How Lawson Craddock wrote his ticket to the WorldTour ranks

  
  


by Mary Topping
 
Craddock is all smiles after winning the junior 10-12 criterium national title in 2004
Craddock is all smiles after winning the junior 10-12 criterium national title in 2004
The future couldn’t come fast enough for the two and a half year-old Lawson Craddock.
 
“Anything his older brother did, Lawson thought he was fully capable of doing the same although he was 21 months younger,” his mother Ellen Craddock says.
 
So when brother Parker removed training wheels from his bike Lawson decided he didn’t need them either. Extraneous wheels and weight gone, Ellen Craddock positioned him at the top of a small neighborhood hill and watched him fly. She wasn’t overly worried.
 
“Lawson didn’t care if he fell or not anyway,” Ellen said. “He kind of lived on the edge a bit.”
 
Later on the brothers contended for a spot on dad’s tandem to catch the early morning breeze before climbing onto the school bus.
 
Now 21 years-old, this coming January Lawson Craddock will take off to a training camp with his new Dutch-based UCI WorldTour team, Argos-Shimano, after spending the holidays with his family.
 
“It’s going to be sad,” he said, about leaving.
 
But he’s ready. He has prepared for long periods away from home since age 16 when he first spent several weeks at a USA Cycling European race camp. Since then he’s attended multiple camps, raced on the U.S. national team in Europe, and worn world championship medals.
 
“That’s always the hardest thing, being away from home and not having your parents there,” he said, speaking about the camps. “But that’s the way cycling is and if you are going to make it you just have to be able to get used to it. It’s great that USA Cycling gives everyone those opportunities.”
 
Opportunities only make a difference if a person seizes them. Craddock has made the most of USA Cycling’s development program offerings and other opportunities over the past eleven years, parlaying them not only into personal success but also future success for American cycling on the world stage.
 
European enrichment
Ster van Zuid Limburg success in 2010
Ster van Zuid Limburg success in 2010

 
When Craddock first raced his bike under blue skies at a Houston velodrome at age 10, USA Cycling’s national development program had celebrated its third birthday and the funding arm of the program, the USA Cycling Development Foundation, was just two.
 
Craddock became a member of the Northwest Cycling Club and participated in road and track national championship events. 
 
At 14 years-old he attended his first regional development camp, an entry point into the USA Cycling national development pathway. He must have enjoyed himself. As Craddock told it, the next year he entered a contest for a grant to the regional camp in Lubbock, Texas. He powered out the fastest time in the region on a CompuTrainer simulated course.
 
“I was able to go to the camp for free, and that’s actually really what kind of kick-started it all for me,” he remembers.
 
The next summer at junior track nationals the sixteen year-old’s scratch race impressed USA Cycling’s then Junior Programs Manager, Benjamin Sharp. “It was really aggressive,” he says, “kind of ‘throw caution to the wind.’”
 
Perhaps Sharp saw what lay underneath the multiple attacks, glances at competitors’ faces, and final all-out sprint to win, what Craddock calls one of his greatest strengths: “my desire to go out and win.” 
 
Lawson was 5th in the TT at U23 Road Worlds this year, even after crashing.
Lawson was 5th in the TT at U23 Road Worlds this year, even after crashing.

That was the year he attended his first European camp and he sought support to get there. After requesting a small donation from his Northwest team, the club stepped up, covering most of the cost.
 
Since nearly all the camp juniors aim for careers as professional cyclists, their goal guides camp curriculum. Based at USA Cycling’s training facility, juniors race and also learn practical things like how to change money. According to Sharp, they “start to build a little bit of self-reliance” and “get their feet wet so they know what to expect when there’s a little bit of pressure on them as 17 to 18 year-olds.”
 
Craddock says in Europe campers learn about a bike racing culture unlike that in America. He pointed out that local Texas races draw 20 to 30 juniors while in Belgium 200 show up. With that many elbows flying on smaller roads, it’s much more aggressive and chaotic. “It helps you get better over there and better here too,” he concludes.
 
USA Cycling Development Foundation’s Director Steve McCauley views European racing as essential for achieving the foundation and development program mission: growing athletes who can succeed at the international level, most importantly in the Olympics. Olympic sport development in the U.S. is not funded by tax dollars, McCauley states. “That’s why we exist – to raise money to support athlete development.”
 
As a junior Craddock earned world championship silver and bronze medals in the 2009 and 2010 individual time trials.
 
