Allan Iacuone – Local hero, national champion
by Jamie Jowett
I like to think I’m a proud Australian. Not one of those flogs with a Southern Cross sticker on his back window either. What makes me a proud Australian are the national champions we have, and Allan Iacuone is one of them.
For a rider that esteemed cycling commentator Matt Keenan rated as one of the best to come from this country, the career of Allan Iacuone has been an interesting one. He raced professionally in Europe, the US, Asia and even the Pacific. Highs included a 2nd place in the 2002 Sun Tour (to Baden Cooke, and beating riders the calibre of Brad Wiggins, Matt Wilson and Mark Renshaw), 3rd in the Tour of Langkawi, winner of the Tour of Tasmania, and 2nd in the well-paying but primitive Tour of New Caledonia. In stage races, he’s placed above riders like George Hincapie, and even managed to ‘sell’ a race in a Belgium Kermesse that he had no chance of winning.
Al standing high on the podium of New Caledonia. Notice Laurent Fignon standing to the left in the striped polo shirt.
Contrasting with these highs were cruel twists of fate off the bike that cut short his career. The victim of several teams folding, Allan was at times stranded mid season in Europe, or back home, being sold empty promises by European team managers who just had earlier been chasing the promising young Aussie. The Team Linda McCartney collapse impacted on Al’s confidence, his views on the sport and his place in it. Al was then thrown a lifeline by Dave McKenzie with his iTeam Nova in 2001, only to see that fold a couple of years later as well.
Photo from cyclingnews taken by Gennie Sheer
Racing is hard enough at the best of times, without having to worry about your career and livelihood being on the line as well. No other sport places its athletes under such direct and instant pressure, and the sport places a heavy burden on riders.
At the age of 30 Allan rode alongside Allan Davis in the Tour Down Under, but his performances were no longer up to his own high standards and his heart was no longer in it. He stepped off the race bike for good.
Ten years earlier, though, Al was part of a tight unit of young VIS riders. Living close to each other, they trained hard all week with lots of motor-paced Oliver’s Hills and Two Bays during the days, and the odd quadruple repeat of Arthur’s Seat, capped off with Ergo’s at night. Without much racing, these guys were hard as a cat’s head. Unlike the AIS scholarships with riders from all across Australia, the ’94 VIS under Dave Sanders became a small team that was producing strong local results while the ‘big boys’ at the AIS and Jayco Pro team were off racing in the US. There was a real Pro’s vs. Amateurs feel about the Nationals that year, and the animosity was bubbling away between the camps. Teddy Whitten would have been proud of these boys wearing the big V.
The 1994 Nationals course in Maroochydore was nicely suited to Allan, a tough course with plenty of climbs. The main contenders were a hard raced bunch of Pro’s, ranging from the fast finishing and crafty Eddy Salas to the 43 year old ‘King of the 6 Dayers’ Danny Clark. Other quality and seasoned riders included the likes of Scott McGrory, Jamie Kelly and Nick Gates.
During the race, perennial hard man Danny Clarke was on a flyer and went away on his own for three or four laps, before being brought back by the bunch. Al took his chance and went away then too. With a strong performance earlier in the week on the same course in the TT, Al was confident and chanced his arm. But inexplicably, he was caught, then dropped.
With half a lap to go, VIS team mate Duncan Smith dragged Al back, cooking himself in the process. On the last main climb, however, Al cramped and thought his race was gone too. Amazingly the bunch chose this moment to sit up and begin the cat & mouse games. To his surprise, Al was able to roll back on.
With the experienced Pro’s all looking at each other, Al made one last effort and got away. Before the race the VIS boys had all agreed that the finish was close to the last climb, meaning you would have to start your final sprint on the hill. Al hit it and immediately gapped Nick Gates, who sat on but just couldn’t make up the winning margin of about 10 metres. As Allan turned back around after crossing the line, Danny Clark passed by, visibly fuming at how the race had panned out and his lost opportunity.
But the title was Allan’s, and his place in Australian cycling history remains.
Al wins the Australian Road National Championships in 1994. You can see Nick Gates in second place and if you look closely you’ll see the likes of Scott McGrory, Jamie Kelly, Danny Clarke chasing beyond the hill.
Al and teammate Duncan Smith who sacrificed his chances to help Al win his national title. I remember racing in the Bay Crits last year and hearing Phil Liggett announcing as we rode by the start/finish “Is that Duncan Smith back racing? Oh my…he used to be an incredible bike rider!”
Today Al runs a dog-walking service, happily based in bayside Melbourne with his partner and her daughter. He is slowly being coaxed back into cycling by the 02 Networks team, which include some old VIS team mates, and also some good fun racing at the St.Kilda Cycling Club Crits.
But it is on his terms. Al is not on a comeback trail, and shies away from being seen trying to replicate his early career. He has little interest in race results, but might just have found the essence of simply being on the bike again. Who knows, he might have finally found a team that will not let him down (well, at the after-party anyway…)?
As I almost pleaded for this interview, Allan was apologetic and not quite sure why anyone would want to know about him. But the reality is, when I looked in my Weeties this morning there wasn’t a National Road Race medal. So, next time you’re riding the Tour de Burbs on a Thursday night, remember that the lightly built guy climbing effortlessly in front of you is probably a national champion. Our champion.