Justin Williams: ‘When I look at criterium racing in the US I just think of opportunity’
L39ION of Los Angeles announces race calendar, talks about resistance to their plans, and continues its own path.
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The L39ION of Los Angeles team has announced its race calendar with an initial plan to race 13 criteriums in 2022. The team kick-started their campaign with Cory Williams winning in Monterey, California on Thursday
Co-team founder Justin Williams and his squad decided not to be part of the newly formed National Association of Cycling Teams (NACT). The team will still participate in some of the races within that series, but Williams explained the L39ION standpoint and mission remained unique to the majority of the teams on the domestic circuit.
“I’ve been in cycling for a really long time and I’ve done a lot of races around America. While there are a lot of great events around the year we wanted to focus on events that we thought had a massive impact, not only on the people attending and the fan experience but the sport as a whole,” Williams told VeloNews at Sea Otter.
“So places where there is either a ton of diversity or the race is a special race – where there was something that made the race stand out for us in particular and not really worrying about everyone else. We’ve really tried to focus on ourselves and lead this change and this growth of criterium racing. Our job is to showcase the best parts of American racing and while there are other events that are great, we wanted to focus on the ones where we felt that we could have the biggest impact.”
The state of criterium racing in the U.S. is in flux after USA CRITS saw then-director Scott Morris suspended by SafeSport. The series later folded. L39ION of Los Angeles had already made a public statement in the wake of the SafeSport situation and clarified that they would not form part of a USA CRITS successor in the future. The team’s plans in 2022 echo that sentiment.
“There’s a massive opportunity for something special to happen,” Williams said when asked about the health of crit racing.
“When I look at criterium racing in the U.S. right now I just think of opportunity. There’s a little bit of hesitation or fear of change but to do something that’s worthwhile or has the potential to affect, you’ve got to make a massive change. We’re in this middle ground where we are considering it but everyone is still a bit afraid of it and to take that leap. All we can do is continue to lead the way.”
According to Williams, there is still an element of caution and even resistance to his team’s plans and ethos. He explained that his team’s streamlined program was designed on purpose and that focus on specific races that the team’s sponsors and backers could dial in their attention towards key moments in the year and structure their marketing campaigns accordingly.
“For sure, there will always be resistance to change,” he said.
“That’s human history and human nature but it’s okay. We still have decent relationships with the races, and even the races not on our calendar. We’re running a business so at the end of the day when we go to our sponsors we can’t give them a calendar of 50 races. They don’t know what to do with that, it’s too much. We can give them a calendar of ten to twelve races and they can really rally around that and give us their best support.”
“I understand why there is resistance, because this is something that a lot of people think that they have ownership over. The running joke for me is that 100 percent of nothing is still nothing. If your event is not being televised on ESPN and you’re not striving to get your sport and your race to another level, where everyone can benefit, then you’re head just isn’t in the right spot for what we’re trying to accomplish. Everyone seems to think that if we’re doing our own thing, that affects them negatively, but that’s not fair.
The discussion over cohesion in crit racing will unfold as the season develops. Williams and his crew will plow on even if the entire scene isn’t currently on the same page.
“At the end of the day people have done things that they think works for them. That’s the reason it’s hard for the sport to move forward. You have ten or 20 people on different pages with different objectives. Sadly it just makes things move a lot slower. Smart people need to have a sit down and think about how things can come together. Everyone is talking about crits now because of what L39ION has done. Everyone is trying to capitalize on that. It’s great because a rising tide is supposed to raise all ships. We do it selflessly and we expect everyone to benefit from it.”