PASADENA, Calif. (VN) — When Lawson Craddock crossed the line at Mountain High, shattered from the effort of the day’s stage, he did not yet know he’d ridden his way back onto the podium at the Amgen Tour of California. It was a hot, fast race on Friday that splintered the field and saw riders crossing the line one by one, but Craddock didn’t crack under the pressure.
The Texan knows something about heat, and he came to the California race with big hopes. After three years in the U23 ranks, Craddock made the jump to the WorldTour. He’s in his first year riding for Giant-Shimano, and while his early success in the sport may be bringing big expectations, Craddock seems to be thriving.
“It was my goal coming into this race, and I knew it would definitely be tough to do,” Craddock said. “Just to be sitting here in third, it’s just a dream come true. Hopefully, I can finish it off.”
Now 22 years old, Craddock is riding the Tour of California for the third time. He says it’s one of his favorite races and it’s easy to see why. Each year in California, Craddock has taken a step up the rankings. While riding for Bontrager-Livestrong in 2012, Craddock scored two top-10 stage finishes. He also had an attention-grabbing 12th-place finish in the time trial. It was an auspicious start, but Craddock was ready to better it when he returned.
In 2013, Craddock showed that he could contend for the general classification. He showed well on the climbing stages with top-10 finishes at Palm Springs and Mount Diablo, and he did not wilt in the beating desert heat of Palm Springs. He finished eighth overall and took home the young rider’s jersey.
“It’s really exciting, it’s my third year doing this race,” he said. “[I’ve just been] improving every year and it just speaks leaps and bounds about my development. I’m making my way up and hopefully, I still have a lot of room to improve on.”
Craddock’s performance in California matches the overall upward trajectory of his career. He began winning early. He demanded that his parents remove his training wheels at age 2, and rode his first race at age 10. Craddock is a past junior national champion on the road and in the time trial. Last year, he rode to a fourth at U.S. nationals and a fifth at U23 worlds in 2013.
Time trials have typically been Craddock’s strong suit, but last year he began a determined effort to improve his climbing. It seems to have worked. Craddock has shined in the climbs at this year’s Tour of California. After he came out of the Folsom time trial in 12th overall, Craddock finished third on Mount Diablo the following day. That performance sent him rocketing up the classification.
When small splits opened up in the field at the finish in Cambria, Craddock dropped to fourth overall, but a strong ride on the climb to Mountain High put him back on the podium. Craddock didn’t have the best day on Friday, but bike racing isn’t always about the legs. The young Texan kept his head together, gutted it out, and finished 10th.
“It was really tough,” he said. “I suffered a lot yesterday. My legs weren’t that great. I just had to fight through the pain and get to the finish.”
Craddock has a 14-second lead over Tiago Machado. Tour of Turkey winner Adam Yates also sits within striking distance at 26 seconds. The battle between Craddock and Yates over the young rider’s jersey is also tight, and Craddock especially wants to defend the prize he won last year.
“After winning it last year, I knew I wanted to get some more Crunchies,” he said. “I have a little bit of a gap over Adam Yates. It’s not going to be easy these last couple of days, but it’s looking good.”
Craddock heads back to Europe on Monday, where he will ride the Bayern Rundfahrt. He’s also scheduled to ride the Tour de Suisse, which will be his first WorldTour race. If all goes well, he may well have a Tour of California podium finish and the young rider’s jersey tucked into his luggage.
“Talking to my coach about my goals for the race, definitely the podium came up a lot,” he said. “Just the fact that I might make it a reality is really special for me.”