SANDY, Utah (VN) – Israel Cycling Academy’s Tyler Williams talks about racing and tactics like a seasoned pro. At 22-years-old this neo-pro has more experience racing in Europe than he does competing at home in the U.S. He scored his career highlight second place at Paris-Roubaix Espoirs in 2014 while riding for the esteemed BMC Development Team before moving to the U.S.-based Axeon Hagens Berman squad last year.
Now, he rides for the young Israel Cycling Academy team, which has experienced a meteoric rise since its inception in 2015. Upgrading to Pro Continental Status, the Cycling Academy and Williams have big ambitions for the future. Something Williams is happy to have found as he moves out of the U23 ranks.
“The team has been a great match,” Williams said. “When I was coming out of U23 the one thing that I wanted was to continue racing in Europe. I wanted to be on the track to do the big races in Europe with the big tours and the classics.” The Cycling Academy came through with a taste of top European and WorldTour racing early this spring as it took on opening weekend in Belgium.
“I’ve done all the U23 classics and 1.2 classics but that was my first time in a real, true classic,” Williams said. “That was really eye opening for me. It was eye opening for the full team too.” Of the 16 riders on the Cycling Academy’s roster, 11 riders are neo pros – first year professional riders. While not technically a development squad, the Academy aims to provide the same introduction to WorldTour racing and the eye opening experiences that a traditional development team would.
“We didn’t really know what we were getting into,” Williams said about the team’s foray into Omloop Het Nieuwsblad and Kuurne-Bruxelles-Kuurne. “We went in there optimistic and left pretty demoralized but we learned a lot in those three or four weeks of Classics.” Demoralized maybe, but motivated to use that experience as the team launched into the rest of the season which included a long trip to the Tour of Utah.
Racing at home with his international team is exciting and motivating for Williams. Having spent so much time racing in Europe from an early age, Williams has little experience with the big US races. “It’s a big thing, [racing in Utah], and it’s a big race for our team,” he says. “The exposure these races get is bigger than most of the races we’ve done in Europe so it’s a big deal that people care about the race and that there are people out to watch. It’s a nice change and the team is happy to be here.”
With wider roads and smaller field sizes, U.S. races offer new opportunities for the team. Williams says that racing here is less stressful than European racing. “Two days ago on the first mountain day I could just go to the grupetto after being in the break on the first day and just save my legs,” he says. “Whereas almost every race I’ve done in Europe, it’s pure survival. There is not taking it easy.”
Williams doesn’t make light of the competition at Utah, however. He says that if you want to be in the front you have to be exceptionally strong. “It’s more of a straight horsepower game here rather than all about the other dynamics in Europe,” he says. “You have to be really strong in Europe but you can maneuver your way to the front where here you have to be on it with power.”
Through four stages of racing at the Tour of Utah, the Israel Cycling Academy has been aggressive, initiating breaks and driving the pace on the challenging courses. While a podium has evaded the team so far, they aren’t worried. Williams and the team know that results take time and they are dedicated to the learning process. It’s the next few years that Williams is looking forward to for those big results to come.
“I think next year [the team] will evolve more and will go for an even bigger calendar with bigger objectives,” he said. “This year, it’s about feeling out the neo pros and see how everyone is adjusting and learning. That’s been the name of the game this year and we’re just trying to improve at every race.”
Williams is excited about this long-term development plan and he feels like he can grow with the team. “The team has ambition to be big and I have ambition to be with a big team,” he says. “Obviously, everyone wants to be with a WorldTour team and that’s still my end goal along with racing the big tours and the Classics.” Williams is hopeful that the Israel Cycling Academy can eventually make that jump with him to WorldTour status. The first year professional is keen on his neo pro team. “The international flavor of this team makes it quite fun,” he says smiling. “I’m really happy here.”