After an “eye-opening” 2017, Tyler Williams is looking to step up and find consistency in his second season with Israel Cycling Academy.
The 23-year-old American joined the second-division squad last year from Axeon Hagens Berman. He brought a strong resume to the table, with multiple Tours de l’Avenir under his belt and a runner-up result at the U23 Paris-Roubaix. Williams discovered last season, however, that Pro Continental racing is a whole new ballgame.
“Het Nieuwsblad was like my second or third race last year and it felt like having to relearn racing in Europe. It was just such a different feeling. The WorldTour races, those spring classes were not even on the same level as anything I’ve ever done before in my life,” Williams told VeloNews by phone before the Cadel Evans Great Ocean Road Race.
Although no stranger to racing in Europe, Williams toed the line alongside many of the biggest stars of the spring classics last year. Things got off to a bit of a rough start, but he gradually became more comfortable as 2017 wore on.
“I just kept good perspective and kept trying to build on all the little things. Kind of break it down into micro-objectives. Work through each struggle,” he said. “By the end of the season, I felt like I was going pretty good. I felt like I had a good ride on Québec, I was getting more consistent and stronger too.”
As he gets his second Pro Conti season underway, Williams is set on racing with more confidence. He knows he still has “a ways to go” to contend in the very biggest races, but he is ready to battle for wins as an occasional stage hunter when the opportunities arise.
That said, fighting for victories even in smaller races is plenty challenging — particularly for a rider who has spent the last few seasons mostly in support roles. Williams says he’s hoping to “remember” what it’s like to be the guy going for the win.
“It’s something I take a lot of pride in, being a good teammate, doing the lead-outs. It’s fun for me. But I think I need to give myself a little more credit that I am strong enough to be there in the final of some of these races and get results,” he said. “I’m capable of it and once I remember how to do that again, I think I can be pretty successful.”
Cycling Academy signed a number of notable newcomers over the off-season. Williams sees the influx of talent as a big boost to the team’s chances. That goes beyond just those newcomers hunting their own results.
“One of the problems we had last year, at least in the start of the year, was we were this new team and we had like 10 or 11 neo-pros. As far as getting respect in the bunch, especially in the classics when you kind of need it, we just did not get any respect,” Williams pointed out. “That adds an extra layer of difficulty. When you have a guy like Ben Hermans or [Rubén] Plaza — Plaza won a Tour de France stage not all that long ago — those guys add a little bit of caché to the team.
“We have more firepower now. It helps everyone. It makes it easier to move in the bunch, it gives the team a more focused goal. It maybe takes some pressure off of guys that had pressure last year who probably didn’t need it yet.”
The 2018 Giro d’Italia, which starts in Israel, was a major motivating factor behind the team’s push for new talent. Race organizer RCS confirmed what Williams joked was “the worst kept secret” last week, announcing Cycling Academy as one of the four wild-card invites. Open secret or no, it’s huge news for the team. The Italian grand tour will bring the relatively new squad plenty of international coverage. It will serve as the main season objective for many of the team’s biggest names.
However, as Williams points out, only a third of the roster will end up getting the call. Williams would love to get the nod to race the Giro, but he knows everyone on the team will be gunning for those spots. Fortunately, Cycling Academy will have several events on the calendar in the late spring.
That means Williams can focus on being at his best for that time of year no matter where he’s racing.
“The goal is just to try to be good in May and have a smooth spring. Make those adjustments that I know I need to make from last year,” Williams said. “If I get to start the Giro, that’s a huge honor. I’ll be really, really excited to do it. But I think the one thing the team could get stuck into is just only focusing on the Giro. We don’t want to forget about the other hundreds of race days throughout the season that we can get nice results in too.”
Whatever this year has in store for Williams, he is enjoying the ride. After a busy off-season, he is happy to get back to racing. He is especially enjoying the atmosphere in one of the pro peloton’s most international rosters.
“We’ve been down here for 10 days in Australia and until Zak [Dempster] and Nathan [Earle] came from Tour Down Under, there was not two of us from the same countries. It’s great,” Williams said.
“Everyone’s a little bit out of their comfort zone the entire time, which kind makes everyone a little more comfortable, I think. It brings a different element of camaraderie. Okay, we’re all under the flag of Israel, but it’s just so international. It’s like the U.N. of cycling teams — but we probably get along a lot better.”