One of the big success stories of 2018 was that of 22 year-old Welshman, Stevie Williams who returned stellar u23 results and netted himself a World Tour contract with Bahrain-Merida alongside the likes of Grand Tour ‘triple crown’ and Primavera/Lombardia winner, Vincenzo Nibali and World Time Trial Champion, Rohan Dennis.
But 2019 hasn’t started well for Williams, a niggling knee injury has kept him out of commission when he should be looking forward to his first races in that lovely new red strip; especially after a 2018 season which saw him win two stages and the overall GC in the prestigious Ronde d l’Isard; take a stage, enjoy a spell in pink and finish fifth on final GC in the ‘Baby’ Giro, not to mention a fine top 10 finish in the tough u23 Liege-Bastogne-Liege.
Williams rode for John Herety’s JLT Condor squad in 2016 scoring numerous solid results in places as diverse as New Zealand, Taiwan, Ireland and Korea.
The young Welshman joined highly successful – and difficult to be accepted for – Dutch u23 team, SEG racing in 2017 returning some promising results in higher level races in France, Belgium, Italy and the Netherlands – and last year the break through came.
We caught up with him at home in Wales in late January as the season-opening races flashed into life in Australia and Argentina.
Congratulations on a great 2018 season, Stevie – tell us about how the knee problems began please:
“I returned to training after a few weeks off the bike in November, and after roughly two weeks riding I felt an irritating pain on the side of my knee…
“This has been causing distress for the last 10 weeks, and I haven’t been able to shift it – the prognosis is hamstring insertion pain which is causing stress on the head of the fibula.”
What sort of treatment have you had?
“I have been having a lot of physiotherapy/doctors and the like.
“I’ve been getting looked after very well and my treatment has ranged from shock wave therapy, Tecar therapy [electro medical treatment, ed.], laser therapy, dry needling and general massage.”
It must be hard on the head for you?
“It has been difficult at times; as an athlete you’re used to being in a training regime and when that’s taken away from you and you’re unable to ride a bike it gets stressful but I’ve managed it by swimming and doing strength and conditioning.”
Is there much you can do training-wise?
“I’ve been doing a lot of strength exercises and core work, which is good mentally and physically.”
Is it difficult to control your weight given you’re not on the bike?
“Luckily my weight always stays the same, so in that regard it’s not a problem but I’ve kept on top of my nutrition over the past couple of months anyway.”
Any ideas on a race programme yet?
“Unfortunately, no, I don’t have a return date as I am not yet able to ride my bike consistently pain free.
“I think that’s one of the hardest parts, not knowing when I’ll be able to ride a bike properly.”
Where will ‘home’ be for you for season 2019 once the knee is good?
“I will base myself in Gerona, Catalonia this year, I think it’s a good place for training and there are a lot of riders to ride with.”
How did the Bahrain-Merida ride come about?
“It all began with a phone call from the general manager of the team, Brent Copeland [South African former racer, long term part of the Lampre team management and mentor to Giro and Lombardy winner, Damiano Cunego, ed.]
“I had a long discussion with him and it was really positive; that’s when I knew Bahrain-Merida was the perfect move for me.”
Was there one performance in particular which caught the team’s eye?
“I like to think the Ronde de l’Iisard where I won two stages and the GC put me on the radar, and then backing it up with the results I achieved in the Baby Giro in Italy where I won a stage and was in pink for a spell, that was another good result to help me make the step up to the World Tour.”
You rode stagiaire with the team in the Coppa Sabatini and Giro della Toscana at the end of season 2018 – what was that experience like?
“Those were great races to be a part of, although the results I had there didn’t say much, it was more of going to meet the team, to understand how it all works and to settle in with the riders and the staff.”
Have you met your new teammates yet?
“Yes, the team had a training camp in Hvar in Croatia in December and I met all of my new teammates during that camp.”
What’s the language round the dinner table on the team?
“Both English and Italian, I’m trying my best to learn some Italian.”
It must be pretty special to be on the same team as Giro, Tour and Vuelta winner, Vincenzo Nibali?
“For sure, riding in the same team as Vincenzo is pretty surreal, looking up to someone who has achieved so much in the sport is special, he’s the perfect rider to learn from.”
What’s 2019 about once the knee is sorted?
“Well, I’ve never been more motivated to be back on the bike!
“I’m looking forward to just getting out there and riding, preparing myself to make the most out of 2019…
“Hopefully things will start to fall into place soon and my knee will recover.”
VeloVeritas wishes Stevie ‘all the best’ in his recuperation and we’ll be keeping our eye on his results once that knee problem is sorted out.