BY MIKE GRIFFITH Californian staff writer firstname.lastname@example.org
These are tough days for Tyler Williams, but you wouldn't know it by talking to him.
A badly broken collarbone causes him to wince while pulling on a shirt, coughing or twisting the wrong way.
But grimaces are quickly replaced by smiles when he talks of his fledgling professional cycling career.
A misplaced wheel by another rider two weeks ago during a race in Wisconsin sent Williams shoulder first into the ground, interrupting his developmental professional cycling season and giving him an extended stay at his home a few miles north of Bakersfield.
Instead of competing for the U.S. Under-23 team in the USA Cycling Championships earlier this month in Madison, Wis., Williams, 18, was back at home on the couch watching the first few stages of the Tour de France, unable to even get on a stationary trainer.
A week later he's still watching the Tour -- over and over sometimes -- but at least now he's able to pedal away on his bike, although he's going nowhere as the trainer holds him firmly in place.
"I just watch the Tour and pretend in my head," Williams said of trying to maintain some fitness, and sanity, while recovering from his first serious cycling injury. "I've watched the Tour de France three or four times a day. Every stage.
"It's not so bad, actually. This is the best I can get out of it right now. This is probably not going to be my last collarbone break. I just have to take it in stride."
Besides, watching the Tour on television is what prompted Williams, an up-and coming race car driver as a youngster, to turn in his motorized four-wheel ride for one with two wheels requiring human power.
Williams would watch the Tour then go out and ride the hills around his home on an old mountain bike. His desire to ride led him to get a road bike and, at 14 years of age, he fell in love with cycling.
And out of love with car racing.
"I used to ride the bike trail (through Bakersfield)," he said. "My parents would drive me to the bike trail to ride. I finally convinced my dad to allow me to go out on actual roads. For like the first five months or so they would follow me on the roads every day."
Before he was 15, he had made up his mind.
He was done with cars and committed to bikes.
"I knew I liked (cycling) and liked the competitiveness from the beginning," he said. "I was told I had potential right before I quit car racing. That's what kind of helped convince me I wasn't doing anything totally silly because I was good at car racing. I didn't know I was that good on the bike."
The Williams' home is filled with his old racing trophies, which now provide a backdrop as he spins away the hours to stay in shape.
"They like to give out trophies in Quarter Midgets," Williams said in shrugging off his accomplishments.
Williams raced Quarter Midgets from 4-6 years of age then moved to go-karts before ending up in Mini Sprints.
Enjoying cycling made it easy to leave car racing, which was no longer that much fun, behind.
"I raced (on the bike) a few times for a couple of months and after that it was 'I'm done with car racing,'" he said. "That's enough of that. I was so burned out on it. It was a lot of the political stuff and it was so expensive, as you can imagine.
"So for me to go any further in car racing it was going to cost so much money it wasn't even realistic. And I wasn't even enjoying it that much anymore. My parents didn't have that kind of money."
With cycling his main focus, Williams quickly found himself riding with some of the top cyclists in town, who took delight in pushing the youngster to his limits and beyond.
"Zach Griffin and Gareth Feldstein were the first two who took me under their wings," Williams said. "Gareth, I'd say, taught me how to suffer. He torched me. He used to beat up on me and see how hard he could make me go."
"One of my favorite things to do is pay back," he said, flashing a huge grin. "Gareth doesn't even ride with me anymore because he suffers too much. He called and said 'hey, we can ride now" and I said 'yeah, cause I have a broken collarbone. But I'd still drop you.'
"Those two guys put a lot of effort into me at the beginning."
Williams joined a junior team out of Santa Rosa in 2011 to help his development, which led to a stint on the USA Cycling Junior team last season.
His strong 2012 season paid dividends and last winter he was named the to the USA Under 23 team as well as signing a two-year deal with the Switzerland-based BMC Developmental team for riders under 23. He is the second-youngest rider on both teams.
Williams has been globe-trotting ever since, training and racing both in Europe and the U.S.
