This story forms part of our North American week on Cyclingnews.
Linda Jackson is one of the most successful female professional cyclists to have come from Canada, and since retiring in 2000 has dedicated the next chapter of her career to creating opportunities for American and Canadian women to pursue their Olympic dreams.
In an interview with Cyclingnews, Jackson says that the team she founded, TIBCO-Silicon Valley Bank, along with the Silicon Valley Bank Foundation (SVCF), have been helping women gain experience racing overseas as well as the support, funding and strategy needed to achieve their goals in the sport of cycling.
“Even though I have been in California for 35 years, I am still a Canadian. Helping Canadian girls and women is near and dear to my heart,” Jackson says. “And, of course, being based in one of the cycling meccas of the world [Paolo Alto], I get to know many American talents as well. Cycling is very Euro-centric. If you want to make it to the Olympics you need to get to Europe at least part of the time to compete against the talent there.
“But how does an emerging North American rider do that? That’s where our team comes in. Between our team and our Silicon Valley Cycling Foundation, we identify emerging North American talent and provide them with a path to achieve their goals.”
Entering their 16th year in the professional women’s peloton, the 2021 Continental team includes Tanja Erath, Eri Yonamine, Eva Buurman, Clara Honsinger, Lauren Stephens, Leah Dixon, Sarah Gigante, Kristen Faulkner, Nina Kessler, Emily Newsom, Diana Peñuela, Emma Langley and Maddy Ward.
Tibco-SVB originated out of a local bike shop in Palo Alto and have been the home team for riders like Brooke Miller, Megan Guarnier, Skylar Schneider, Lauren Stephens, Kendall Ryan, Lex Albrecht and Alison Jackson, just to name a few.
“We gave Lauren [Stephens] a grant from SVCF back in 2013 based on a win in a criterium. We’ve been able to get Lauren and others all the international racing opportunities they needed to qualify for Olympic selection. Lauren just finished 2020 as the top US rider in the UCI rankings,” Jackson says.
“At the end of 2019, we brought American Kristen Faulkner on board based on a Gran Fondo and a local stage race. Kristen was a full-time venture capitalist when we hired her. There was no racing here in North America in 2020 due to COVID-19, so we made the decision to take Kristen to Europe. In her first European block, she won a stage at Tour de l’Ardeche and had two top-20 placings on the Women’s WorldTour.”
Tibco-SVB has cast its focus beyond North American for talent, having also hired promising riders from Colombia, UK and Australia.
“Sarah Gigante is another great example of finding emerging riders. Sarah has won the Australian National Time Trial Championships for the past two years. She is the future of this sport and you’ll see her in the Women’s WorldTour races this year with us as well,” Jackson added.
TIBCO-SVB is currently a second-tier Continental team but Jackson says they will need to move up to the top tier and become a Women’s WorldTeam if they want to continue to provide their riders with the racing opportunities they need to qualify through the national federations to compete in the 2024 Olympic Games in Paris.
“The good news is that Women’s Cycling is gaining a lot of traction. The Women’s WorldTour has evolved into a terrific calendar of races that include Paris-Roubaix for the first time this year and a rumoured multi-day Tour de France in 2022,” Jackson said.
“The level of racing is getting better each year and the media exposure is coming. As we approach 2022, WorldTeam status, we will have an international squad ready for the challenge, but I will always have a soft spot for selecting North American riders.”
Not so obvious investments pay dividends
Jackson represented Canada at the 1996 Olympic Games in Atlanta and says that experience changed her life. She wants to be able to financially support young women in their pursuit of the Olympic Games, too.
“Someone asked me last year why I do this, they pointed out that it is the athlete that is racing and winning, what do I get out of it?
“It’s simple. Becoming an Olympian was a life-changing event for me. I was lucky that I had financial resources to rely on so that I didn’t have to work while I pursued my passion. Most of these young women don’t have that luxury. Helping them achieve their passion and their goals in a sport I love, that’s fulfilling,” Jackson says.
Jackson is a graduate of Honors Business Administration from Western University in Ontario. She then spent two years with a global financial services company, Morgan Stanley, and completed an MBA at Stanford University, and then five years of investment banking at Alex Brown & Sons. She had an interesting entry into the world of cycling after becoming settled into life as an investment banker at the age of 35.
“I left Alex Brown & Sons in 1993 to pursue my goal of becoming an Olympian,” Jackson says. “I was 35 and a vice president in the Investment Banking Division. I had a group of friends that rode from the local ‘Y’ where I worked out before commuting to San Francisco. They invited me to ride in the early 90s, and I was a natural, I guess. Folks started telling me that I should race, but I resisted as my life was already competitive enough with investment banking.
“I finally succumbed and got a license. My first race was the Morgan Hill Road Race in 1991. I pulled the field around the whole race and then got pipped at the line. I finished second but I was hooked. From that moment on, cycling was the most important thing in my life.
“I tried training and working for two years, including doing crazy stuff like getting up at 4:30 a.m. to ride to San Francisco from Los Altos twice a week. But it was impossible and I just wore myself down. Finally, in 1993, I had to leave investment banking to see if I could become an Olympian.”
Jackson competed in the 1996 Olympic Centennial Games, a profound moment for her. She is a six-time Canadian national champion, earned the bronze medal in the 1996 World Championships, and earned silver medals in the road race at the 1994 Commonwealth Games and in the time trial at the 1998 Commonwealth Games. She also won the overall title at the Tour de l’Aude, Women’s Challenge, and finished second overall twice at the Giro Rosa, and placed third overall at the Tour de France Feminin.
She says that among her most memorable accomplishments were the silver medal in the Commonwealth Games road race in 1994 in Victoria, British Columbia, and the bronze medal at the World Championships in 1996 in Lugano.
“My parents were both at the Commonwealth Games, and my mum was born in B.C. The applause was just thunderous as I raced to the finish line in pursuit of Kathy Watt, finishing second. I still get goosebumps when I relive that moment.
“I think my biggest sporting accomplishment was the bronze medal in the World Championship road race in Lugano in 1996. It was a really tough race. I bridged up to a break with Rasa Polikeviciute and Barbara Heeb, but the effort cost me and I eventually started getting dropped on the hills and had to chase on during the descents. I fought so very hard for that bronze medal.”
Jackson retired from professional cycling in 2000, even though she had qualified to represent Canada at the Sydney Olympic Games.
“I had a really bad respiratory infection in 1999, finally recovered and then suffered a separated shoulder in a crash just before the World Championships that fall,” Jackson says. “I pulled out of the Worlds team to give someone else a chance. I went into the off-season ready to go for the Sydney Olympics, and I was on the long list, but had met Kevin, my husband, and decided in early 2000 that I needed to retire. I went back to banking that spring, working as a director in the Technology Group at Credit Suisse First Boston.”
Jackson was inducted into the Canadian Cycling Hall of Fame in 2018 and is celebrated for her accomplishments as being one of the most-talented cyclists to come from Canada.
“That was a really special moment,” says Jackson. “We lost my mum back in 2016, but I brought my dad with me to Toronto for the ceremony, and it’s a memory that will last a lifetime. I was pretty emotional on the podium.
“My time in cycling was short but I gave it everything that I had. The memories came flooding back on the podium as I accepted the award. To be recognized for that effort meant a lot to me, I just wish my mum had been there with us.”