Finding a climber who has the ability to sprint quickly at the end of hard day is like finding a diamond in the rough. SEG Racing Academy seem to have struck gold though with Stevie Williams, a 21-year-old from Great Britain. Despite having his first season with the team derailed a little by crashes and injury, the former JLT-Condor rider showed plenty of promise and scored some big results to leave his team full of enthusiasm for what he can do in 2018.
Despite it being the offseason, Stevie took some time out of his valuable relaxation time to have an exclusive chat with U23 Cycling Zone about his first season on the team, as well as his goals for his much anticipated 2018 on the bike.
“It was a learning curve for sure, I gained a lot of experience,” Williams said about his 2017 season. “I am satisfied with how I’ve coped with living abroad and how I prepared myself for races. Due to many crashes it’s been fairly inconsistent, but when things have gone my way I performed well. Having not raced a calendar like this before In Europe I have to be happy with how this year has gone overall.”
Despite 2017 being his first season on a specific development team, Williams comes from great stock, with JLT-Condor owner John Herety famed in the UK for his long-standing team and great list of riders who have raced under him. Stevie spoke about his reasons for swapping the British scene for life at SEG Racing.
“I had a great year with JLT Condor in 2016, under the guidance of John Herety I learned a lot through stage racing and travelling, it brought me on a lot for this year. I decided to leave and join SEG as I felt they could offer me a great race programme and I wanted to race the best U23 races in the world, I felt this was key for my development and to progress in the sport.”
So, with a few years racing well now under his belt, does Stevie have an idea yet of the type of rider he is, or wishes to become in the future?
“At this moment in time I believe I am best suited to the spring classics, short climbs roughly 5-10 minutes in length my best results this year have come from the Ardennes. I like to race when its naturally selected over tough parcours and a small group go to the finish, this is good for me as I have a kick at the end of races. I hope to also develop into a GC rider for the 2018 season and look for results on the longer climbs.”
Indeed, the decision has looked to have paid off as Stevie took a number of top ten finishes, but there were a few results that stood out further: 2nd in Fleche Ardennaise (a notoriously hilly race won by future Lotto-Soudal rider Bjorg Lambrecht in 2017), 11th overall in Ronde de l’Isard and 15th against the pros in the new Famenne Classic race, where most of the top ten rode for either WorldTour or Pro Continental teams. Stevie not only finished well, but made the front group.
“Famenne Classic was a great race, it suited me well. I went to the race fairly confident as I knew the parcours was difficult. I put pressure on myself to be present in the finale and to try and fight for the win. To make the front group and sprint for the win in a 1.1 with that kind of company gives me morale going into the off season, but also motivation to prepare for 2018.”
Williams mentioned the transition to a new team, living abroad and dealing with a European road calendar. He admitted having fellow Brit Gabriel Cullaigh on SEG Racing’s roster has really helped make his transition smoother.
“For sure having Gabz on the team helped me settle in a lot quicker during the first couple of months. I’ve known Gabz a good few years now, he’s great to have around on the team, not as only a teammate but also a good friend.”
And having raced a lot in both the UK, Asia and Oceania, what does Stevie think the biggest differences between racing in those countries and racing in Europe is, and is there a real step up?
“2016 was filled with a lot of races in the Asia Tour, Australia and New Zealand. To be honest, this year was my first full program in Europe, so it was very much heading into the unknown if you like. But of course, there was many differences, I feel the level in Europe is slightly higher in my opinion, but there are many great races in all of those continents.”
Some riders are unsure of what they can achieve before a season begins, but Williams has a clear goal in his mind of the races he wants to excel in. his goals for 2018 also lie away from the Academy, with, hopefully, a major championship as a focal point for his 2018.
“My goals for 2018 are to prepare well throughout the winter months, to be a lot more consistent during the season. Once the race program is finalised I can sit down with the staff and discuss what is best plan for me during the year. I’d like to build on this year’s results, also target races like Liege Baston-Liege, and the early Ardennes races. My GC ambition lies with Ronde de L’Isard, in France, the U23 Giro D’Italia and Giro Valle Aosta. Granting selection, I have big ambitions to finish my U23 career with Tour De l’Avenir and the world championships in Innsbruck, Austria. I have my eye on representing Wales in the commonwealth games road race in Gold Coast.”
Stevie, when answering the staple U23 Cycling Zone interview question about selecting one pro race to win, unsurprisingly has a hunger to succeed in the Ardennes given his success there in recent races, but actually rated another race higher in terms of his pro race win wish list.
“The Giro D’Italia. Having raced the U23 version of it this year, there’s a culture in Italy like no other, the roads and fans are great. Races like Liege and Fleche Wallone also appeal to me.”
A climber who can sprint is a rarity. Provided his bad luck that plagued him in 2017 stays away, the Welshman looks primed for success in the U23 world’s biggest races and beyond. Expect big things from Stevie Williams in 2018.
Thanks to Stevie Williams for taking part, and SEG Racing press officer David Soteras for helping put this together. U23 Cycling Zone would like to take this opportunity to wish Stevie good luck in 2018 and hope he can achieve his goals for the season! You can follow Stevie on Twitter @stevierhys_96.