Lily Williams Finds Happiness on Two Wheels

The Hagens Berman Supermint Pro Cycling Team received over 100 applications for their 2018 Ambassador Program. The applicants included women from the ages of 12 to 99 and represented all levels of cycling talent. In January, the team introduced the 11 chosen ambassadors who will receive free and discounted team sponsor gear and be matched up with one of the team professionals for guidance and insight into professional cycling. Among those chosen was 16-year-old Maddie Smith from Colton, New York who has been paired with Hagens Berman Supermint Pro Cyclist Lily Williams. What Maddie may not have expected is that Lily is actually still learning the sport of cycling herself.

Williams competes on the indoor track for Vanderbilt. Photo credit: Bruce Baron

Williams spent her high school and college years as a distance runner, breaking the one-mile high school record in Florida with a 4:42.79 clocking, racking up numerous state championship titles, and later representing Vanderbilt University at the NCAA National Cross Country Championship. However, when Williams moved onto the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University for her Master’s degree she cut way back on running and began working at a local bike shop. Williams had no idea that 18 months later she would be joining the Hagens Berman Supermint Team as a professional cyclist.

Williams displays her medals from the 2017 Collegiate National Championship. Photo credit: Turin Bicycle

What allowed such a quick transition from college runner to pro cyclist? If you ask Williams she will tell you that much of it was luck. First off, working at the bike shop enabled Lily to acquire gear at a great rate and eventually to fix her own bicycles. She acknowledges that the outstanding cost of the sport proves to be the biggest hurdle for many women who attempt to enter the pro cycling scene fresh out of college. In the fall of 2016, Williams was talked into joining group rides by her colleagues at the shop and she began to explore the numerous cyclocross races that are available within a 90-minute drive of Chicago. The second aspect of her luck was living in an extremely rich and supportive cycling scene in Chicago. Group rides in this area offer athletes a reason to get up at dawn and brave the often challenging Midwest weather, and new cyclists have their choice of rides that can accommodate varying fitness levels, time constraints, or daily goals. Enhancing this supportive scene was Williams’ boyfriend, Andrew Giniat, a talented cyclist himself who helped Lily understand the nuances of training and racing. The pair met at a cyclocross race in 2016, went on to race together for the Pony Shop Cyclocross team, and managed to notch three UCI podiums and an eighth-place finish at the 2017/18 Professional Cyclocross National Championship. Today they live and train in Asheville, North Carolina. Finally, Williams’ decision to keep cycling fun is what she credits as the true key to her sudden success.

Describe the Best Moment in Your Cycling Career 

“Getting 2nd at collegiate cross nationals in January 2017. I had taken a year off from sports and was racing cross just for fun. It was the first time I understood that for me, happiness – not perfection and absolute discipline – precedes racing at a high level.”

Proving her road racing chops was a wild ride for Williams. She began to consider a pro career after only two months of racing on the roads but without a team to compete with she had to apply for guest ride spots on other teams. On April 3, 2017, Williams shocked both the competition and herself with a stage-three win at the Joe Martin Stage Race in Fayetteville, Arkansas. After topping that podium, securing guest ride spots came more easily and she gained the confidence to reach out to the Hagens Berman Supermint Pro Cycling Team at the end of the season. Williams is happy with her spot on this team because it allows her the ability to live and train in Asheville and continue to focus on cyclocross in the winter. And while the team is serious and goal-oriented, it’s also a collaborative and relaxed environment.

Lily finished 11th at the Cyclocross Pan American Championships. Photo credit: Ethan Glading

Williams stated that her goals for the 2018 road cycling season are to “gain experience and reanalyze her role as an athlete in the process of learning to work on a team.” These lessons will be great to hand down to her young ambassador, Maddie Smith, and they couldn’t come at a better time as women around the world are pushing for more opportunities for female cyclists. Equal prize money and funding for athletes are some of the biggest hurdles in achieving equality in the sport. “I would say that 85% of the issue is financial, much of which stems from the other 15% of typical sexism,” added Williams. She went on to explain that the financial barrier to entry forces the vast majority of women to work on the side. As the Communications Director for Bike Index, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit and the most widespread bicycle registration service in the world, Williams clarified that the job fit has been awesome for her, and she expressed her gratitude for the opportunity to work remotely. However, she also stated, “I would love to see what is possible if women could devote themselves completely to cycling.” We have no doubt that Williams and her counterparts are laying the foundation for Maddie Smith and the next generation to have such opportunities.

Williams competes on the roads. Photo Credit: William Tann