Lizzie Williams’ Twist of Fate

Lizzie Williams quit cycling at the top of her game 10 years ago, but a chain of twists of fate would see her answer the ‘what if’ questions that had nagged her since. PHOTO: Kirsty Baxter Photography

Lizzie Williams quit cycling at the top of her game 10 years ago, but a chain of twists of fate would see her answer the ‘what if’ questions that had nagged her since. PHOTO: Kirsty Baxter Photography

It’s 10pm on a rainy winters night in Australia when a smiling fresh faced Lizzie Williams beams through my computer on Skype.

“Hey, how are you?” she says enthusiastically. In her black singlet top and hair tied up in a high messy bun, Lizzie screams summer. As we speak a car horn beeps from outside her window. It could be any car, anywhere, but it has that distinctly European sound.

She’s been competing over there for the past month and has just taken part in La Course – the Women’s Tour de France.

“It was almost surreal to think that this time last year I was sitting on the couch probably eating cream donuts or something.

“I can’t believe, me, I’m here, I’m racing for Australia on the Champs Élysées.“

Ever believe in fate? You will after you hear Lizzie William’s story.

Lizzie’s been a part of a day that will go down in women’s cycling folklore. A defining day for the sport; part of a peloton racing on the most famous stretch of them all, the Champs Élysées. This was the first time a women’s race had been timed to coincide with the final day of the most iconic event in the sport, The Tour de France. Thousands of fans from across the world had made their pilgrimage and lined the French strip, cheering the girls on, flags and posters in their hands, as cameras, satellites and media broadcasted the moment to the rest of the world. Live.

Amazing. Historic. Iconic. A dream.

And so far removed from the life she was living less than a year ago.

“It’s pretty crazy how quickly it’s all happened,” Lizzie tells Sportette from her new base in Italy.

“Just 10 months ago I was probably 10 kilos heavier, living like a normal person in Melbourne, teaching at school, doing my thing and now I’m in Italy racing for Australia.”

Ever believe in fate? You will after you hear Lizzie William’s story.

Lizzie only returned to cycling in December and it's been a whirlwind ever since. PHOTO: Kirsty Baxter Photography

Lizzie only returned to cycling in December and it’s been a whirlwind ever since. PHOTO: Kirsty Baxter Photography

At 19, Lizzie seemingly had the world at her wheels, the National Criterium Champion, a cycling protégé who had an invite to join the Australian national development squad in Europe. But a decision to suddenly quit the sport all together would take her life in a very different direction.

“Back then women’s cycling wasn’t very popular,” Lizzie tells Sportette.

“It was in 2004 that I just lost the joy in my riding and I just thought I needed a break.”

Faced with the crossroads of riding in Europe, a major stepping stone to turning professional, or staying in Melbourne and finishing her University degree, Lizzie took the latter, turning her back on the bike.

She became a teacher, played AFL, rode only for fitness and fun.

It’d be ten years before she’d race again and a decade of wondering ‘what if?’

It was always in the back of my mind, Could I have made it if I went? What would it have been like?

“It was always in the back of my mind, Could I have made it if I went? What would it have been like?” Lizzie admits.

It wasn’t regret but wonder that kept nudging the 30 year old but the universe seemed to be willing to give Lizzie another chance at answering the question. A chain of twists of fate would eventually afford her that opportunity.

It’d start with a friend convincing Lizzie to enter a half-ironman to get her back on the bike. The girls trained intensely for months, but when the friend pulled out and Lizzie lost interest in two of the three disciplines, it wasn’t triathlons she found a renewed passion for, but her first love, cycling.

Lizzie wanted to race again.

In November last year, she joined her old Brunswick Cycle Club again just a few weeks later made her comeback in the National Road Series (NRS).

“I thought why not go for it.”

And go for it, she did. It was the Adelaide Tour and Lizzie finished fourth overall with two podium finishes. The Mersey Valley Tour was next, fifth overall there with victory on the final stage. Then came the Battle of the Border, Lizzie blitzed the field with two stage victories to finish second.

It was clear there was some unfinished business here.

Then a bigger twist of fate came in a whirlwind.

Lizzie living her dream and finally answering her 'what if' in a sliding doors opportunity

Lizzie living her dream and finally answering her ‘what if’ in a sliding doors opportunity

“I was just out to dinner with a friend (Kirsty Baxter) and I mentioned briefly that it would be cool to race in America for a couple of months to get some experience while there’s a break in the NRS,” Lizzie said, not ever believing what would transpire next.

Kirsty had connections in America and went home that night to write to Jono Coulter, the manager of U.S Women’s Cycling Team, Vanderkitten.

Then just a week later, one of the girls in Vanderkitten’s team from New Zealand had to withdraw and Lizzie received the phonecall of a lifetime.

“He (Jono) said ‘someone’s pulled out’ and he had a free spot and could I get over there as quickly as possible,”

“I was working full time and had a house and a dog but three weeks later flew over to join the team.”

Lizzie spent two months with Vanderkitten racing around American before someone suggested she apply for the Amy Gillet Foundation Scholarship.

The Foundation was established to honour the memory of Amy Gillet who was killed tragically when a car ploughed into her Australian team while on a training ride in Germany in 2005. The foundation campaigns for cyclists and helps budding talented riders reach their dreams and full potential.

There’s something very special about this connection between Lizzie and the Foundation. As part of the scholarship, Lizzie has joined the Australian Development Squad in Europe. It’s the same invitation she received as a 19 year old, before turning her back on it and the sport altogether. Had she taken up the invitation back then, Lizzie would have been with the squad the same time as Amy.

“It was all just meant to be, I used to race against Lizzie and looked up to her…and that team that I was going to meet, was the team that sadly was hit by the car.”

Living a normal life just 10 months ago, Lizzie's now cycling for Australia on the European stage. PHOTO: Kirsty Baxter Photography

Living a normal life just 10 months ago, Lizzie’s now cycling for Australia on the European stage. PHOTO: Kirsty Baxter Photography

 

“To be able to ride for Amy and to have known her is something special.”

So Lizzie is now living her ‘what if’. Competing in Europe, racing the biggest names in the sport at the highest level possible in a bid to be picked up by a team there full-time.

She’s making the most of the opportunity as well, finishing 12th in La Course despite suffering a puncture along the way. She came 11th in the Tour of Thuringen and in the recent La Route de France finished 7th overall. They’re incredible results but Lizzie’s not yet satisfied.

“Until I get on the podium I won’t be satisfied within myself.

“The coach says you’ve done so much already to get into the top ten but I really believe in myself that I can be up there with the best over time with training and with working on things, with experience I can be there contesting it. I’ve got high expectations on myself.”

At 30, Lizzie has had the opportunity to explore the chance she had at 19. 

At 30, Lizzie has had the opportunity to explore the chance she had at 19. But has no regrets with her teenage decision.

“I’ve done a lot of things in my life. I wouldn’t have been able to do the things that I have done if not for the path I took.”

You get the feeling that the world has a funny way of going full circle, of righting decisions made. In a peculiar and unexplainable twist of circumstances and sliding doors it leaves us with the only viable understanding that simply ‘it was meant to be’.

For Lizzie, life really does begin at 30.

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