Lily Williams put her summer form to the test and took victory in the points classification at the MerXam Classic in Belgium. The American dominated the early stages of the race, winning two of three intermediate sprints decisively before teenage compatriot Kaia Schmid sprinted to fifth in the final bunch kick.
“It was nice to take the points today as it’s something I’ve been tasked with the last couple of races,” Williams said afterwards from Merksam. “Making it work this time feels like good progress although overall podiums are what we want to be able to deliver as well,” she added on the end-of-season objectives.
“There were some attacks leading into the second sprint so after sitting on Henri for probably a 4km chop (legend), I was able to just tag wheels and grab the second sprint as well,” she explains, “Then there were four up the road for the final sprint so we were able to relax and let them take the points.”
Now in its third edition, the history of the MerXem Classic shows that it has been a proving ground for sprinters, with the former winners being Lorena Wiebes and Lotte Kopecky when they were both in their early twenties. This year’s race had a large contingent of American riders, something Williams enjoys.
“It was funny to race against so many Americans for the first time this year,” she says. “It’s great to see such a handful of skilled riders mixing it up in the bunch with their own teams and strategies.”
It has been a testing debut year in the Women’s WorldTour but Williams has seen plenty of growth.
“We have been working hard all year to perform in this peloton and we are looking forward to really capitalizing in the coming seasons on what we have gained in our first European season.”
MerXem Classic sprints standings
1 WILLIAMS Lily – Human Powered Health 10pts
2 MCMULLEN Rylee – InstaFund Racing 8
3 UIJEN Elise – Team DSM 3
4 PERSICO Silvia – Valcar Travel & Service 2
5 BARALE Francesca – Team DSM | REISSNER Lena Charlotte – IBCT | CLEVENGER Erica – United States 1
Schmid puts bad luck behind her
Having secured the points classification, the objective turned to Schmid and the bunch sprint. With the break up the road, the team pulled to assist in the chase. The 19-year-old surfed Williams’ wheel in the final kilometer before starting her sprint early from far back and going all out to the line for a fifth-place finish.
The result is an affirming moment for Schmid who has had to contend with a series of setbacks including three months of mono, knocking her front teeth out at Tulsa Tough, a bout of COVID and an unfortunate final corner crash at Friday nights Konvert Kortrijk Koerse.
“It has definitely been a tough season,” Schmid said afterwards, “but it made me even more motivated for today. All I needed was a little good luck on my side which allowed me to sprint for fifth which indicates that things are heading in the right direction.”
The young American has had a lot to contend with in her first professional season but has managed to stay resilient throughout.
“Everyone has seasons where nothing seems to go right,” she said. “To stay resilient, I just try to not focus on things that are out of my control. I keep in mind that I am still young and I have a lot of time to develop.”
The teenager’s way of dealing with the various setbacks is a piece of advice that extends far beyond sport and into anyone’s daily life.
“Lately, I’ve been focusing on small successes. Although they may not be noticed by anyone but me, they keep me motivated and indicate good things are coming.”
The MerXem Classic was Schmid’s final European race of the year but she says she will take a large amount of confidence into 2023.
“This result indicates that I can contest in a sprint at an international level. I am confident that once we build a proper lead-out train next season the podium is near.”
MerXem Classic result
1 GASPARRINI Eleonora Camilla – Valcar Travel & Service 2:47:47
2 JASTRAB Megan – Team DSM ”
3 PERSICO Silvia – Valcar Travel & Service ”
4 DE WILDE Julie – Plantur-Pura ”
5 SCHMID Kaia – Human Powered Health ”
6 SCHNEIDER Skylar – United States ”
7 VAN HAAFTEN Kirstie – Parkhotel Valkenburg ”
8 BURI Fabienne – Andy Schleck – CP NVST – Immo Losch ”
9 BAKKER Minke – Bingoal Casino – Chevalmeire – Van Eyck Sport ”
10 CUMMINS Olivia – LUX/CTS p/b Specialized ”
Next on the road, the women’s squad will race in France at the Kreizh Breizh Elite Féminin on August 25 before the WWT.1 Classic Lorient Agglomération – Trophée Ceratizit (formerly known as the GP Plouay) two days later.