19 Jan 2021

Cyclist overcomes rare condition to return to World Tour

7:58 am on 19 January 2021

New Zealand cyclist Georgia Williams believes she is "fully recovered" from RED-S syndrome and ready to get back to being the rider she was three years ago.

Georgia Williams winning the women's road race in January.

Georgia Williams celebrates winning the national road race title in 2018. Photo: Photosport

In 2018 Williams won both the time trial and road race titles at the national championships in Napier before claiming a silver medal at the Gold Coast Commonwealth Games.

She retained her national time trial title 12 months later but then struggled in her third season with Mitchelton-Scott, now named Team BikeExchange.

Williams, 27, was soon diagnosed with Relative Energy Deficiency in Sport (RED-S) syndrome, a serious illness caused by not eating often food to support the amount of energy expended.

"I'm pretty much fully recovered which is really cool," Williams said.

"I'm feeling much better, my energy's good and I'm feeling good on the bike so that's cool."

The key to her recovery was eating much more food, before, after and during rides.

"Before I wasn't really eating much on the bike, which was my main problem.

"I'd maybe eat one bar or one banana for a three hour rider, but I've had to train my body to take on more food on the bike so it's up to 30-40 grams of carbs at least an hour on the bike, which helps heaps.

"It took a while for my body to get used to the fueling. Being an athlete and training for two to six hours a day you need to eat so much and I feel like I've finally got on top of it.

"Last year I was half recovered, but I think I'm fully recovered now...so I'm hoping to have a really good year."

Georgia Williams of New Zealand wins Silver in the Women's Road Race.

Georgia Williams claimed silver in the women's road race at the 2018 Gold Coast Commonwealth Games. Photo: Photosport

Her 2021 season will start at the national championships in Cambridge next month, rather than at this week's Festival of Cycling in South Australia, which she was scheduled to ride in for Team BikeExchange.

"The team put me on the start list, hoping that we'd have a New Zealand-Australian bubble," Williams said.

"We've got it one way, so I can get there, but obviously I can't get back without another two weeks in quarantine which I really don't want to do."

That is because it would mean Williams would miss the nationals, which simply is not an option.

"Nationals is always pretty important so I'm going to make sure I'm here for that.

"My team are understanding. They said 'that's fine, we understand and just stay home and do your nationals'.

"I'm flying out back to Spain two days later so that's a big goal for me for the start of the season."

Georgia Williams has been in New Zealand since the middle of November, avoiding the latest outbreak of coronavirus cases in Europe.

"It's so nice to be home for the summer and away from Covid."

A welcome change from daily life in Girona, Spain, where she is based during the World Tour season.

Georgia Williams riding for New Zealand in the women's time trial at UCI 2020 Road World Championships in Italy.

Georgia Williams riding for New Zealand in the individual time trial at the 2020 world championships in Italy. Photo: Photosport Ltd 2020

"It's totally different. It's a bit stressful really. Even just having to go to the supermarket.

"It's another world here and it's super nice. It took a while to adjust to not wearing a mask everyday, but so grateful to be back."

Once she is back in Europe, Williams will focus on the Ardennes classics early in the season and will ride in either the women's Tour of Britain in June or the Giro Rosa in July, but not the Tokyo Olympics that follow.

"At the end of 2019 we were ranked I think 32 in the world, New Zealand was, and I think we had to be top 27 I think.

"Unfortunately having the limited number of us women on the World Tour and getting results limited our points, which is such a shame because I think we could've had a good team there.

"There was talk they might reconsider because of Covid, but I haven't heard any more information on that. We would have probably qualified if the points went off last year."

That was because of the emergence of Mikayla Harvey and Niamh Fisher-Black in 2020.

"It was just me for a while [on the World Tour], which makes it pretty hard when we want to race Olympic Games and world champs events when you don't have enough points.

"We're getting there and it's so awesome to see them doing so well and hopefully it inspires some more younger Kiwis to try and make the World Tour."