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Q&A: Why Ian Garrison is trading the WorldTour for L39ion of Los Angeles

Garrison will race for L39ion after two seasons with Deceuninck-Quick-Step. The former US TT champ discusses the story and ambitions behind the move.

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It came as a surprise to many when Ian Garrison confirmed his move to L39ion of Los Angeles last week.

Garrison was closing out his second season in the European WorldTour with road supremos Deceuninck-Quick-Step, while L39ion was busy dominating the U.S. crit scene, and pushing its messages of inclusivity and diversity in cycling.

The two seemed a world – if not an ocean – apart.

So how did the unlikely alliance come together?

As Garrison told VeloNews in a call Monday, old connections, conflicting priorities, and an interest in L39ion of Los Angeles’ community vision made the move from the European WorldTour back to the domestic scene a no-brainer.

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After a storming 2019 with Hagens Berman Axeon – including victory at the U.S. time trial nationals and second in the U23 worlds – Garrison’s move to Europe to join Quick-Step came at the toughest possible time last winter.

The COVID shutdown struck just as he was settling into the idea of full-time life in Girona, and he was left back in Georgia as his rookie race season hit the rocks. Garrison battled his way through a debut grand tour at the Vuelta a España last fall, but the 23-year-old struggled through his sophomore season this year and was out of contract this winter.

Meanwhile, L39ion of Los Angeles was sweeping the boards in stateside critériums and road races while making plans to launch its own set of circuit races, Into the Lion’s Den.

L39ion of Los Angeles won every single USA Crits event in 2021 while also being a lead player in the U.S. road scene. (Connor Ryan/USA Crits)

What brought these two wildly different scenes together, why did Garrison decide to take the flight back home, and what does he hope for from life at L39ion?

He tells VeloNews the story:

VeloNews: Tell us the background behind how the deal with L39ion of Los Angeles came about?

Ian Garrison: I’ve had a tremendous experience the past two years with Quick-Step, but there were some things that were really challenging. Being in Europe was challenging to some level in itself, but the racing and COVID made things quite a lot more difficult as well.

When the opportunity presented itself I was just very passionate and interested in it.

I had a relationship with Reed McCalvin on Axeon. He was a staff member there, and now he’s managing L39ion and really helping them run the team. I was out of contract this winter so I spoke with Reed and he talked about the environment and how it’s been really positive everything going on there.

And I’m really interested in their service aspect and their mission about involving more people in the cycling community in the U.S. and growing that into something that is really worthwhile. That’s something I’m interested to be a part of.

VN: Were you speaking to European teams with a view of staying out there?

IG: I was speaking to European teams but I really wanted to take a step back. I felt just overwhelmed by the whole lifestyle. And so, I’d spoken to Reed at U.S. nationals in the U.S. [in June – ed], and he said, ‘You should do whatever you can, but know that if you’re interested, we have a place for you here and you’ll be welcome here.’

That was in the back of my mind as the season went on, and it kind of grew more and more as we came closer to October.

My agent was speaking to some other European teams but because I was leaning towards coming back to the U.S. We never pushed very hard and so there were never any official offers.

VN: How do you see the move changing things for you?

IG: I mean, my life changed drastically two years ago, when I went to Quick-Step. COVID obviously changed everybody’s life, but when you’re in Europe pretty much full-time, it’s a really cool lifestyle, but it’s also difficult to maintain relationships and things like that. So I’m looking forward to being in the U.S. more full-time and just having a steadier home base.

I also want to use the opportunity to take some more classes in school, which is something that is important to me and I want to want to pursue. So that’ll be a bit of a change as well. I’ve had some on-and-off studies online before, but racing always took precedence. I’m still figuring out what I want to pursue, but I’m leaning toward economics or something in that area.

VN: And how about racing-wise? L39ion runs a diverse program from critérium and ‘cross to road and stage-racing.

IG: I’d like to be involved in the crits. I obviously haven’t done as many over the past few years because I’ve been pursuing the European road system, but it’s something that I grew up doing. Most of the races I did as a young kid were all crits, so it’s, they’re races that I know how to do and I have enjoyed – for sure I’d like to be involved with him.

VN: How do you see yourself playing a part in L39ion’s wider mission?

IG: I think it’s really important. I’ve always cared about it – I’m from Atlanta, which is quite a diverse city, and cycling is growing everywhere.

I think in the U.S. we have a pretty big challenge to try and make it more inclusive, and just show anybody can do cycling and enjoy it, and that it doesn’t have to be niche to one specific type of person. I think Justin and Cory [Williams – team founders, ed.] really prove that. And so just to share their ideas and their mission is super cool, and I look forward to being part of it.

VN: L39ion seems to have a lot of ambition with the new crit series and signing big riders like yourself and Alexis Ryan. Where do you hope to see the team progressing?

IG: For sure there’s a direction that they are going and right now. Their main focus will be trying to promote more races, because in the U.S., that’s where we’re lacking right now – having more high-level races.

But with something like The Lions Den, you’re not going to have races like that all year long. But if there is a race like that and it’s successful, it shows what the possibilities are and when you have more high-level riders it kind of raises the whole pond, in a way.

So I think they can use their status and that platform to hopefully grow races and use their status as an example, for anybody else interested in promoting a race or putting on a race.

VN: How would you reflect back on your time racing in Europe?

IG: I’ll first say I definitely enjoyed my experiences and really made a lot of relationships. Definitely, some strong bonds were made. I think it was.

COVID was a big part of it. And I just felt like there were certain more life-related things that needed to be more stable before I could really sustain a life of racing and living in Europe at such a high level – family and relationship-type things. I feel like I’m more likely to be able to satisfy those things here. So that’s sort of the gist of it.

It’s such a high level over there and if you don’t have everything completely dialed and focused on that goal. Yeah, you can sink a little bit.

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