Heated aggression on a blisteringly-hot day of racing ignited sides at the conclusion of the men’s opening contest at the Salt Lake Criterium doubleheader, with final-lap controversy between Michael Hernandez (Best Buddies Racing built by HGR Construction) and Justin Williams (L39ION of Los Angeles) spilling over to fiery exchange of words, then fists.
The physical altercation between Hernandez and Justin Williams, which happened after the race on Saturday, resulted in disqualification and a 72-hour suspension of both riders by the chief referee, as well as $500 fines doled out for both the Best Buddies team leader and the L39ION team co-founder.
The ruling was made in accordance with USA Cycling rule 8A3(a) for "acts of violence" among riders. USA Cycling is actively looking into the matter, which could lead to additional suspension time for both riders.
Before the DSQ decision, the L39ION of Los Angeles squad had scored a royal flush with the top five spots in the sixth stop of the American Criterium Cup event, Ty Magner easily taking the victory, trailed by Tyler Williams in second and Justin Williams in third.After the DSQ, Cory Williams moved into third, with Alec Cowan fourth.
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The L39ION of Los Angeles team referred to “uncontrolled acts of aggression” in Saturday’s races in downtown Salt Lake City, also making reference to some aggressive behaviour in the women’s race as well, and pulled both teams from competition in Sunday’s second day of racing in Salt Lake Criterium - Sugarhouse Park. The statement said this was “prioritising our team’s safety”.
Intense heat in sunny Salt Lake City reached 98F (36C), with road surface temperatures reaching 130F (54C), for Saturday’s races. Both the women’s and men’s contests were shortened from 70 minutes to 60 minutes because of the extreme weather. Ice packs were not enough, it seemed, to reduce the volatile conditions.
The men’s race featured a number of crashes, and a lot of pushing and shoving as the peloton was strung out for the final laps. On the penultimate lap, Curtis White (Best Buddies Racing) was at the front of the field and when he pulled off the L39ION train took over, with Hernandez trailing Cory Williams in seventh place.
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Chaos ensued on the final lap, as Hernandez took the inside line on the first corner and almost went down when he went into the gutter and bounced off the curb. Cory Williams was on his outside shoulder and swerved and then had to reclip his right foot into the pedal. It appeared in livestream footage that Cory Williams moved into Hernandez's shoulder which forced him toward the curb, and consequently causing the Best Buddies' racer to lose the most momentum. L39ION remained in control at the front and swept the podium.
Hernandez looked shaken when he crossed the line well back in the field, and as Magner gave his winner’s interview to the livestream camera at the finish line, Hernandez confronted Cory Williams with words. Justin Williams approached the two, and shoving became punches between Justin Williams and Hernandez. Both riders had teammates nearby who tried to pull them away, but it became a real fist fight.
“We show up to give our all; we show up to raise the level and create a sense of belonging. It’s unfortunate and troubling that we’re constantly provoked in events with no accountability," Cory Williams said on social media. "Last night at the SLC crit, a rider with a history of aggression towards L39ION made an incredibly dangerous move, diving into turn one and hooking my elbow; causing my front wheel to skip and my foot to come out of my pedals. As I was falling over from the impact, I collided with said rider. Moments later, we took 1-2-3-4-5 in the race respectively.
"The rider who collided with me was waiting to confront us at the finish line, openly sharing with our staff that he was 'going to fight me'. What should have been a moment of celebration, and could have been an opportunity for him to apologise and move on, turned into us responding to his uncontrolled aggression and resulting in us defending ourselves."
Prior to the Saturday race, Best Buddies had used choice of words on Instagram that later seemed prophetic with “ready to bring the fight again tonight”, referring to the squad not having American Criterium Cup overall men’s leader Alfredo Rodriguez on the squad for Utah, and just four riders after being “a little beat up” following the Boise Twilight.
"The fighting incident during Saturday's Salt Lake Criterium was unfortunate and does not reflect Best Buddies' core values. The Best Buddies Racing team is fully cooperating with USA Cycling to provide facts as needed and await the organization's final ruling," said Nicole Maddox, senior director of communications with Best Buddies International.
In Roanoke, Virginia two weeks ago, Hernandez won the US elite men’s criterium championship. He was second in the Sprint points classification of the American Criterium Cup standings headed into Salt Lake City, 25 points behind Brandon Feehery (Project Echelon Racing).
Rodriguez was in the men’s pro overall lead in the series after the Harlem Skyscraper Classic in June, but crashed hard in the closing laps of the Bailey Glasser Boise Twilight Criterium on July 9 and took no points. A second-place finish by Feehery trimmed his deficit to Rodriguez to just two points headed into Salt Lake City. Rodriguez would not race in Utah due to a broken collarbone, which the team said did not require surgery and his return to competition would be a race-by-race decision.
Kendall Ryan won the Saturday contest for women in Salt Lake City with Skylar Schneider finishing on the podium behind second-placed and series leader Maggie Coles-Lyster (DNA Pro Cycling).
The American Criterium Cup continues July 30 at the Northwestern Medicine Lake Bluff Criterium on day nine of the Intelligentsia Cup in Illinois.
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Jackie has been involved in professional sports for more than 30 years in news reporting, sports marketing and public relations. She founded Peloton Sports in 1998, a sports marketing and public relations agency, which managed projects for Tour de Georgia, Larry H. Miller Tour of Utah and USA Cycling. She also founded Bike Alpharetta Inc, a Georgia non-profit to promote safe cycling. She is proud to have worked in professional baseball for six years - from selling advertising to pulling the tarp. She has climbed l'Alpe d'Huez three times (not fast). Her favorite road rides are around horse farms in north Georgia (USA) and around lavender fields inProvence (France), and some mtb rides in Park City, Utah (USA).