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A dicey final lap at the Salt Lake Criterium prompted harsh post-race words between Best Buddies’ Michael Hernandez and L39ion of Los Angeles’ Justin Williams yesterday. The altercation ended in punches being thrown and riders being disqualified.
Hernandez accused Cory Williams of intentionally riding him into a curb, which led to a fight ending in the disqualification of both Hernandez and Justin Williams.
Hernadez said he attempted to move up into the L39ion train by taking an inside line around Cory Williams (L39ion) in the first corner of the last lap.
“We didn’t touch or anything,” Hernandez said. “He clipped his pedal because he was trying to sprint into me, and then out of the corner, he rode next to me and tried to take me straight into the curb. I would have crashed if I didn’t back off.”
Ty Magner, also L39ion, won the race. Afterward, Hernandez approached Cory Williams to exchange words, which quickly deteriorated into a fight between the Best Buddies rider and L39ion.
“I was going to talk to him and be like, ‘dude, what, what the heck was that?’ As Cory came up to me, his brother, Justin, sprinted up behind him, threw his bike on the barricade, and put his hand on my chest. I knocked his hand off my chest. I said, ‘don’t touch me.’ And that’s when he punched me. I punched him back. There were a lot of punches flying.”
According to Hernandez, Cory Williams’ explanation was he lost control out of the corner, which caused him to veer the US elite criterium champ toward the curb.
“There’s a level of that which might be true, but there are also five feet of that, that’s not true, and that’s the five feet where he was trying to run me into the curb. He could have backed off but just didn’t.”
“If we don’t respect each other, it’s going to become even more dangerous. And that’s the point. We’re not building a future for bike racing. If I were a parent watching this, I wouldn’t want my kid racing crits,” Hernandez said.
Best Buddies team director Thomas Craven wasn’t present at the race last night but told VeloNews that he thinks there is a growing lack of respect in the peloton.
“It just seems like there’s just been a lot of dangerous riding, not just by L39ion, but other teams as well to try and win these races,” Craven said.
“We’re getting to a point where there’s a loss of respect for one another. It’s disappointing and scary to go to these races because there doesn’t seem to be any real control by the officials watching.”
“This isn’t what we signed up for,” Craven added. “We’re not gladiators. We’re not there to bleed. We’re there to show our athletic prowess and win the race. Yeah, we get beat. I mean, heck, yeah. Ty Magner is a great sprinter. So is Alfredo [Rodriguez]. So is Mike, and in the right circumstances, Cory and Justin. That should be the show. Not who has the most aggressive and dangerous riding before the finish.”
Race officials disqualified and fined Hernandez and Justin Williams for their actions, with the communique hinting at possible suspension for Hernandez. Ahead of Sunday night’s criterium L39ion of Los Angeles pulled their roster from both the men’s and women’s events, citing safety concerns.
“Despite our efforts and success, both on and off the bike, a lack of accountability from race officials has resulted in a peloton that lacks the respect and safety expected within the professional ranks,” L39ion of Los Angeles said in a press release.
“In response to yesterday’s uncontrolled acts of aggression to our athletes, we’re prioritizing our team’s safety and will not be participating in today’s race in Salt Lake City.”
A representative from L39ion told VeloNews that the lack of accountability amongst race officials has turned crit racing into the “wild west.”
“It’s created an environment that has lost all respect and safety and puts riders’ careers in jeopardy because of it. Legion of Los Angeles has consistently tried to be the bigger person. And we always will be the ones who are held to a double standard when it comes to any sort of actions, but then everyone else seems to be getting away with it, scot free. And all that does is validates riders’ ideas on how they can ride and race in the professional racing scene in the United States, which is now incredibly dangerous for everyone involved.
“A large part of why L39gion rides at the front, the way that we do, is for safety,” he said. “We prioritize the well-being of our riders above all else. It’s clear as day in the video that we posted on Instagram this morning what happened.”
L39ion told VeloNews that Hernandez approached the Williams brothers with “uncontrolled aggression.”
“So of course, afterward, Justin has defend himself for an hour to race officials. There’s such an unconscious bias in the pro peloton that our team constantly faces. And it’s created an environment where Legion, despite being the best program in the country, is the glorified punching bag. Because nobody else wants to own up to their mistakes.”