His biggest success came on the outskirts of Bakersfield on June 2 when he won the USA Cycling District Road Racing Championship.
"It was brutal," Williams said of the 100-mile loop race through the foothills leading to Caliente as the air temperature topped 100 degrees. "It was a case of who could handle the mental aspect of it. The heat was so bad it just demoralized everyone.
"There was a lot of climbing, like 8,000 feet. I was so proud of that race, It was a big one for me. Winning at home for me is so neat."
The victory was also just what Williams needed to give him a confidence boost.
Williams spent the first two months of the year training with the BMC Developmental Team in Spain and competed in a one-day race in Belgium before returning home in March and competing in a series of races in Madera.
Then it was back to Europe for races in March and April before returning stateside and the Tour of Gila in New Mexico, May 1-5.
"I struggled there," he said. "I think I was pretty tired from all the racing I'd done in Europe and the travel. I wasn't at my best. That's a race I'll be happy to forget."
So the victory in Bakersfield, a week after being dropped from the main field and placing 24th in a race in Northern California, was just what Williams needed.
"It was neat," he said. "I was leaving for Europe the next day and I needed a moral booster."
Back in the states after an eight-day stage race in Germany, Williams said his morale was good and felt he was at the peak of fitness when it all came to a crashing halt in the Tour of America's Dairyland in Wisconsin on June 27 -- a race he was using to prepare for the U.S. Nationals.
"I has just gotten into the winning breakaway, a group of about 13," Williams recalled. "We were going downhill, I was on the front and looked under my shoulder on the right side."
That's when a competitor came up on his left, swung in front of him and hit Williams' front wheel.
"It ripped all the spokes out," he said. "I remember hearing the clanging and the next thing I know I was burying my shoulder into the asphalt."
Just part of the game, Williams said.
"It comes with the territory. There's always one or two bad crashes a year."
While disappointed the broken collarbone prevented him from competing in the Nationals, Williams said he is happy with his progression this season at a higher level of competition.
"It's been real good," he said. "It was a big jump up in the level of competition. Unbelievable. The race I did with Germany, with the National team, I think five of those guys have already signed pro contracts with the big teams for next year.
"It was real hard. I didn't feel I was totally outgunned, but I was not as strong as those guys by any means. I was OK. I rode really good. The more you race at this level the better you get. I'm happy with what I've done so far."
At 5-foot-11 and 150 pounds, Williams considers himself a strong overall rider.
"I'm kind of turning into a kind of one- day-Classics-type of rider," he said. "I'm pretty strong on steeper short hills, but not necessarily a mountain or anything. I'm a good sprinter. I'm strong on stuff that takes lots of power. I have lots of power."
And working to produce more.
"I definitely need a little more depth and a little more power to do good and contest for wins," he said. "I have plenty of time on my side."
Williams said he is under no pressure from BMC at this early stage of his career.
"They're looking to see that you're moving forward and doing the right things, showing the same potential they saw in the beginning," he said. "I don't have much pressure on me to perform. They just want to see I'm working hard and going the right way. Keep going forward."
Which he plans to do just as soon as he's able.
He hopes to be back riding the foothills and mountains around Bakersfield sometime this week and back in competition sometime in August.
"I was planning on going back to Europe in two weeks but that's probably not happening," he said. "The big goal for me is the Tour de I'Avenir (Tour of the Future) with the National team in late August," Williams said. "It's the U23 tour of France.
"There's not a lot of time left in the season, only a couple of months, and hopefully I can recover enough to finish out the last goals."
Williams said his hopes are to continue to develop, eventually land a pro contract and ultimately compete in the Tour de France.
"I've already progressed quite a bit from last year to this year and quite a bit from the year before to last year as well," he said. "If I can keep being consistent and make the same jump every year and make those little sacrifices that make a difference -- train a little harder, a little longer, a little smarter -- they'll notice.
"But the cards will have to fall right. It's the same as me getting on this team.
"Pro teams are going to need riders and probably specifically my type of rider, and hopefully at that time I'm good enough to show them I'm ready."