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Justin Williams (L39ION of Los Angeles) and Michael Hernandez (Best Buddies) have been suspended from competition for five and three months by USA Cycling for their fist fight at the Salt Lake Criterium last month. Hernandez’s teammate Robert Sierra was also suspended for one month for his involvement in the altercation.
Immediately following the Salt Lake Criterium on July 16, part of the American Criterium Cup series, Hernandez confronted Cory Williams (L39ION) and accused him of intentionally riding him into a curb on the final lap of the race. Justin Williams came to his brother/teammate’s defense, and soon shoving and punches broke out, and both the L39ion and Best Buddies teams became involved.
After the brawl, race officials disqualified and fined Hernandez and Justin Williams $500 each for their involvement, and USA Cycling opened an investigation into the incident. Sierra was not fined for the incident. Hernandez and Williams both later apologized for the incident.
After interviewing all three riders and witnesses and reviewing videos of the confrontation, the USA Cycling investigator determined that Williams, Hernandez, and Sierra all violated USA Cycling rules prohibiting acts of violence among riders and unsportsmanlike conduct.
All three riders were notified of the decision back on July 25, and were offered reduced sentences on condition that they accept the results of the investigation and also served community service.
The Best Buddies riders accepted the offer, with Hernandez receiving a reduced three-month suspension with 16 hours of community service, and Sierra receiving a reduced one-month suspension with 8 hours of community service. The Best Buddies team had previously handed Hernandez a two-race suspension shortly after the altercation.
“I accept USA Cycling’s 3-month suspension from competition,” Hernandez wrote in an Instagram post on July 26. “During this time, I will work with USA Cycling and the American Criterium Cup to find paths to improve American crit racing so incidents like this do not occur again.”
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VeloNews has reached out to the Hernandez and Sierra for further comment.
Williams requested a hearing, as allowed by USA Cycling policy. A three-member panel heard the case and upheld the initial five-month suspension, which Williams then accepted. Williams does not have to perform any community service, which was a condition of the reduced sentence offer. Williams declined to comment to VeloNews for this story.
All three suspensions began on July 25.
“USA Cycling has zero tolerance regarding violence, instigation of violence, and bullying,” said Brendan Quirk, CEO & president of USA Cycling. “The behavior at the Salt Lake City Criterium is inexcusable. We are working with the race organizers of the American Criterium Cup to increase our scrutiny of rider behavior in the peloton, including the use of video replay officials at the event. And while this will allow us to better identify dirty riding in real time, this doesn’t replace the need for riders to show basic respect for each other.”
There will not be any team penalties for L39ION or Best Buddies for the Salt Lake Criterium fight, USA cycling marketing operations manager Tom Mahoney told VeloNews.
On July 21, Best Buddies team director Thomas Craven said through the team’s Instagram that “The Best Buddies Racing team is deeply committed to inclusion and safe racing and will use this unfortunate incident as an opportunity to help improve the sport and support its governing agencies.”
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“Best Buddies Racing team captain Michael Hernandez fully accepts his three-month suspension from USA Cycling,” vice president of communications for Best Buddies International, Nicole Maddox told VeloNews. “During this time, Michael will work closely with the organization to help make improvements within the sport. Additionally, Michael will focus on local community building to recruit riders for the Best Buddies Challenge and Breakaway Camp events, which raise funds to support Best Buddies programs and individuals with disabilities.
“The team itself is moving forward and focused on the final races of the American Crit Cup and successfully finishing the season September 10 in Winston Salem.”
VeloNews has reached out to L39ION for further comment.