:35 p.m. on April 8, 2023, under the sombre, cloudy skies, Jackson took to the starting line of the Paris-Roubaix Femme, surrounded by 139 racers.
Competitors would race 145.5 kilometres along the French roads with 17 cobbled sectors of varying difficulty to tackle. Conditions were dry, but heavy rains the day before left some of the roads wet, adding to the complexity of the race.
Jackson was among a group of 18 riders to break away in the opening stages of the race, which also included British national champion Alice Towers and Elynor Backstedt, daughter of 2004 Paris-Roubaix champion, Magnus Backstedt.
Jackson remained in the leading group for the entire 145.5-kilometres, with seven riders duking it out in the final stage—the velodrome. As they neared the finish line, French rider Marion Borras led the pack, Jackson in second. They came around the final bend, and Jackson put everything she had left into powering her pedals, narrowly crossing the line to finish first, securing her name in history as the only North American rider to win the famed cobblestone-like “rock” trophy.
“It’s every cycling fan’s favourite race,” says Jackson. “There’s no other race like it, and the type of person that wins is always really resilient, determined and tough. All these characteristics you get associated with by winning the race, it’s a real honour to be in that.”
Coming out of what she considers the biggest win of her career, Jackson is more motivated than ever, and her coach is there by her side to keep pushing her limits.
Pulford, who is located in Washington, D.C., uses an app to communicate with Jackson on her training program. He schedules between 18 and 22 hours of training each week, including sessions on the bike, core-focused sessions and strength training. And, of course, knowing the Canadian well, he also schedules some dancing.
Although Jackson is currently based in Girona, Spain, she always returns home to Canada a few times a year, both to race in the Canadian National Championships in early summer and to keep up her status as “super-fun aunt.”
And for Jackson, whilst she may have raced around the world in countries across Asia and Europe and even in the land down under, she still considers Abbotsford and Chilliwack, B.C. her favourite places to ride.
“I think a lot of the times we dream of going to, like, Italy and other places to ride bikes, but actually, Canada is really awesome,” says Jackson, and there is no doubt that Canada feels the same about her.
Canadians will be happy to hear that our superstar from the West has no plans of slowing down.
“After coming out of this win, it just makes me dream bigger dreams and think, what else is possible?” says Jackson. “I just love what I get to do. I love racing. I love the chaos.”
“I’m going to do it as long as I love it, and as long as I can be a difference maker to my team, it makes me want to stay in the sport.”
List of Professional Victories
|National Championships Canada WE – Road Race
|National Championships Canada WE – Road Race
|National Championships Canada WE – ITT
|Simac Ladies Tour | Stage 1
|Women’s Tour of Scotland | Stage 2
|White Spot / Delta Road Race WE
|Tour Cycliste Féminin International de l’Ardèche | Stage 6
|Trophée d’Or Féminin | Stage 3
Read This Story in Our 2023 Summer Outdoor & Travel Issue
Featuring Alison Jackson, Canadian cyclist and only North American male or female to win the famed Paris Roubaix. Travel the country’s most stunning hot spots by campervan. Become a better trail running by improving your ascents and descents—plus, train outdoors with Canada’s Top Fitness Trainers. Enjoy plant-based summer recipes and so much more.