At a time when most athletes are at their peak, 28-year-old cyclist Lily Williams is just getting started.
Williams, who has only been a professional cyclist for five years, already boasts an impressive resume, both on the road and Velodrome where she earned bronze for Team USA in the track cycling team pursuit at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.
In late July, the Colorado Springs resident will face her biggest challenge yet at one of the most prestigious cycling races in the world: the Tour de France avec Zwift. In the first women’s Tour in 38 years, to be held July 24-31, only three American women’s teams were invited to compete. Williams’ team, Human Powered Health, is based in Minneapolis.
Williams, who grew up watching the men’s Tour de France in her hometown of Tallahassee, Florida, said the Tour is a big step for women’s cycling.
“It’s really special,” said Williams, “In the 18 years I watched the Tour there was never a women’s race. I never had a stake until I started riding, so you start to realize how hard it really is.”
Williams had an unconventional path to qualifying for the Tour. She was a high school track phenom and went on to run at Vanderbilt, specializing in cross country and the mile. During her time there, cycling was merely a way of getting around campus. It wasn’t until Williams started graduate school at Northwestern that she decided to take a break from running after getting a job at a bike shop. Her interest grew from there as she became friends with the cyclists who worked and shopped there. The idea of a new sport excited her.
“It was a good way to integrate into the community and new city,” said Williams.
After that, her natural athleticism from years of elite running brought her quick success in local cyclocross races. Although she wasn’t initially looking at it as an outlet for competition, she soon felt it was where she belonged after placing second at the U.S Collegiate Cyclocross National Championships in June 2018.
According to her father, Chris Williams, cycling filled a void created when she stopped running.
“Running left her not completely satisfied but pursuing a new sport has kept it fun for her,” he said.
After that, her career took off, as she turned professional later in 2018 and signed with UCI Women’s Team Hagens Berman Supermint. In 2019, she tried out track cycling and earned a spot on the Olympic team. She moved to Colorado in April 2020 to train for the Olympics.
After an already competition-filled season, Williams will put her talent to the test in France. As a specialist in sprinting, this will be Williams’ most difficult race to date, but she is thankful for the opportunity and the trajectory her career has taken.
“I love being a pro cyclist,” Williams said. “It’s really hard but I have complete autonomy every day while still in a team environment. I feel extremely lucky to be where I am and have the support of my team.”
The eight-day race is set to begin in Paris on July 24 on the last day of the men’s Tour de France.
The Tour also has special significance to Marianne Martin, the winner of the first Women’s Tour de Femmes in 1984. Originally from Fenton, Michigan, Martin has called Boulder home for most of her life. She looks forward to witnessing the historic event again, this time from the sidelines supporting the Human Powered Health Team.
“I can’t believe it took so long,” Martin said. “I’m so excited and it’s such a good opportunity for women.”
Martin emphasized that in the 1980s when she was competing, the cycling world was much different. At the time there were more opportunities for women to race than there are now. Nonetheless, she believes women’s cycling is headed in a positive direction, especially with the upcoming Tour.
“I think it will be a big boost to women’s cycling worldwide,” said Martin. “I am so glad that the sponsor, Zwift, chose to step up and give women the opportunity to race. I just hope it will be here to stay.”
For Williams, the Tour is a step in what she hopes is a long career in cycling. According to Chris Williams, her newness to the sport will continue to work to her advantage.
“Her peers are mostly those who grew up cycling so Lily is different in that way, but this has kept it fresh for her and she is still learning,” said Williams. “We have yet to see her highest potential.”
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