Lawson Craddock (Giant-Shimano) might be a neo-pro, but he’s been knocking around European races since he was 15 years old.
Now 22, he’s no bright-eyed kid thrown to the wolves. His experiences racing with USA Cycling’s U23 team, as well as with the Bontrager and Trek-LiveStrong development teams, are already paying dividends in his rookie pro season.
Following a busy spring racing in Europe, Craddock delivered a solid performance at the Amgen Tour of California, riding to third overall, behind Bradley Wiggins and Rohan Dennis, and winning the best young rider’s jersey for a second year.
After spending the Fourth of July with family and friends at home in Texas — Craddock is very much a Texan — the Giant-Shimano rider returned to Europe earlier this month for the second half of the season. He has eyes on racing the Vuelta a España, as well as the world championships in Spain. It’s all part of Craddock’s steady evolution as a rider many believe can evolve into a true GC contender in the coming years.
VeloNews caught up with Craddock by telephone to talk about California, his first experiences in the Belgian trenches, and fashion tips from his teammate, Marcel Kittel. Here are excerpts from the interview:
VN: So you’ve recently returned to Europe; what did you do back home?
LC: After the Tour de Suisse, I went back to Texas. I think all year long, I’ve been home a total of four or five days, so I needed a bit of a break. I spent a lot of time with family and friends. I went down to Galveston for the Fourth of July. It was a good time.
VN: You had plenty of racing days, nearly 50, before taking your break, I can imagine you were ready to get home?
LC: It’s true, I’ve had plenty of race days. I think through the Tour de Suisse, I had 43 race days. That’s how much in total I raced last year. I’ve been racing a fair amount. It’s been great. I’ve had a balanced schedule in the spring. I started off easy, and I did some races that I couldn’t fully excel in, but I learned a lot. It’s better to start off like that, and I think it’s all paid off.
VN: You had some races on your calendar, like the Dubai Tour, or the Three Days of De Panne, hardly up your alley …
LC: Those are good, hard races, especially in Belgium. Not a lot of people have even heard of them, but you’re 200km in the gutter in Belgium. It builds fitness. It taught me a lot about position, how to save energy, how to move around. It all pays off. They’re brutal races. People don’t understand how hard they are. There are four hours before the TV comes on, and it’s all groups of 10 or 15. It all comes together in the end, but it’s hard to get into that front group. It makes you stronger.
VN: Overall, how has the transition into the pro ranks for you so far?
LC: I was racing with Bontrager, and with the U23 team, so that’s helped me in the best possible way for these races. I’ve been traveling internationally since I was 15. I am living on my own now, and that’s different than being in the USA Cycling house, but all those experiences helped smooth the way. It’s been tough being away from my home, from my parents, my girlfriend. Everyone is really supporting us. I am living with Nathan Brown (Garmin-Sharp), and we’ve been racing together since we were 15.
VN: You’re living in Girona, did you inherit one of those old apartments that guys like Jonathan Vaughters used to live in, or did you find your own place?
LC: I live right in the city center. I lucked out, and got a place in a real good location. There are a ton of cyclists living here. The riding is awesome. There’s good food, good transport, and it’s a really great city. I ended up having contact with a real estate guy that’s worked with some of the Garmin guys, and he had a new place for us, and it’s just worked out great.
VN: How much did your experience on the U23 team help you transition to the pros?
LC: Since I was 15, they’ve done so much to help me. There’s no way I’d be here without their help. I have a deep connection to the U.S. team, and any chance I get to race for the American team, I will take it. I certainly don’t expect to get any preferential treatment, and I’ve worked hard to get where I am. I certainly have had huge support from USA Cycling, from Bontrager, and everyone else who’s supported me.
VN: Does it help being on a team like Giant-Shimano, which is quite international compared to how some of the Belgian or French teams are?
LC: Having all the international guys on the team probably helps us more than hurts us. It’s not 14 Germans and one American. Everyone is forced to bond together. Everyone is relatively young on the team. The success we’ve been having just shows how well we all work together.
VN: What’s it like racing with a guy like Marcel Kittel?
LC: Dubai was the only race I’ve done with him. I’ve raced more with [John] Degenkolb. They’re both really great guys. You would never expect it from a guy who won four stages at the Tour, but Marcel is real easy to work with. He’s a super-friendly guy, and that makes you want to do that extra effort to help the team win.
