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Cory Williams: Connecting through the criterium

(Image credit: Dan Munson)

Cyclingnews is proud to welcome our new video blogger, Cory Williams (Elevate-KHS). Williams, 24, hails from Los Angeles, where he and his older brother Justin have been dominating the regional criterium scene for years and filming their exploits using helmet cameras. Cory's videos appear on the Youtube channel dubbed "nation's number one beast" but he will be doing a special block of videos for Cyclingnews as part of our Bell Lap Criterium Series.

Williams grew up in a working-class neighbourhood in South Central Los Angeles where bike racing was not exactly the go-to sport for kids. But he was inspired to take up the sport by his father, Calman, who raced bikes in Belize before relocating to California, and continued to race, taking his sons along.

"Every kid wants to be like their dad - he would take me to races every weekend and I'd do the kids races," Williams says. "I wanted to make him proud and show him I could do the sport. He always told us it was hard, and if we did it we couldn't quit. Whenever I have a bad day I always remember that. My dad's a pretty tough cookie, he's always pushing us to be better."

Bike racing wasn't always Williams' sport of choice - he played football as a running back for nine years in school. "I played football and rode bikes in the offseason," he says. "I had a long history in football, but I got to the point where I had to choose which one I was going to give my attention to."

Four of his classmates went on to the NFL: De'Anthony Thomas (Running Back, Kansas City) - Hayes Pullard (Linebacker, LA Chargers), Marcus Martin (Center, Dallas), Greg Ducree (Defense, Pittsburg), but Williams couldn't resist the pull of bike racing. "For some reason cycling pulled me in. I'm not that tall - 5'9" - and the chances of me making it in football weren't that great."

He was also swayed towards cycling by the family's close relationship with Rahsaan Bahati, who raced against his father. "He's like my brother," Williams says of Bahati. "I had my dad, I had Rahsaan, Justin. Back in the days when I would show up to group rides, there would be a ton of pros showing up, and they wouldn't let you get away with anything. Tony Cruz, Ivan Dominguez - a ton of guys."

Williams is soft-spoken, shy - and reticent to discuss the disadvantages that athletes of colour face in cycling. Despite winning the junior national championships as a 15- 16-year-old and performing well in road races and criteriums throughout his junior years, he struggled to get the attention of USA Cycling. "I was for sure over looked as a junior! I tried to get on the team after winning crit nationals in 2009 and finishing top 20 in the road race as a first year 17-18 in 2010 and was told to talk to the track coach," Williams says. But USA Cycling has not had a dedicated men's track programme for years. "I don't dwell on that too much I try and focus on getting better every day."

Making videos

Instead, Williams has been steadily climbing the ranks on the road, coming of age when he turned pro with the Incycle-Cannondale squad in 2015, taking his first big win in the San Dimas Stage Race criterium that year. Since his junior years, he's been filming his exploits and posting the videos online.

"I would always watch extreme sports and they always had (on board) cameras. I never saw them in a bike race, and I thought it would be pretty cool if people could see what we do," Williams explains how he got started. "There are some crazy things going on in bike races, and I wanted everyone to see that. I think I got my first camera in 2010, and I started making race videos, and it's gotten better and better.

"I used the first generation go-pro, this big old block thing sticking up on my head - everyone would ask 'why are you using that? It's not aero!' Now I have the smaller GoPro (Hero) Sessions. Justin and I wear the cameras, and we make all the videos. Then we get the video from my perspective and what my team is doing, and also the perspective of Justin who is trying to win the race."

In his first video for Cyclingnews, the Williams brothers both wore cameras during the San Dimas Stage Race criterium. "The whole thing is my point of view until the last lap." Then the video switches to the perspective of Williams' brother in the white helmet. "I did my job and got out of the way and Justin did the last lap."

Williams processes his videos using iMovie, but had to switch from using his Mac computer to making the videos on his iPad after the computer died.

Making the films is a passion for Williams, who hopes to go into the film industry after his cycling career is over.

"I actually had an opportunity to work with a guy who was making movie trailers, but I had to choose between that and racing my bike," he says. The bike won. "That was a huge opportunity I missed out on but hopefully I can go back to that when I'm done with this."

In addition to racing with Elevate-KHS and making movies, Williams mentors riders on the ENDO CNCPT team, a group of riders who came across to the road from fixed gear racing.

"They were some kids who were racing fixie bikes, doing Red Hook series and we wanted to help get them into the road side of things," he says. "They're doing really well now. We're trying to get the hipster guys into the road side of the sport."

It started when some of the fixed gear racers showed up on their usual group ride and made the connection as fellow outsiders, of a sort. "I come from South Central LA - there aren't many people that come from the same place I did. The fixie kids don't have the same background as your typical cyclist, either. So we connected with them super quick and now we're good friends."

Cory Williams will be documenting criteriums as part of Cyclingnews' Bell Lap Criterium Series this season.

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Laura Weislo has been with Cyclingnews since 2006 after making a switch from a career in science. As Deputy Editor, she coordinates coverage for North American events and global news. As former elite-level road racer who dabbled in cyclo-cross and track, Laura has a passion for all three disciplines. When not working she likes to go camping and explore lesser traveled roads, paths and gravel tracks.