ÉPERNAY, France (VN) — Lily Williams shot to prominence in recent years as a member of the medal-winning USA Cycling’s team pursuit squad at the Tokyo Olympics, but she is experiencing a new level of fame and recognition after the USA’s First Lady Jill Biden tweeted her support for Williams at the Tour de France Femmes avec Zwift.
Williams is making her grand tour debut at the Tour de France Femmes with the Human Powered Health team. She is one of nine North Americans in the peloton, with six Americans and three Canadians.
The Tour de France name has brought a whole load of new attention on the women’s peloton as the Femmes race kicked off last Sunday, even from those who wouldn’t ordinarily watch the sport.
“It has been great, I think that everyone that doesn’t really know about cycling can empathize with it a little bit and understand that this is something that is really big, oftentimes, even more than a world title or the Olympics. It has been really nice to get messages from my friends and family,” Williams told VeloNews.
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There has been plenty of hype going into the inaugural edition of the Tour de France Femmes. So far, it seems to have lived up to the hype with lots of fans flocking to the starts and finishes to take a look around the team paddock, while a growing number is also watching it from the roadside.
All the other extras, from the team presentation, the media attention, and the general production value have added to the feeling of size. Everyone knew that it would be something different from what they were used to at some other bike races, but some have been surprised by just how much.
“I don’t think we realized just how big it would be but we’re kind of seeing it in person for the first time. It’s nice and affirming that we’ve reached the most important cycling race that there is,” she said. “It’s so much bigger. As a classics specialist, all those races seem really big to me and hold a place in my heart. The production here is obviously massive.”
What an amazing Stage 1 of @LeTourFemmes — and such a great sight to see after 33 long years.
— Jill Biden (@FLOTUS) July 24, 2022
Human Powered Health does not have a big GC rider going for the overall title, or a sprinter looking to charge to stage victories. The team will try and search out its own opportunities in the coming days, but it also wants to capitalize on the broad appeal that a Tour de France can have.
“Our team is hoping to get exposure more than anything. It’s obviously everyone’s first Tour de France but it’s also our first season racing in the WorldTour and we’re just trying to make the most of that and maybe go for some of the jersey points in the early days and then let the GC battle play out and let our climbers climb. We’re just looking for opportunities across the board,” Williams said.
Switching to road and moving to Europe
Williams has made a near-full transition to road racing for 2022 after going all-in on the track for the Tokyo Olympics last year, where she won a bronze medal. She’s kept her toe in the track racing water with some World Cup rides, but she has dived back into the deep end of road racing.
It has been three years since she last had a consistent road racing program and this is her first real season of European racing with rides at the Tour of Flanders, Strade Bianche, and Paris-Roubaix Femmes so far this year.
“It’s been really hard but it’s been perfect for what I need for Paris in 2024. Of course, I’m trying to make that Olympic team again on the velodrome,” Williams told VeloNews. “I couldn’t do it without road racing and the support of Human Powered Health.
“The level hasn’t dropped at all because the cycle is so short this time around because the cycle is so short. It’s been really good and it has been a steep learning curve and really fun and perfect preparation. I’m hoping to move here next year.”
With her track racing, Williams has been based in the U.S. and has not got a European base like many of her compatriots in road racing. While many of the non-Europeans opt for Girona in Spain as a new home, Williams has her heart set on France.
Nothing is set in stone at the moment as she doesn’t plan on moving to Europe until the end of 2023, but she has been considering the area around Paris as a great location for a new base.
“I’m a resident of France now and I want to be based in the area where I’ll be preparing for the classics and preparing for the Olympics in Paris and establishing myself here before that. It’s been a lot really fast but it’s really exciting,” she said.
“I love being in a new place and trying to learn French and obviously we’re close to all of the races in the sprint when we’re here. The Olympics will be here, so I think it’s really important to familiarise yourself, and there’s such a cycling history here.”