VN: Any hair tips from Marcel?
LC: No, but he did tell me to shave my armpits. There are limits [laughs]. And there’s no euro-style man purse, either. I am not sure how that would go over in Texas.
VN: You scored a huge result with the podium and the best young rider at the Amgen Tour of California, was that more than you were expecting?
LC: At the beginning of the season, I sat down and put down two goals. One was starting and finishing a grand tour, and the other was the podium at California. I wouldn’t say I was surprised, because I was happy to be there. I worked hard for it. It was a really good experience. You learn a lot about yourself, and I could show the team my potential. It’s a whole new world of suffering. You’re excited, you’re competing against the best in the world, and you’re racing for the win. That’s what you’ve been working for all these years.
VN: Any quality time with Sir Bradley?
LC: [laughs]. I didn’t talk to Wiggins. An Olympic champion, and a Tour de France winner, he was just there on business. The way he won the race, there was no doubt about that.
VN: Was the California field the deepest you’ve faced so far, or was there another race that was even more impressive for you?
LC: There’s no doubt that California is a great race. There were eight spots on the team, and 20 guys from our team wanted to race there. Everyone wants to race in America. I think the Tour de Suisse was even harder. Nine days was the longest I’ve ever raced. I’ve never been on the bike nine days in a row like that. It was my first World Tour race. You realize the depth of the field. I realized there is a whole other level I have to step up to if I want to be competitive at the highest level of the sport. It was just as hard in stage 9 as it was in stage 1. I need to learn how to race hard for nine days, and then 21 days. It’s a series of little things. Staying off your feet. Drinking 1.5 liters of water every night so you make sure you’re hydrated. Eating right. Resting. It’s a whole process. It’s not just showing up to a bike race, getting on your bike, and going hard. There is so much stuff you have to focus on.
VN: Speaking of the Fourth of July, did you watch the Tour? If the Tour is part of your future, there will not be many Fourth of Julys at home for a while …
LC: I downloaded the NBC app, and I followed it. I would watch the last five kilometers on the phone. The race looked like utter chaos. There is no rush to get to the Tour. I’d rather make sure I am can be competitive at a little bit lower level, before I step up to the highest level. As long as I feel like I am developing, at the right pace, taking the right steps, that’s the most important thing.
VN: Any news yet on the Vuelta a España?
LC: I am on the long list for the Vuelta. The team hasn’t made any final decisions yet. Ever since California, I’ve been thinking about trying to make the Vuelta squad. I hope so. I want to race it. I think the team will make its final decision after the Vuelta a Burgos.
VN: How are you coming back into the second half of the season? You raced the Clásica San Sebastián, and next the Burgos tour …
LC: Mentally, I am still fresh. When I was home, I got to hang out with my girlfriend, but I really trained hard over the past month at home. Basically, I went around Austin, and just tried to crush as many [Strava records] as I could. People were getting mad when they saw my Stravas. It was just really enjoyable to be at home.
VN: What would be your role if you were selected for the Vuelta?
LC: If I were to go to the Vuelta, I want to try to finish the thing. The team will have its leaders. Degenkolb for the sprints and [Warren] Barguil for the GC. If I go, I will be there to help Warren in the GC, and John in the sprints. I think Warren can go well on the GC. He wants to be up there. He won two stages last year, and he saw what guys like [Thibaut] Pinot and [Romain] Bardet did in the Tour. I think he’s on his way of becoming a great GC contender. He’ll be giving it a real shot at the Vuelta. He’s a phenomenal rider.
VN: Does the success of relatively young riders like Pinot fuel your personal ambitions?
LC: For sure. To see other guys my age doing well is a big motivator. The Yates brothers, to see what they’re doing, that’s definitely motivating. There is a new generation coming up. There is a pretty big age gap on the Tour podium, with guys like [Vincenzo] Nibali and [Jean-Christophe] Peraud. Then there’s Pinot, he’s just 24. You have this crop of young riders coming up. We’ve all raced against each for the past couple of years. To see them get success, you think that could be you up there as well. I’ve been having a great neo-pro year, but I am still hungry. I still want to have success in the remainder of my season.