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Which under-23 Bontrager rider — Lawson Craddock or Nate Brown — had the better 2013 season? Too close to call.
Craddock, who hails from Texas, placed in the top 10 at both the Amgen Tour of California and the USA Pro Challenge in Colorado, taking the best young rider’s jersey in California. He also won a stage of Tryptique des Monts et Chateaux, in France, finishing second overall.
Brown, who is from Memphis, won the overall at the UCI 2.2 Tour de Beauce, ahead of riders like Francisco Mancebo and Philip Deignan, and finished second at the U23 version of Liège-Bastogne- Liège.
Both riders have been part of the Bontrager team for several years, and USA Cycling’s athletics director, Jim Miller, coaches both. At the elite national time trial championship in May, Brown finished third and Craddock fourth; the difference between them was less than one second.
Even when playing video games, their favorite off-the-bike pastime, they’re evenly matched.
And though this is an award for performances on domestic soil, we looked to the world U23 championships as a tiebreaker. No luck.
Craddock crashed on the cobblestones near the finish of the time trial in Florence, and still managed to place fifth, the top American; Brown finished 21st. Brown was the top American in the U23 road race, launching a valiant solo effort to take bronze in the final 2km, though he was reeled in just before the line, and finished 13th; Craddock did not finish.
Given the fact that Craddock and Brown are best friends, and often roommates, we felt inclined to honor them both.
“If there’s one person I don’t mind losing to, it’s Nate,” Craddock said. “We’re best friends, we train together and we pushed each other a lot during the off-season. If he wasn’t motivated, I would motivate him, or if I wasn’t motivated, he’d get me out on the bike and we’d pound out five hours together.”
Even in 2014, they’re on equal, if different, footing — Craddock has signed with Argos-Shimano, while Brown has signed with Garmin-Sharp. When they’re not racing, they’ll be roommates again, in Europe.