Worlds: Williams hoping to repeat spring form in under-23 road race

Stevie Williams remains hopeful that he can hit the run of form he found in the earlier part of 2018 in the under-23 men’s road race at the UCI Road World Championships on Friday.

The 22-year-old enjoyed a strong run towards the end of the spring and start of the summer as he claimed two stage wins and the overall title at the Ronde de l’Isard before going on to take a stage win and fifth overall at the Baby Giro. However, illness and injury have hindered him a little since then.

“I’m really looking forward to racing. It’s an honour every time you pull on a GB jersey. The World Championships is such a great event and one of the biggest races of the year,” Williams told Cyclingnews.

“I wish I could hit what I did in May and June. We’ll have to see; the last two months haven’t been great results-wise with a couple of crashes and a bit of illness. Hopefully, now, with the good block of training that I had – and the Tour de l’Avenir, the Tour of Britain and then racing with Bahrain-Merida last week in Italy – something can come together for me and I can do a good ride on the day.”

Williams will line up as part of a strong Great Britain squad on Friday. The five-man team includes Mark Donovan, who finished ahead of Williams at the Baby Giro, Team Sky stagiaire Ethan Hayter, Lotto Soudal rider James Shaw and Tour de Yorkshire mountains classification runner-up Max Stedman. Williams is hoping for a selective race to give the team their best opportunity at getting a result.

“We’ve definitely got a lot of cards to play and obviously, the under-23 race is normally quite open and you’re never really sure what will happen. You’ve got to be really alert on the day and you have to be aware that different scenarios can happen. We have a good team that can do something really good here,” said Williams.

“There are a lot of ways this race could go but hopefully there is enough of a selection and the strongest will survive, so that way you don’t get the lottery effect where the strongest riders do come to the front. As a team, that is the best scenario for us. We have many options.”

Since 2016, WorldTour riders have been able to compete in the under-23 race. Last year, it sparked much conversation with the gold and silver medal both coming from WorldTour teams. There are a number of WorldTour riders set to compete on Friday, including Shaw for Great Britain. Williams believes that this will make for a tough race but welcomes the WorldTour riders with open arms.

“There are always so many good under-23s and with a one-day race anyone can have a good day,” he said. “I don’t think that you can look past the Australians, Belgium – there are so many countries with good riders and a lot of them are stepping down from the highest level to race the under-23 race as well. I think it is good that there are so many riders at the highest level coming to do the under-23 race. That is what it is for, to find the best under-23 rider.”

For Williams, the World Championships come off the back of his debut as a stagiaire for Bahrain-Merida at the Giro della Toscana and the Coppa Sabatini. He will race for them full-time next season, but it was an opportunity to see what he has in store for himself after the winter. The Briton raced for the SEG Racing Academy in 2017 and 2018.

“Ultimately, it’s just another bike race. You try to tell yourself that but the higher you move up the more the pressure gets increased and you have a bit more pressure on your shoulders now. I try to enjoy every moment that I can and do the best I can for the team,” Williams told Cyclingnews.

“I was set a task and a job to do and I pulled that off for the team. In Sabatini, Colbrelli came second. I did my job and that was it. It was nice to play a slightly different role. Through my under-23 years, for the last year or two, I’ve always been the protected rider in the races that suit me. It feels like now the tables have turned a little bit and I did a job for the team and it’s nice to have that responsibility to do a job. To have all this come off was good.”

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Born in Ireland to a cycling family and later moved to the Isle of Man, so there was no surprise when I got into the sport. Studied sports journalism at university before going on to do a Masters in sports broadcast. After university I spent three months interning at Eurosport, where I covered the Tour de France. In 2012 I started at Procycling Magazine, before becoming the deputy editor of Procycling Week. I then joined Cyclingnews, in December 2013.