MAASTRICHT, Netherlands (VN) — Lawson Craddock is an eager student of the sport. Whether it’s in the mountainous, week-long tours in Spain or the hilly Ardennes classics, the Giant-Alpecin rider is happy to be back in the classroom, in the WorldTour peloton.
His early season was blighted by a nasty crash at the Tour Down Under, but the 23-year-old American jumped back into racing, after many hours on the indoor trainer, at the Volta a Catalunya and then the Vuelta al País Vasco.
“I was really happy with how I was feeling in those two races,” he said. “Especially coming back from an injury, first race back, jumping pretty much into the deep end. Those two combined are no joke.
“Actually, I think I surprised a couple people.”
But it shouldn’t be that surprising to see a rider like Craddock, who finished third in last year’s Amgen Tour of California, perform in those one-week races. The young Texan is confident that he’s on track in the learning process toward becoming a team leader.
“Coming into the pro ranks you can’t really jump straight into [being] a grand tour contender.
“I had a pretty good race [Tour of California] last year, and I’d like to improve this year. I definitely get a chance to step into that leadership role, get a feel for how it is. It’s a huge learning process, going from domestique to leader.”
Craddock has been learning fast, and his crash in Australia seems to have strengthened his resolve. He recognizes that a good leader needs to approach racing with an open-mind, a mentality at ease with the sport’s cruel uncertainty.
“You could have a great winter, train really well, and then hit a pothole in Australia. It kind of throws everything off,” he said.
For tomorrow, in Liège-Bastogne-Liège – the oldest-running professional race – Craddock says he’ll aim to “soak up as much as I can” in his first Ardennes campaign, one that got off to a rocky start with an abandonment at Flèche Wallone.
“It’s definitely a great honor. Tomorrow’s race [Liège] is one of the most beautiful on the calendar, by far one of the most historic.
“Just to be able to be a part of it and start it, I’m really proud to do that especially seeing where I was three months ago.”
Craddock will work for teammates Warren Barguil and Tom Dumoulin, but he also hopes to add to his inventory of racing know-how, for whatever lies in the years ahead.
“It’s good to get the experience for the future. These races, you really see where the experience really helps out,” he said.
Craddock will toe the line at “La Doyenne” with optimism, mixed with a healthy dose of trepidation, however, and Sunday’s rainy forecast will only make the brutally hilly 253 kilometers that much harder.
“You don’t come to Liège as a training race or something. … These races, definitely, they’re no joke.”