Lily Williams: The New Kid on the Block
Every now and then, a new face rises from the peloton. Their ascent is as rapid as it is unexpected. During the 2018 season, that rider is Hagens Berman Supermint’s Lily Williams. In just her second year of racing her bike (and first year being signed to a full-season contract), Lily is quickly becoming one of the central players in the next generation of pro cyclists. On the bike, she has a huge engine and powerful sprint that makes her a threat at both criteriums and road races. And despite having the skills that might foster arrogance, Lily is humble, kind, and gracious off the bike; the type of rider that encourages fans of all ages to get on their bikes and ride.
A Cyclist In A Strange Land had a chance to sit down with Lily during the Intelligentsia Cup in what will, no doubt, be the first of many in-depth interviews with the rising star over the coming years.
Nathan (N): I was talking to Brendon Hale, the race director for the North Star Grand Prix, and your name came up. We were reflecting on how a year ago, you were racing at the North Star Grand Prix as a rookie cyclist on a composite team – Chicago Women’s Elite Cycling – and this year, just your second year in the sport, you’re blowing up! Over the off season, you signed with the highly regarded Hagens Berman Supermint team and then, out of the gate, you landed a second place at Stage 1 of the Tucson Bicycle Classic. After that, the season just kept getting better with wins at prestigious races like the Sunny King Criterium and Winston-Salem Cycling Classic’s road race. It’s been win, win, win, win. What’s the secret? Most cyclists would still be learning the ropes during their second year of racing, not winning everything in sight.
Lily Williams (LW): Well, I was a runner for eight years beforehand, so I spent a long time building that engine. Say you just start out on the bike, you probably have eight or ten years to just work on your engine; so luckily, that was already covered when I started. I started in cyclocross in the Fall of 2016; that was a great, low-pressure intro to the sport to get my handling skills and figure out what it’s like to race. I was initially doing it pretty casually because I had been an athlete for a very long time and I just wanted to chill. Then I went to collegiate cyclocross nationals in Hartford and I got second there. After that, I thought, why don’t I try road? Even though I wasn’t really training after I had stopped running, I really missed that structure in my life – I just wasn’t missing the running. I trained a lot on my road bike with my boyfriend, who had a coach, which helped me learn quickly. Then, I got some good results last year and signed with Hagens Berman Supermint this year.
N: Did you expect to be able to start off the season so strong?
LW: Definitely not! I had just expected to join the team and gain a lot of experience, work for my teammates, get stronger, and increase my aptitude on the bike and in the bunch. Obviously, it’s ended up being a surprising season, and a lot of fun. Everyone on the team gets along well and we all have opportunities to race and work with each other. It’s a really good mix of learning and opportunity.
N: It seems to be a really good team. Across the board, you each seem to be capable of winning.
LW: Yeah, we have a lot of different kinds of riders. I don’t think that there are any two of us that would claim to have the exact same skill set. We have lots of riders that can get results at different races and in different situations.
N: Let’s talk a little bit about Intelligentsia Cup, is Chicago your hometown crowd? LW: Pretty much, although I didn’t grow up around here or go to undergrad here. But Chicago is where I started riding, where I worked at a bike shop, and where I joined my first cycling club, I’ve ridden all winter here. So, I have a ton of friends to see and hang out with during Intelligentsia Cup. And, I worked this series last year doing social media; Twitter and a lot of Instagram. That’s made it even more fun to go out this year and race.
N: You do a lot of giving back to the cycling community. I understand that your side job is a bike registry website.
LW: Yes, one of my club teammates is the co-founder of Bike Index which is a nonprofit bicycle registry. You can register your bike on Bike Index and then, if it gets stolen, you can mark it as stolen and people can then search the database. If someone sees your bike, they can get in touch with you.
N: And then you do a lot of work with junior riders too?
LW: That’s right. Through The Pony Shop, which sponsors my cyclocross riding, we do a lot of work with the junior riders. The Pony Shop, in Evanston, Illinois [Ed. a northern Chicago suburb], is kind of the Chicago cyclocross bike shop. They’ve had a presence in the Midwest cyclocross scene for a very long time. They have a juniors program that has around 75 riders. It’s huge! And Lou Kuhn, who owns The Pony Shop, really does it all. He manages the shop, he gets everyone going with coaching and working with the parents. The Chicago cyclocross scene is awesome; it’s probably one of the best amateur cyclocross series in the country.
N: The Midwest is a pretty great place to be a cyclist. It has so many cycling communities scattered all over the place.
LW: It does! That’s one of the reasons that I was able to upgrade so quickly. During the winter, racing starts in early February and there are so many races close by like the Tour of St. Louis and a lot of races in Wisconsin. There are little omniums all over the Midwest where they combine the women’s fields so that, as a Category 4 rider I was able to race against the Category 1 riders.
N: What’s the rest of the season look like for you?
LW: It’s starting to wind down. I’ll take a significant break after the Intelligentsia Cup. I’ll go back home, I live in Asheville, North Carolina now. My boyfriend and I just decided to move there to train because it’s temperate year-round and there are mountains and the cost of living is good. So, I’ll take 10 days off after the Intelligentsia Cup and then I’ll head west to do some riding and get re-acclimated to the bike in a very relaxed way – I won’t be doing any racing in August. Then, in September, I’ll do another block of six criteriums with Hagens Berman Supermint to wrap up the road season. Then cyclocross starts immediately after.
N: Are you back with Hagens Berman Supermint next year? LW: I haven’t officially signed my contract yet, but that’s the plan. I think that pretty much all of us will be returning. We’ve really enjoyed the program this year and I think next year we’ll be reaping the fruits of our labors. It will be a huge advantage to start off with the same group next Spring.
N: It will be a team to fear during the 2019 season, I’m sure you’ll all hit the ground running. It’s a great time to be a fan of women’s cycling.