It’s been a long time since the U.S. won an elite men’s world title.
Lawson Craddock, who will captain the U.S. selection at the UCI world road cycling championships this month in Leuven, said it’s only a matter of time before a new rainbow jersey is added to the collection.
“It’s something I’ve said a lot. I truly believe that the U.S. can have another rainbow jersey within the next five years,” Craddock said. “I think that this year in Flanders it’s the start of that process.”
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Craddock will anchor a young and impressive lineup for the U.S. elite men’s team that also includes Neilson Powless, Matteo Jorgenson, Brandon McNulty, Quinn Simmons, and U.S. national champion Joey Rosskopf. McNulty and, U.S. time trial champion, Craddock will also race the time trials.
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Craddock, hot off the Vuelta a España where he raced aggressively and helped set up teammate Magnus Cort for his third stage win Friday, said fans should get behind the elite men’s road race team.
“If you look at the team that they are bringing, it’s more or less the heavy hitters who are going to represent us in the next 10 to 15 years,” Craddock said. “For me to be part of that group is pretty special. They’re quite a bit younger than me, and I am looking forward to sharing with them whatever knowledge I have.”
‘Putting U.S. cycling back on the map’
USA Cycling has produced three rainbow jerseys in world championship road racing. Greg LeMond won two — in 1983 and 1989 — and he also won two silver medals. Lance Armstrong won in 1993.
Though there have been some other close calls, those five medals account for all the podiums by U.S. elite men in world championship road racing competition. No U.S. rider has won the elite men’s time trial worlds title. Dave Zabriskie was silver in 2006 and bronze in 2008, and Taylor Phinney was silver in 2012.
Craddock, 29, believes that a few things are stacking up to see more success in the immediate future. Many of today’s team already have experience racing at the international level in the junior and U23 ranks, and they’re all coming into their own at the WorldTour-level.
“I am really proud to be at Flanders to start something special and to help put U.S. cycling back on the map on the men’s side,” he said. “We’ve been falling behind the women, the juniors, the U23’s; they’ve been out-shining us every step of the way in the past decade or so, but finally I believe we are ready to take that next step up as a team.”
With a fresh crop of talented riders who’ve already tasted worlds success at lower levels — Simmons was the junior road race world champion in 2019 and McNulty was a junior world time trial champion in 2016 — Craddock expects big things.
“With Belgian weather, it’s pretty unpredictable. Looking at the team, we have riders who can compete. I really believe in this team we are bringing this year,” he said. “The most I’ve seen of the course is on VeloViewer and I’ve raced a bit in that area with Brabantse Pijl, so I think it’s going to be a pretty selective course with short, punchy climbs.
“Maybe winning the rainbow jersey this year is tough, but it’s not impossible,” he continued. “What we do here, and how we represent ourselves and how we race as a team, will have an impact in the next 10 to 15 years.”
Craddock hoping to end season on high
Despite winning the U.S. time trial title and punching his ticket to the Olympic Games, Craddock says it’s been a rollercoaster year for him in 2021.
“It all sounds fine and dandy when you put it like that, but it’s actually been a bit of struggle for me this year,” he told VeloNews. “I’ve barely had the chance to race consistently. It’s been hard to find a rhythm this year.
“Fortunately I’ve been at the Vuelta this year and getting something under the belt,” said Craddock, who rode into several breakaways in the Spanish grand tour. “I wouldn’t say it’s been a great year for me to be honest, so I hope to end things here at the Vuelta on a high note, and capitalize on a performance at the worlds.”
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Craddock is hoping for a repeat of 2019, when he finished off the Vuelta strong and rode to sixth in the world time trial race, just 13 seconds off the podium.
“I’d like to have a better showing than I did at the Olympics,” Craddock said of the time trial. “I am feeling really good here at the Vuelta, and the last time I did the Vuelta and the worlds, I was able to finish in the top-10 in the time trial. So I hope to do something similar, just to reaffirm my belief in myself, and show what I am capable of.”