Justin Williams doesn’t often find himself out of position, but that’s exactly where the back-to-back Road and Criterium National Champion stood entering the final stretch of the Saint Francis Tulsa Tough Men’s Pro 1 Criterium on Saturday.
As he turned the final corner in the Tulsa Arts District, Williams was in second place and outside of the spot he so hoped to be tucked into. Yet suddenly, with the help of his Legion of Los Angeles teammates, Williams flipped the script and surged ahead.
He made a final push and eked out the victory.
“I came out of that final turn and got where I wanted and then I got a little bit of a run on the guy next to me,” he said. “The rest is history.”
Williams came from behind to earn a first-place finish in the crash-filled race. The Californian’s win marked his second in as many days after he took the Blue Dome Criterium on Friday night, and it positions him as the Omnium leader entering the final leg Sunday, the River Parks Criterium.
Sam Bassetti (Santa Rosa, California), the runner-up Friday, once again finished in second place. Ulises Castillo Soto of Mexico claimed third.
Saturday’s final criterium race featured two massive crashes that served to wipe out a significant portion of the field from contention.
The first collision came with 12 laps remaining when a cyclist lost his edge on a turn and effectively took nearly 30 riders out of the race.
The second incident occurred 100 yards into the final lap and Williams, leading for a significant portion of the race, narrowly avoided disaster. No major injuries were reported.
The collision left in Williams’ wake, though, did cause the defending national champion to lose the lead on the final lap, forcing a frantic push in the homestretch. The 30-year-old from Los Angeles came around the final corner in second place and, thanks to an assist from teammates — including his brother, Cory — pulled ahead and emerged as the winner.
In the moments following the race, Williams was eager to direct credit toward his teammates.
“I’ve got a really young, really hungry group behind me,” Williams said. “They’re out here to prove themselves and to earn the respect they deserve. They’re really great at seeing what’s happening in the field and adjusting right away. They kept me out of trouble and that gave me a really good chance of winning.”
In the Women’s Pro 1/2 Criterium, Australian cyclist Peta Mullens burst ahead of the pack on the final lap to claim the victory. Mullens was followed by fellow Roxsolt Attaquer team rider Josie Talbot (Australia), who finished third overall at Tulsa Tough in 2018.
Samantha Schneider (West Allis, Wisconsin), the Women’s Pro winner Friday night, placed third and maintains the overall lead headed into Sunday’s finale.
The Men’s Cat III race earlier in the afternoon offered a virtual repeat of Friday night’s tightly contested duel in the Blue Dome Criterium between Luke Feuerhelm (Le Mars, Iowa) and Tim Smith (St. Louis) — a thriller won by Feuerhelm — the pair once again left the competition in the dust Saturday and traded places at the top throughout, with Smith ultimately prevailing in a photo finish.
Smith’s win brought the riders even on points entering Sunday’s race, which they will each enter as favorites to take home the overall championship. Dallas’ Gabriel Ortiz finished in third place well off the pace.
In the Men’s Cat 1/2 category, Dante Young outlasted the pack to earn his first Tulsa Tough victory in his second appearance in the event. Finishing just behind the Los Angeles native were Aidan Coats-Ballseux (Denver) in second and David Irwin (Dallas) in third.
Williams, who has scorched each of the two courses he has raced on thus far in Tulsa, heads into Sunday’s race up Crybaby Hill and along Riverside Drive in the pole position.
A veteran of the Tulsa Tough, Williams said he planned to make a stop at the Dilly Diner on 2nd Street as part of his post-race agenda, and he’ll be able to do so with the comfort knowing he’s only one race away from taking home the overall title.
“It’s definitely a bit of a relief,” Williams said. “There’s a lot of pressure to win. My guys sacrifice their race and their bodies for me, so getting the job done for them is a big relief. Having the lead is definitely a good way to head into that final race.”
Tulsa Tough will conclude Sunday beginning at 7:30 a.m. with the Gran Fondo and Double Tough races through Gilcrease Hills and Skiatook Lake before the River Parks Criterium through Crybaby Hill which will start at 8 a.m.