Last year in the days leading up to the much fanfaired Kansas gravel race, Olivia Dillon could be found exemplifying her role as Velocio’s Director of Sales. Her energy in the Velocio expo tent that week belied her age (Olivia is 46 years old), but it was what happened when the expo was finished that was remarkable. Dillon woke up on the morning of the race, lined up with roughly a thousand other riders and led the event for the better part of the race and amassed a seven minute lead before untimely flats ultimately dashed her hopes for a win. The former professional road racer is no stranger to hard efforts and resilience. Read how cycling informs Olivia Dillon’s role with Velocio and how Velocio informs her life with cycling.
Name: Olivia Dillon (@oliviadill)
Current Locale: Fairfax, CA / Girona, Spain
Hometown: Co. Mayo, Ireland
You have a non-traditional background as a bike racer. How did an Irish national working in the finance world move from New York City to the sharp edge of bike racing?
Living in NYC and working in financial services was exciting and challenging for a number of years until it wasn't anymore. The intensity and pressure of NYC is very real and I longed for more open space, more outdoor activity and more purpose in my life. Being part of the system that really just helped rich people get richer was ringing hollow for me and I needed to get out. The opportunity to relocate to northern California was serendipitous and while I tried a brief stint at a new firm in San Francisco, it was evident that I was done with that career. During the same period, bikes were becoming a bigger factor in my life and I immediately connected with many influential Bay Area cyclists who encouraged me to race. I fell in love with racing immediately and just went to every race possible in NorCal and made my way up the ranks. With lots of support and encouragement I pushed ahead with a dream that was newly formed. I gave up financial security to enter this world of women's bike racing that was truly exciting, immensely fulfilling and re-energized the athlete I felt born to be.
You’ve been with Velocio from the very beginning. The brand has grown and changed a lot in its evolution. What’s changed, what’s evolved and how has it affected your world? How would you describe Velocio to someone seeing it for the first time?
During my road racing career, I was certainly living in the moment, going from one racing season to the next and finding other ways to supplement my meager income by personal training and coaching. But in the back of my mind I had hoped at the end to be able to use my business background in the cycling industry and marry work experience and knowledge with a passion for cycling. While racing, I started to work part-time for Velocio as I met the founders through my wife Tayler who at the time raced on Specialized Lululemon, which became Velocio SRAM. I was immediately struck by what Velocio was doing, knowing that as a female professional my cycling kit left a lot to be desired. Deep down, I had always wanted to be part of something entrepreneurial too. I love the idea of building a business and being involved in all aspects. With that comes something that takes over your life but in a good way. From where we started to where we are now, I feel immensely proud of where we stand as a brand. From our focus on equality and inclusivity, to making the very best product possible in the most sustainable manner, to actually changing people's riding experiences. If I meet someone who has not heard of us, I say touch it, feel the quality, notice the details, you must try it on and you will be sold!
You have a unique view of the growth of gravel and the larger state of cycling through your roles as a racer, a sales director and through your wife, Tayler who continues to race at the sport’s highest level. What is your take on the state of cycling?
Well since I don't have time to write a book right now I will try to be succinct. The growth in gravel is fantastic because it is inclusive and it is all about the experience. Each person's experience is unique to them so whether you are at the pointy end of the race fulfilling your competitive needs or the first timer who is just stoked to finish 30 miles of off-road riding or the person who wants to ride with friends and make the most of every aid station. All the characters that line up on the day will enjoy beverages and good food after and relive their adventures together with laughter and excitement. I am highly invested in Women's Professional Cycling through Tayler but also through all the women I have met through my career both racing and Velocio. There has been a ton of progress in the last few years and Teams like Trek Segafredo are leading the way with for the most part equal support for women and men. TV and livestream coverage of women's races is by far the key to continue that trajectory and even speed it up. The depth of the women's fields in Europe is incredible so every race is so exciting and everyone needs to be able to see it so they can scream and shout at the screen like I do. At Velocio, we support a number of female athletes currently racing various disciplines but also those who have retired as they make incredible ambassadors for brands with their ability to engage in their communities and get people excited about riding bikes. Overall, I feel very positive about the state of cycling and all the avenues people have now to take part.
You partnered with Moots as a bike sponsor this year and you’ve already announced that you’ll return to That Race in Kansas. Where else will you ride and what are you plans for 2020?
My partnership with Moots came about after getting to know the company and the bike on a super fun ride to Sea Otter from Marin last year. I rode a Routt 45 and was blown away by how it handled over the mixed terrain and how fast I could go downhill! I have a Routt RSL now and it is also incredibly comfortable, which is needed for races like That Race in Kansas. Yes, I am going back as I need to do a few things differently this time but also because I want to be part of the incredible community and atmosphere in Emporia. I was skeptical until I did it but I would stress it is absolutely no joke. Other plans for 2020 are: Belgian Waffle Ride, Lost & Found, SBTGrvl, RootedVT and some races in Europe like Traka Gravel in Girona (Spain). If any Grasshoppers overlap with when I am in Fairfax (CA) I will jump into those too. I also hope to be on the sidelines of some the best Women's World Tour races cheering for Tayler, her team and all the amazing female athletes.
Is it true that you actually eat nails?
Back in probably 2010, I was getting ready for a race in the Central Valley of CA (we spent a lot of time there back then), on the side of the road likely pinning a number or getting my bike ready and a guy rolled by and yelled "Woah, you look like you eat nails for breakfast". My teammates overheard him and it stuck!