One of the most dominant road teams in the US the past two years has been L39ION of Los Angeles, and a pair of their top riders will start the year kicking up gravel and grit.
It’s no surprise that Lance Haidet will line up this weekend at the opening round of the Grasshopper Adventure Series, his quest to move into the top five of the Life Time Grand Prix series. What at first would appear to be a bit off-kilter is seeing Tyler Williams in the queue.
On second glance is the realisation that Williams should not be a surprise. The Sonoma County resident lives and trains in the northern California hills where the Hopper adventures reside, five ‘eclectic’ mixed-terrain events this year in a three-county area with vast gravel, pavé and single-track experiences. Plus, he’s a past winner of the Huffmaster Hopper, this year’s second stop of the series after Low Gap this weekend.
“The Grasshoppers are a staple of the early-season racing,” Williams told Cyclingnews about the local races that have gained national acclaim with the surge in gravel popularity.
“As gravel has grown, the series has as well, so I do try to get out to a few of them because you are getting to test yourself early in the season against some really good competition. I will for sure do Low Gap and Huffmaster this year, they fit nicely into the program for the first part of the year.”
Also on the start line this weekend in Ukiah for the 44-mile Low Gap, which ramps up the climbing with 5,665 feet of elevation gain, are three riders from the top five last year, including runner-up Brennan Wertz and fifth-placed Peter Stetina, who was second in 2020. The 2020 winner Geoff Kabush is back as well. The women’s field is also stacked, with four riders from the top 10 back for more, including runner-up Maude Farrell.
Between the early Hoppers, both Williams and Haidet plan to ride Rock Cobbler in Bakersfield, where the fields continue to grow bigger and stronger as well. Stetina returns as the men’s defending champion for the 80-ish miler and second-placed John Borstelmann.
“I am hoping to get to do a little bit more [off-road] this year, but it’s tough because my priorities still lie on the road end between the stage races and crit calendar. It gets quite busy in the spring and summer. For sure, it is nice to add in some different races to keep the motivation high to train hard and challenge myself in different ways,” Williams said.
Last season Tyler Williams was one of the busiest riders on the road for L39ION with 23 race days. He netted a stage win at Redlands Bicycle Classic and a second-place finish on stage 4 of the Joe Martin Stage Race. While he supported teammate Ty Magner in his five criterium victories, he also took second in the Salt Lake Criterium and third at Momentum Indy.
Haidet had approximately half as many road days, but focused much of his calendar off-road with the Life Time Grand Prix series and with a fall cyclocross campaign. He finished 10th overall in the inaugural six-race circuit and qualified for a share in the $250,000 total purse, split evenly between men and women.
“The Grasshoppers are a great way to get some solid prep and to test the fitness going into some of the bigger races this year. The first being that they are awesome grassroots events with really cool courses and a great community of people to enjoy some early-season racing with. Secondly, with the depth of riders that are based in California this time of year,” he told Cyclingnews.
“It will be awesome to have Tyler joining me for the first few races this year, and it sounds like I might have some more teammates getting their gravel feet wet at some events throughout the year.
“In 2023, I have my eyes set on a couple of major goals. After finishing 10th in last year’s Life Time GP, I am looking to be more consistent throughout the series and hopefully see myself moving up into the top 5 overall this year.”
Haidet rode an abbreviated US-based cyclocross season this season, including a bronze in the Pan-American Championships in Falmouth and a fifth-place finish at US Nationals in Hartford. He said cyclocross was still “very much my heart and soul” but had time to focus on a few other objectives this year.
“Rather than making the trip overseas for the Christmas block of races in Europe and chasing selection for the CX World Championships, I decided to give myself a real off-season for once,” Haidet said, which included time to complete his mechanical engineering degree at California Polytechnic State University.
“I want to take the win at one of the larger races in the American gravel circuit. I’ve got a couple of races that I’m really aiming for, but the goal is to be at the level required to be a podium contender at any of the races I enter. Additionally, I want to help my L39ION teammates dominate some of the largest criteriums on the 2023 calendar and use some of the gravel fitness to give it a go at the US Pro Nationals Road Race.”
After a few gravel grinders, the L39ION of Los Angeles duo may not race together again until US Pro Nationals. Before then, look for Williams at the US stage races in early spring at Tucson Bicycle Classic in March and Redlands Bicycle Classic in April, while the American Criterium Cup opener is May 6 at the Sunny King Criterium in Alabama. A week after Redlands, Haidet begins his Life Time Grand Prix work at Sea Otter Classic with the Fuego XL 100k.