Just like earlier years, he still nurtured an approach that his mother and Sharp agree fuels his success.
 
Work hard, play hard
 
Ellen and Tom Craddock tried to keep cycling fun for their young sons. “Life gets serious so fast,” she emphasizes.
 
In her sons’ younger days she drove them with other kids to competitions, which they took very seriously. “But their downtime was all about being boys, Ellen Craddock says. “They could always find a game.” In high-rise hotels, elevator tag was a favorite. Bing! Gotcha!
 
The search for fun continued in Europe.
 
Between 2010 races in Germany and Switzerland Sharp drove the junior national team to a ropes course. It was closed.
 
“We were kind of disappointed but salvaged it by playing capture the flag in the middle of these Swiss mountains,” Craddock recalls. “It was awesome. I’m never going to forget that experience.”
 
Sharp, who is currently USA Cycling’s High Performance Director of Endurance Programs, attributes Craddock’s success in no small part to his ability to handle the expectations of early achievement with a “lighthearted joie de vivre…There’s no question he works hard and trains hard. He’s very coachable. But he’s also able to balance that with just enjoying living.”
 
“I think the biggest thing I’ve really learned from camps and trips with USA Cycling is how to keep the sport fun,” Craddock says. “I want to be in the sport for the next 20 years and the only way I’m going to do that is if I continue to have fun with it.”
 
Craddock was 18 in 2010. In 2011 he joined the Trek-Livestrong continental outfit from the Hot Tubes junior team and moved up to the U23 development level.
 
Becoming pro
 

At the first USA Cycling U23 camp which carries the nickname “rookie camp,” cyclists cover other topics in addition to racing, like financial planning. The primary objective of this age group’s camps, Sharp says, “is just teaching them how to live and race in Europe and how to become professional.”
 
Craddock made the selection for U23 world championships in 2011. The same year he won the time trial stage of Le Triptyque des Monts et Chateaux, a premier U23 race in Belgium where he’d get second overall in 2013.
 
Sharp says cyclists in the development program have access to just about anything they could need. In 2013 USA Cycling arranged aerodynamic testing for Craddock. The rider believes that visit helped him improve his time trial results this year – at world’s he finished fifth despite crashing. USA Cycling’s Vice President of Athletics Jim Miller coached him in 2013; under his guidance Craddock realized results such as best young rider in the Tour of California. 
 
Ellen Craddock points to mentorship as a significant benefit of the USA Cycling development program. It’s important, she believes, for young cyclists to reach beyond their family support system as they advance. Relationships with experts at USA Cycling like Miller fill that need. She’s been confident that her son is “in great hands.”
 
Graduation
 
Best Young Rider at the Amgen Tour of California
Best Young Rider at the Amgen Tour of California
Next year the new Argos-Shimano rider will live in Girona with another development program graduate, Nate Brown. Craddock especially looks forward to “going out there and just hammering down on the road with 150 guys that are a lot better than me. It’s going to be a great experience and I’m really looking forward to becoming the best cyclist I can possibly be.”
 
He’s also got his eye on making his team’s Vuelta a Espana squad and eventually tackling the Tour de France.
 
Becoming a world champion is another goal. Ten years ago the sight of his best friend circling the track in a homemade rainbow jersey sparked a craving for the real thing. “I think if I stay on the right path and believe in myself and believe in the support that’s around me, that’s something that I can accomplish.”
 
Likely future juniors will think of him when they close their eyes and imagine themselves among the best cyclists in the world. What does he advise them?
 
“Enjoy it…It’s definitely a tough sport,” he says. “The only way you get through it is if you enjoy it really. Don’t make it a job especially if you’re 13 or 14 years old.”
 
Maintaining other interests helps too. Craddock studies business administration at Austin Community College and plans to finish an associate degree soon.
 
Future stars
 
Juniors will always depend on lots of support to thrive. That’s why Ellen and Tom Craddock contribute to the USA Cycling Development Foundation.
 
“We believe in the development program and we’ve seen what it’s done in Lawson’s career,” Ellen Craddock explains. She and Tom want to help younger riders to access opportunities they might not otherwise pursue due to financial constraints.
 
McCauley is grateful for their generosity. Speaking about their son’s jump to Argos-Shimano, he says, “We’re delighted…That was our goal and our mission with sending him to Europe, so we’re proud of the fact that he’s had so much success…
 
“I just hope we see him on the 2016 Olympic team in Rio.”
 
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This Article Published December 12, 2013 For more information contact:
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