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Why Justin Williams is the most important bike racer in the world

NO ONE HAS A BETTER CHANCE TO CREATE SUCH A MAJOR CHANGE IN THE SPORT

Bicycling.com, Jul 21, 2021- I knew that when we decided to dedicate the cover of Bicycling’s 2021 Issue 5 to Justin Williams and on it call him the world’s most important bike racer, I would be ridiculed by some as a racing ignoramus—I mean, just to start, how in the hell could I ignore the way van Aert and van der Poel and van Vleuten and van der Breggen and Vos and Pogaèar and so many others are forging a new golden era in which to be considered one of the best you must excel at all kinds of races? But I went ahead anyway and said what I said about Williams. Because it’s true.

As Carvell Wallace says in his story on Williams, the racer “has taken it upon himself to represent for every Black cyclist,” but also for “every marginalized rider, every person who has been told, ‘You don’t belong here.’” Inextricable from this ambition is his determination to resurrect the criterium as the quintessential American race—and in the process make it bigger and more lucrative than it ever was.

I was around when mountain-bike racing was born in the United States, then watched it shed its homegrown character to become an international sport. If gravel racing continues to spike in popularity, it will follow a similar trajectory. (I know, I know, it’s too pure to ever be ruined,­ but there was also NO WAY it would ever happen to mountain biking. Trust me on this one.) And try as we might—from the Tour de Trump/Tour Dupont as far back as 1989 to the Tour of California’s demise after 2019—we’ve fought and fought yet failed to establish stage racing as a pillar of American cycling. We are capable of sporadically exporting successful stage racers—Coryn Rivera! Sepp Kuss!—over to Europe, the homeland of Grand Tours, but we just can’t seem to make our own multi-day races work. And maybe we shouldn’t even try anymore.

In the view of some longtime racing nerds, including me, it was in fact our obsession with Grand Tour–style competitions that decimated the sole type of racing at which our country can truly excel. This is a vastly simplified explanation, but to participate in our sparse but high-profile stage races, our best domestic teams and most important race and team sponsors diverted their funds and focus away from crit racing. Eventually, for young American racers there was no longer a career path that didn’t funnel them toward Europe, and for various reasons (from the size of our country to the inclinations of our sports fans) stage racing never developed into a stable, popular, profitable form of entertainment.

Crits are simpler to understand and watch, to broadcast, to promote, and, for reasons Williams explains well, easier for any aspiring racer to take part in. We’ve been here before. Years ago, our top cyclists specialized in or participated in crits, even those who’d found success overseas, such as Davis Phinney, a sprinter who was the first American to win a road stage in the Tour de France. Domestic crit racers could scratch together a livable wage from crits, and riders from other countries would relocate here to do so.

Because of his vision, his swagger, his shit-talking, and the results of his team, Williams is empowered with a unique capability in this moment to push for equitable access and rewards for all competitive cyclists, and to revive American racing at the same time. Across all types of bike racing all over the world, no one else has a better chance at effecting such a major transformation.

(AMANDALA Sports Ed. Note: Below is an excerpt from another bicycling.com story on Belizean/American cyclist Justin Williams titled, “Justin Williams can see the future,” this one written by Carvell Wallace. A two-time Holy Saturday Cross Country Champion, Justin is the current 2021 National Road Champion of Belize. Right on, Justin!)

Justin Williams can see the future

By Carvell Wallace

Bicycling.com, Jul 21, 2021– …Hours before filing this story, the results from the first night of Tulsa Tough, site of the much-anticipated showdown between Williams and McCabe, come to me in a flurry of texts. Even people who know nothing about bike racing are messaging me.

“Apparently Justin Williams won something,” one friend says, “but I don’t know what?!”
“Lol, he won #critbeef!” I reply.

Justin Williams ended Friday night’s race taking the top spot on the podium. His brother and teammate Cory took second, Danny Estevez third, and L39ION’s Tyler Williams (no relation) held down fourth. Travis McCabe, decked out in the contested Stars and Stripes jersey, came in seventh. Moreover, L39ION riders Skylar Schneider and Ama Nsek both won their respective races, and the team would effectively sweep the entire weekend. Williams took to Instagram on the final day of the weekend: “100 years later L39ION is the only Black-owned Pro team in the world,” his post reads. “Last night is dedicated to Black Wall Street and the incredible people that lived and thrived there. The injustice hasn’t been reconciled but absolutely needs to be.” I couldn’t help noticing how many Black fist emojis were in the replies.

McCabe, for his part, seemed to be taking the loss in stride when I spoke to him the next day. He did note, however, that it was one of the best crowds he’d ever seen at a crit. “It was lined up the entire course with people, like there were probably four or five thousand people cheering us on.”…

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