'He was treated like a water bottle': L39ION provide Ian Garrison a chance to start again

Ian Garrison controls the peloton for Deceuninck-QuickStep at the 2020 Vuelta a España
Ian Garrison controls the peloton for Deceuninck-QuickStep at the 2020 Vuelta a España (Image credit: Getty Images Sport)

Ian Garrison was a surprise signing for 2022 by L39ION of Los Angeles as it moves towards in its second year as a Continental programme. The Georgia-based Garrison spent the last two seasons on the WorldTour level with the world’s top team, Deceuninck-QuickStep

It was a huge step to make two years ago as a 21-year-old when Garrison moved on from the Hagens Berman Axeon development squad, but he had vaulted into the spotlight in 2019 by sweeping U23 and US Pro time trial national titles and took the silver medal in the ITT at Worlds in Yorkshire.

With the stars-and-stripes jersey on his shoulders, he signed a two-year contract with Deceuninck-QuickStep that took him through this season. The fairytale career appeared to be over, but it had just started again.

“I’ve known him since he was a junior. He’s very calm, composed and mature beyond his years. Some have frantic energy in a race. He’s the same at 40 miles per hour or sitting in a chair. He can do anything,” said Reed McCalvin, Director of Finance and Culture at L39ION of Los Angeles, who worked for 10 years at Hagens Berman Axeon and knew Garrison from his three-year stint there.

“I know Ian had been told by [Patrick] Lefevere ‘your services are no longer needed’, and he was treated as a commodity, treated like a water bottle and just tossed aside. I told him the door is always open [at L39ION] and followed up after the Joe Martin Stage Race. I pitched him and he jumped in.”

L39ION scooped up wins across the US in top criteriums like Saint Francis Tulsa Tough, The Gateway Cup, Boise Twilight and Athens Twilight. They participated in their first-ever UCI stage race at Joe Martin Stage Race in Arkansas and came away with the overall title, won by Tyler Williams. 

McCalvin said they anticipate stage racing will make a comeback in the US after two years of COVID-19 cancellations, events such as Tour of the Gila, Redlands Classic and Tour of Utah.

He said the team is happy to have a big engine like Garrison to carry them in any race, but they do see him as a key to more success in one-hour criteriums, the bread and butter of US racing.

“We have big plans for him. He’s such as a big unit, he can pull and control 80 per cent of a race, then turn it over to the lead-out. Basically, he’s skipping the first 100 kilometres of a road race and can keep it going for an hour. Then the other five can take over. He’s a huge value add for us,” McCalvin told Cyclingnews.

One of the goals for brothers Justin and Cory Williams in founding L39ION, Reed said, was to give athletes a good home for cycling, since they found so many good people were leaving cycling and still had more to give.

“He can win US Pro time trial, or any TT that is not all uphill. Ian is one of the best and he can reset his mental and physical health with a lot left to give. We want to rescue guys and give them a platform to be happy. If he wants to stay with us for 20 years, great. If a WorldTour team wants him [after a year], good for him.”

Back in the US

Ian Garrison 2018 Tour of California Chris Graythen/Getty Images

Ian Garrison at the 2018 Tour of California with Hagens Axeon Berman (Image credit: Chris Graythen/Getty Images )

McCalvin reconnected with Garrison at the US Pro Road National Championships in Knoxville, Tennessee this summer, where the American traveled back from Europe to defend the time trial title he had held for an extra year because of COVID-19. With his contract set to expire soon, the two discussed options following the races.

“The idea of joining L39ION started in June after Nationals. I mentioned that maybe I wanted to come back to the US and do something different, and he said ‘you are welcome to come here [to L39ION]’. As it got later into the season it looked like something more and more that I wanted to do. He described the team and what they wanted to do in the future, and it resonated with me more so than anything else.”

Garrison said his experience at Deceuninck-QuickStep was very special and overall positive, but it was challenging being the only American rider on the team his first year. He looks forward to a more relaxed atmosphere and focusing on a North American calendar.

“Being in an environment where I was the only America, it challenges you in a good way, but it also makes you appreciate sharing the camaraderie with fellow Americans,” Garrison told Cyclingnews while home in Decatur, Georgia. ”I look forward to a more relaxed environment where the stakes aren’t quite so high. It’s not better or worse, it’s just a bit more relaxed, which I’m looking forward to.

“I am very grateful for the experience and I really learned a lot, and still have some great relationships with some guys on the team. I think COVID was quite a challenge, and it made me realise that I sort of needed to get my personal stuff in order before you can really perform at the top level. So that was on my mind and that translated to my not being able to perform at the highest level that was needed of me and pushed me to wanting to come back here, to the US, to take a step back from the top level.”

At Deceuninck-QuickStep he said he enjoyed having a specific job and working to deliver that assignment. After 21 days of racing in 2020, he took part in his first Grand Tour, the Vuelta a España. On Stage 4 he got to be part of team victory, Sam Bennett winning the bunch sprint.

“It was flat all day and we were riding for Sam for the sprint. My job that day was to control the breakaway and to ride the front. The rest of the team would take it over for the finish. It ended up being one of those days where it just really went to plan,” Garrison recounted.

“I rode and controlled the break well, and I just remember coming into the last few ks and I was already off the back, but I could see past the roundabout. You could see all around the outside of the roundabout, so the back of the peloton could see the front on the other side of the road.

“And when the field came through, it was the rest of the QuickStep team lined up on the front. That’s just super-cool to see because sometimes you have no clue if the team will be able to make it work in the sprint. Ben ended up winning that day, so that was a nice day of teamwork.

He chuckled when discussing a return to the criterium scene, something he has not done for years. “Growing up I always did crits. That’s what we have over here in the US. I mean, I learned to race by doing crits, it is part of my background,” Garrison said. 

“It will take a little adjustment but it’s something I enjoy and I think I can play a part in helping skilled riders like Justin [Williams], and Cory [Williams] and Ty [Magner] and Tyler [Williams]. For sure I think I can play a big role in helping them.”

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Jackie Tyson
Production editor

Jackie has been involved in professional sports for more than 30 years in news reporting, sports marketing and public relations. She founded Peloton Sports in 1998, a sports marketing and public relations agency, which managed projects for Tour de Georgia, Larry H. Miller Tour of Utah and USA Cycling. She also founded Bike Alpharetta Inc, a Georgia non-profit to promote safe cycling. She is proud to have worked in professional baseball for six years - from selling advertising to pulling the tarp. She has climbed l'Alpe d'Huez three times (not fast). Her favorite road rides are around horse farms in north Georgia (USA) and around lavender fields in Provence (France), and some mtb rides in Park City, Utah (USA).