Before he has managed to turn a wheel in anger, Welshman Stevie Williams has been forced to delay the start of his season after being struck down by injury.
Along with Harry Tanfield (Katusha-Alpecin), Williams is one of two British neo-pros at WorldTour level in 2019, having signed a two year deal with Bahrain-Merida, but a persistent knee issue has blighted his winter.
Now, while the majority of his new team are at a training camp on the Costa Daurada, near Barcelona, he is at home in Aberystwyth getting treatment.
“It’s been about seven or eight weeks now, that doesn’t seem a long time but when you haven’t ridden bike for that long it is,” 22 year-old Williams told Cycling Weekly.
“When you’re new to a professional team the first thing you want to do is get out on your bike and work as hard as you can to make the first season as good as possible, but ultimately I cannot do that at the moment.
“The hardest part is keeping my head in a good place and trust in the right people and having faith that this will get better. We’ve been making little improvements with bike position, so we have to wait and see now.”
Though clearly chomping at the bit, Williams appears remarkably sanguine about his plight, and his team are not putting pressure on him to return to training.
Stevie Williams in the leader’s jersey at the 2018 Baby Giro (Picture: Bahrain-Merida/ Elisa Haumesser)
“The pain came back when he started training, it’s trying to nail down the cause, but taking a break, changing equipment and shoes,” team performance director David Bailey told us.
“He’s done everything right, he stopped training and only recently with support from different expertise, we think we’ve got it. It’s hard for him to hear now, but these things are often what makes a rider, though it is not the ideal transition.
“It’s difficult to say, but I certainly see him back in training fully within the month.”
Having begun in the sport slightly later than many, Williams’s rise to the professional ranks has been a fast one.
After injury forced him to give up on running and, more importantly football – “I wasn’t going to be the next Ronaldo” he jokes – he took to riding with his local club, Ystwyth Cycling Club, racing for the first time in 2012 aged 15.
“In a 3/4 race I jumped off the front in the crit with about 10 or 15 minutes to go and won it solo, and I thought, ‘yeah, this is fun.’ Ever since I have just loved racing.
Having spotted his talent early on Welsh Cycling have supported him throughout his career as he progressed to the domestic pro ranks with JLT Condor then Dutch Continental team SEG Racing Academy.
“I was on the Welsh cycling talent programme for the last four years and I think that was really beneficial for me. To have that infrastructure down in South Wales and do the track and do road stuff and be taken to junior national races, that really helped.
“For sure joining JLT then joining SEG was definitely a game changer. Once I’d raced in the UK for a couple of years I thought this is great racing and it’s really hard, but the natural style of rider I am, skinny and really light, I knew I wanted to get abroad and do some of under-23 stage races in the mountains. Luckily I was given that opportunity and made it count.”
Though still finding his feet in his first year with SEG, he still managed second place at the hilly 2017 Flèche Ardennaise, while steadily increasing his racing exposure, going from 39 race days in 2017 to 61 days last season, when he achieved his biggest successes.
In 2018 Williams won two mountainous stages and the overall at the Ronde de I’Isard as well as a stage and fifth place at the Baby Giro.
“I do think Isard and the Baby Giro were game changers, but also Liège Bastogne Liège [Under 23 – where he finished ninth] at the start of the year. I wanted to go there and win it of course but the break stayed away, but a one day shows a lot about a rider, what sort of decisions you make and how you race it, but that was an important day for me.”
Now, rewarded with a place on one of the world’s best teams, Williams knows where his priorities lie.
“To get back on the bike as soon as possible!” he laughs. “Also to get as much experience as possible from these riders I have looked up to for a number of years, to understand the different level and put in my mind what is my best attribute in cycling.
“But I am a cyclist and I would not do this if I didn’t want to win races, so if there any opportunities to go for then I will be trying to grab them with both hands.”