Craddock gets chance to fly at Basque tour

The American is building toward May's Amgen Tour of California, where he was third in 2014.

GENT, Belgium (VN) — Lawson Craddock is hoping to be a major protagonist this week at Spain’s Vuelta al País Vasco (Tour of the Basque Country). Getting chances to lead in races like the Basque tour is why he switched to Cannondale in 2016.

Still only 24, Craddock is already posting impressive results in his third year at the WorldTour level. The Texan was sixth at Critérium International and rode into the top 20 in every European stage race so far this season, including 16th in a hotly contested Paris-Nice.

“It’s a brutal race that takes absolutely no prisoners,” Craddock said in a team release. “It’s been a solid spring for the team, and we are looking to build on that this week.”

That Cannondale is giving Craddock leadership in a race as hard and important as the Basque tour speaks volumes about how far he’s come. A product of the Bontrager – Livestrong team, Craddock joined Giant – Alpecin in 2014. After two years learning the ropes, including a strong ride in last year’s Vuelta a España to help Tom Dumoulin deep in the mountains, Craddock switched to Cannondale with the promise of more leadership.

“For Lawson, it’s all there for the taking,” said Cannondale sport director Charly Wegelius. “He has the talent, he is hungry for success, and he has put in the hard yards over his first couple of years as a pro.”

Craddock is part of a Cannondale makeover that includes 12 new names for 2016. Pierre Rolland, one of the team’s top signings for this season, joins Craddock as another GC leader at Basque Country this week. Michael Woods, Tom-Jelte Slagter, Alex Howes, and Simon Clarke, fifth in Monday’s opening stage, round out the squad.

Craddock is slated to line up at the Ardennes classics later this month and then will build toward next month’s Amgen Tour of California, where he’ll look to improve on his third overall in 2014. With a broad range of skillset, Wegelius said Craddock is still testing his boundaries as a rider.

“While he is starting to understand how the sport works at this level, he still does not know his limits,” Wegelius said. “It’s up to him to push himself now to find those limits, and so far he is doing a great job of that.”

Craddock made it through Monday’s first stage, safely tucked in with the GC favorites. Tuesday’s uphill finale will be the first major reshuffling.