“I would love the first Tour de France yellow black jersey wearer to come from L39ION”: How Justin Williams plans to change the future of cycling


This year, at the three Grand Tours, we were treated to a fantastic racing spectacle. Each descended until the last weekend, the Giro d’Italia and the Tour de France being decided by a time trial and the Vuelta a España won only 26 seconds.

The 2020 Grand Tours are the ones to celebrate, how three week bike races could unfold during the current global pandemic is phenomenal.

However, something else happened in 2020 that focused on another fight – a fight the world must fight together.

In America, a dispute erupted over the purchase of a pack of cigarettes, with the store employee claiming the $ 20 used for payment was bogus, the police were called and an arrest attempt was successful on the death of George Floyd.

The Black Lives Matter movement gained momentum, the sports world took notice and when the sport came back to life after the lockdown, gestures were made. Footballers took a knee, Lewis Hamilton led the charge in Formula 1 with fellow drivers by his side, and it looked like the rest of the sporting world was following… everything but cycling.

Kevin Reza was the only black rider in the Tour de France in 2020 and on the final stage of the three-week race, in the media pen and in the neutralized zone, riders wore masks with #EndRacism and BlackLivesMatter on them. However, that was the farce of it “it was probably better if they didn’t even bother at all,” says Justin Williams of the L39ION team in Los Angeles.

“The peloton actually put more position and protested against a stage which they felt was too long in the Giro d’Italia. It makes a joke all over the place, it’s embarrassing. Riding a Grand Tour is incredibly difficult, Kevin Reza did an amazing job and he deserved more from the UCI and his peers.

Justin is a former Continental Pro Tour rider who rode for Livestrong in 2010 and completed the Tour of Oman and the Tour of Qatar, before leaving the European racing scene and returning to America to become one of the Most successful criterium runners in America, if not the world.

Justin Williams, Founder of L39ION of Los Angeles

Yet in 2017, Justin left a team in which he and his brother Cory were prolific, with Cory scoring eight straight wins. It seemed like these two riders were the guys to build a team around. That team, Cylance, didn’t think about it, and Cory ended the year without a contract, with Justin leaving the team soon after.

From that drove a need for change, and Justin created the L39ION of Los Angeles, which has more black riders than the three Grand Tours of 2020 combined.

“In 2019, the team started out of necessity. Obviously we’re black and there’s a diversity aspect to that, but I think people forget that we were the best sprinters in America, and that we couldn’t get a fair paying job, ”says Williams. . Weekly cycling.

It’s hard to make changes and try to foster social diversity in cycling when you look around and quickly realize that it is extremely difficult to find someone of color in sport. . For the three Grand Tours that ended this year, less than 1% of the peloton was a black rider.

L39ION, which is currently sponsored by UK kit makers Rapha, has a plan for the future, this year they launched their first continental team in the United States and also recruited notable female riders Skylar Schneider and Kendall Ryan, who will be taking the criterium across the United States. But what’s next for the West Coast-based team?

“I would 100% love the first black rider to wear the green jersey in the Tour de France or the yellow jersey in the Tour to be a L39ION rider,” said Williams.

“There’s a crossroads into the fifth year of our plan where we need to figure out what we want to do and where we want to go. Are we going to put a team on the WorldTour and develop a Conti team in the United States? Do we even want to take this route? There are big question marks in grade five as to how we want to proceed. ”

Despite all their hard work so far, it would seem unfair that in year five, the team still doesn’t know the best way forward. Much would depend on the quality of the riders the team is lucky enough to have. It almost feels like Williams is carrying the weight of the black cycling community on his shoulders and everyone is asking or asking him to lead the change.

Speaking of which, Williams says, “It’s a lot of pressure, when you start doing this thing, everybody wants it to happen overnight. The sport is over 90% white, so it’s hard to find people of color who are where we are. We win the biggest races in the United States, so we have to meet that standard. People want us to move in a certain way, but it doesn’t matter what they want.

“We started with this vision in mind and this end goal in mind and we will work to achieve it.”

By his own admission, Williams is worried about going and racing in Europe for this reason: “ASO has their own right thing to do, I don’t know if they and the UCI want to change, they don’t have to, just to keep running, they don’t. Maybe we’re building something that’s the ASO equivalent just for American racing.

“I could probably create and run a full American season league with what it costs to run a ProTour team. Everyone gets paid, less races, with more partner value for what you get from a ProTour team, ”adds Williams, explaining why the appeal of racing in Europe isn’t always the ticket in Europe. or that it is perceived to be.

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If the UCI and the companies that put the Grand Tours together can find a way to have nine successful weeks of racing between them, after what has been one of the most disrupted cycling calendars of all time, why don’t they seem to find a way? to make cycling more inclusive.

“Cycling doesn’t want to admit that it has a diversity issue, everyone looks after their business, apparently, very well,” says Williams.

“Maybe cycling doesn’t think it needs to change because it’s doing well. We’ll keep doing our thing and when we lead the way, then maybe they’ll see where they went wrong.


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