Craddock rising: American, 21, finishes in white in California

21-year-old Bontrager rider wins the Best Young Rider jersey and finishes eighth in the GC at the Amgen Tour of California

Photo: Casey B. Gibson

Heading out the door? Read this article on the new Outside+ app available now on iOS devices for members! Download the app.

SAN FRANCISCO (VN) — One of his most impressive rides didn’t even end well. It ended in a crack high on the mountain, bleeding time to Tejay van Garderen.

But one can learn a lot about a rider in his defeat. And last week at the Amgen Tour of California, much more was learned about Lawson Craddock, the feisty Texan who rides for Bontrager.

Because you see, most young guys are thrilled to even be in the conversation of a mountain stage at a major American race. Craddock found himself at the front of the race, laboring up Mount Diablo next to van Garderen (BMC Racing) during stage 7. Did he try to hold wheels and finish in the lead group? Did he fade away? Did he attack?

He attacked. He attacked and cracked, some excruciating pedal strokes later near the pinnacle of the hors categorie Diablo. But those seconds he lost at the finish ramp? No one really cared about those seconds because in the loss, Craddock showed his mettle: Take a swing, one never knows.

“I kind of just recently found some climbing legs in me. I’m not really used to being able to climb with guys like Tejay,” Craddock said. “I was even more surprised that my legs felt really good. So why not try a move? And I did. I was surprised it was so steep at the end, but that’s racing, you know? It was incredibly cool to just attack that group.”

Cool, indeed. Bontrager was met with raised eyebrows at the 2012 Amgen Tour, as some other proven domestic teams were left out of the race. This year, 12 months removed from the revelatory ride of Joe Dombrowski (Sky) while he was in the Bontrager-Livestrong kit up Mount Baldy, no one wonders if Bontrager riders should be there, or if they should be in classes or on summer vacations.

Craddock, 21, won the Best Young Rider’s jersey at last week’s race, and two of his Bontrager teammates — Gavin Mannion and Tanner Putt — took second and third in the classification. In the GC, Craddock finished eighth, 5:24 behind winner van Garderen.

“A year ago at this race, no one knew who we were. People were doubting us even being in this race. And to come here and prove them all wrong, and to get to know some of the other guys, the more experienced guys in the peloton, not only that, you start to build a relationship,” Craddock said. “Not only that, but it’s really cool we’re being treated with respect. I think we’ve done a lot to deserve it.”

In addition to the GC pursuits of Craddock, teammate Jasper Stuyven was undaunted by the big names in the sprint finishes, taking fifth on stage 1, and Nate Brown earned the Most Courageous award for a daring ride and late attack during stage 4 into Santa Barbara.

“I think the whole team really did it this week. I’m the one standing up at the podium, but the other guys — they’re the real heroes of the week,” Craddock said. “It’s an incredible honor to be a part of such a tight group of guys. I can’t be happier with how the week went, and I’m really excited for what the rest of this year has in store for us.”

A pro contract is never assured until it’s in hand, but it’s increasingly likely for Craddock, whose ride in California turned heads. “The Bontrager kids, they have incredibly bright futures. Lawson Craddock? I’m a big fan of his,” van Garderen said. “He’s going to be taking my spot one day.”

Craddock hopes that day comes sooner, rather than later. “The young rider’s jersey — for me it’s one of my favorite jerseys to win and to wear,” he said. “I’d like to think I pull of white pretty well. I’ve been dreaming about this for my entire life. I’ve been racing bikes since I was 10. I’ve always wanted to make it to the WorldTour.

“And to have a result that has a really good shot of getting me there? It’s awesome. I love racing my bike. I love being competitive. I love to suffer. And I think that all the hard work that I’ve put in in the last 10 years is really starting to pay off.”

An American in France

What’s it like to be an American cyclist living in France? Watch to get professional road cyclist Joe Dombrowski’s view.