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The Texan on BikeExchange-Jayco attacked out of the group on the penultimate climb to ride through a sea of Basque fans, and only a tactical ride by Marc Soler spoiled the ending.
“I played my cards and it didn’t quite work out,” Craddock said at the line. “It was a tough stage. We wanted to be in the breakaway to control the bigger moves, and when the move went, I got in there.”
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The big move across Spain’s rugged coastline in the Basque Country had everything in play, with the stage win and even the red jersey.
Craddock jumped early on the penultimate climb, but later questioned his own tactic because he admitted he lacked a bit of extra fuel in the late moments of the stage.
“That circuit suited me a little bit, but maybe I didn’t race too smart. I wanted to get ahead of the break on the [penultimate] climb and maybe I spent a little too much energy on that,” Craddock said.
“I tried to get a head start, and maybe in the end I should have just saved it for the last lap,” he said. “I want to thank the team for giving me the opportunity to be there, and hopefully I can recover as best as possible for tomorrow.”
Fifth on the stage is Craddock’s best grand tour result since he was third in stage 10 in the 2018 Vuelta.
Craddock in a sea of Basque fans: ‘I will remember that for a long time’
Craddock, who is here to help Simon Yates ride for GC, snuck into the big breakaway to give BikeExchange-Jayco a presence in the potentially dangerous move.
Craddock was feeling good and jumped to ride through a throng of cheering fans on the first of two passages over the closing climb.
“That was truly an incredible experience to ride through the fans like that. I love racing in this area,” he said. “This is my favorite region to race in and a lot of that has to do with the Basque fans. I will remember that for a long time.”
That effort cost him a bit on the final passage, and he was gapped as Soler attacked off the front.
Craddock wisely tapped on in his own tempo to regain contact with the leaders going into the closing kilometers on the flats into Bilbao.
Soler held a slender lead, and the chasing group remained uncommitted. That opened the door for Soler to hang on for the win.
“A few guys went off the front, and I tried to jump across, but we were so close to Soler and when you are so close to the finish, no one wants to commit,” Craddock said.
“You’re racing for second. Either you commit and don’t make it, or you save and then you’re sprinting for second. It’s a tough situation like that,” he said.
“We were doing our best to close the gap to Soler. It’s easy to say ‘should have done this,’ ‘should have done that.’ But in the end, Soler did a good move, and hat’s off to him.”
The fifth-place points will also help BikeExchange-Jayco in its quest to secure its WorldTour future and the hunt for UCI points.
The big ride came as Craddock was confirmed as part of the USA Cycling team for the Australian worlds next month.
“It’s a quick turnaround after the Vuelta, but every time you get selected to represent the United States, it’s a big honor to wear that jersey,” he said.