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Last season didn’t go according to plan for Lawson Craddock.
The EF Education First-Drapac rider closed out 2017 without a single top-10 finish. He will look to put all that behind him this season — but that doesn’t mean 2017 was a lost year.
“Honestly I feel like I could write a book about what I learned in 2017. It was a rough year in 2017 all around. Cycling, personally, everything snowballed together,” Craddock told VeloNews.
Craddock’s well-rounded skill set put him on the map as an up-and-coming GC prospect years ago. He stepped up in a big way in 2016. Still just 24, he delivered top-10 finishes in the Vuelta al Páis Vasco, Critérium International, and the Amgen Tour of California.
2017 was supposed to be his shot at an encore, but as Craddock said last fall, he “over-cooked it” in training and also dealt with personal issues. He might have preferred to come away with results, but he did at least pick up plenty of valuable knowledge along the way. The rough patch taught him the importance of tuning out background noise and sticking to his plans.
“The biggest thing that I learned was just to listen to myself. You could have a hundred people telling you what they think is the best thing for you, but the best person in the world that can answer those questions is you personally,” he said.
“I’m placing a priority on what I personally think is right for me. It’s made a huge difference so far, and I had a great last few months. I feel like I’ve flipped a switch to my life and I’m ready to get back on track and become the cyclist that I know I’m capable of being.”
His tough year also gave him a bit of perspective. With his contract expiring and Slipstream’s very existence threatened by sponsorship woes, Craddock wasn’t sure he’d have a WorldTour ride for 2018 at one point last year.
EF Education First ultimately stepped in to save the squad, and Craddock signed a new deal. During the stretch of uncertainty about his future, he was reminded of why he rides his bike for a living.
“That’s one thing where I look back on 2017 and appreciate it for. It rekindled my love for the sport,” Craddock said. “It made me take a step back and realize how lucky I am to be doing this. It gives me a pretty big fire in my belly to keep moving forward and keep being the rider that I can be.”
That fire has Craddock training especially hard this winter, while staying committed to having fun doing it. His approach to racing, however, may look the same.
“It’s something that I rediscovered at the end of the season last year,” he said. “Going to these races where I wasn’t targeting GC or anything, you start going into these breakaways that you know will be doomed nine times out of 10, or 99 times out of a hundred they won’t make it, but you just race your bike. It brings this youthful sense of excitement back to the sport. That’s something I’m looking to target in 2018, that sense of true enjoyment of racing your bike.”
In the season ahead, Craddock hopes to get back on track in his development as a stage racer. He did not race a grand tour in 2017, but said he’d love to get a chance to do so this season. Craddock says that probably starts with finding success in the one-week events and then building up to the grand tour opportunities. Whatever chances he gets, he isn’t taking things for granted.
“I know full well that I’m capable of racing hard for three weeks,” Craddock said. “If that’s going to a grand tour this year and playing a support role for another rider and hunting for stage wins or whatever, I’m just going to take it as it comes and make the best out of the situation.”
Craddock raced the Tour de France in 2016. Returning this summer will be challenging because of fierce competition within the team. Rigoberto Urán rode to second overall last season and is gunning for a big result again this year. Craddock has some ground to cover if he wants to show he’s worthy of selection for the Tour, whether that’s this year or sometime in the future. He’s ready to give it his best shot.
“If you can prove yourself at the Tour de France that’s about as good as it gets,” he said. “I’m going to work my ass off to be there and I’m going to do everything in my power to make sure that I’ll have success for this year.”
Craddock will officially get his season underway at the Abu Dhabi Tour toward the end of February.