“It’s been three weeks of pain,” Craddock said Saturday as he wiped away the emotion. “I fought tooth and nail for the last three weeks. A lot of relief right now, for sure.”
Craddock started the Tour’s final time trial first, which means he was last on GC. The “laterne rouge” will be an American who didn’t come to the Tour to become a media star for his ability to endure suffering and pain that would have sent many riders packing home.
Craddock’s three-week struggle across France became a worldwide sensation. The finish line Sunday will be even sweeter.
“I started the Tour in tears of sadness when I crashed the first day,” Craddock said. “It’s just really pure joy crossing the finish line today and I am excited to make it to Paris.”
Craddock’s Tour became 21 stages of challenges and readjusted finish lines. Cobblestones became mountains and the Alps turned into the Himalayas.
Drawing on his “Texas tough” roots and vowed to push on. Each stage was a contest onto its own. The goal wasn’t Paris, but that day’s finish line.
“It’s not the Tour that I imagined,” he said. “I wasn’t sure I could make it this far and it wasn’t easy.”
Craddock hit a water bottle in the feed zone of the Tour’s first stage. He was barely a few hours into what was meant to be a three-week loop around France. Back for his second Tour start, Craddock was keen on helping the team’s larger goal.
“Almost every day presented a new challenge,” he said. “The first few days were incredibly painful. I felt like almost every day something was added and something was taken away. It was a rollercoaster.”
Team doctors, staffer, mechanics, soigneurs and teammates rallied around Craddock. Cleared of any health risks or concussion worries, he pushed on.
After he crashed heavily on his face and back, fracturing a shoulder blade and suffering cuts and scrapes, his Tour was reduced to stages, to feed zones, to kilometers. Images of a bloodied and brave Craddock were beamed around the world.
He started a fund-raising campaign to gather support to help rebuild his childhood velodrome in his hometown of Houston. The “Craddock Story” resonated around the world.
“I am completely overjoyed to cross the finish line,” he said. “Today was the final test. I am excited to be in Paris tomorrow.”
Craddock’s family, wife and friends will be waiting for him in the City of Light. Saturday’s time trial was the final mountain. Sunday’s parade will feel like a victory.
“It was a really testing and challenging Tour,” he said. “We pushed it until the very end. Even though it wasn’t as a successful Tour as he had hoped in terms of victories, we can be proud of what we accomplished. Tomorrow will be incredibly emotional.”
Last place will feel like first for Craddock and his three-week personal campaign to Paris.