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Lawson Craddock (Bontrager-Livestrong) bridges up to the front
Americans move up to WorldTour in 2014
Craddock, 22, and Haga, 25, will take part in their first training camp with the team in Altea, Spain, followed by the team presentation and then back to Spain for another training camp.
Both riders already met with management, staff and their new teammates during a gathering in mid-October, and both said they were duly impressed with the Dutch squad's organization.
“Everything is kind of dialed in,” Craddock said this week from Houston, Texas, where he was celebrating the holidays with family. “Everything is there for us, and it really seemed like it's going to make it a lot easier to focus on being the best bike racer that I can be and not having to worry about all the little stuff.”
Craddock was also relieved that the first team gathering didn't involve any hazing of new riders.
“I didn't have to strip down in front of everyone,” he said. “So it was a lot of fun. I felt like I was already a part of the team.”
Haga only met about half his new teammates because he had to leave the October meeting early to be the best man in a friend's wedding, but he also said his first impression with the organization was very favorable.
Although many young Americans flock to American-based teams when they move up to the WorldTour, the two young Texans said Argos-Shimano's commitment to developing young riders is what drew them abroad.
“It was their enthusiasm for development,” Haga said of his reasons for signing a two year neo-pro contract with Argos. “It's pretty cool to have someone be so excited about you. They don't have big expectations right away, so there will be some time to develop.”
Craddock said although the team has two top sprinters in Marcel Kittel and John Degenkolb, Argos-Shimano doesn't ignore its up-and-coming riders in favor of its stars.
“Everyone kind of looks at the team, and they see Kittel and Degenkolb, and they think it's a sprint team,” Craddock said. “But if you look at it, you'll see a lot of really young guys on the team. [Warren] Barguil, who was U23 last year, came out and won two stages of the Vuelta. So you see a lot of young guys like that, it shows that it's not just a sprint team. They do a good job of developing each and every rider.”
Although they are teammates now, Craddock and Haga have very different tales of their own development so far. Craddock has been on that trajectory for nearly a decade; Haga got into racing while earning a degree in mechanical engineering at Texas A&M.
“I took the more traditional path, going over to Europe and racing at a very young age with USA Cycling, Hot Tubes and the Bontrager Cycling Team,” Craddock said. “[Haga] went to college and did the entire college thing, got the degree and then started doing it. It's pretty impressive how he's made it to the top level of the sport. It's pretty inspiring.”
Haga said he hopes his path to the top level of the sport could set an example for other riders.
“A lot of guys don't get into cycling until college,” Haga said. “So this proves you can still make it after going to college and getting a degree.”
Now that both riders are about to achieve one of their long-term goals of racing at the WorldTour level, each said they will now readjust their goals and start climbing toward the top again.
“In talking to the team director, it seems like I'll be a teammate when I need to, but I'll also get a few opportunities for myself,” Craddock said. “So it should be really good. I'm looking forward to proving what I can do there.”
Haga also said he believes he and Craddock will be called upon often to sacrifice for the team, but they also may get their own chances in some of the smaller races.
“Lawson and I will be at a lot of the same races,” Haga said. “So I think at the smaller races they see us as going for the GC, kind of a dual threat.”
Both riders are also hoping for a return to the Amgen Tour of California in May, where Craddock finished eighth overall in 2013 on his way to winning the young rider classification, and Haga finished 10th overall.
“I think I have a lot to build on there from last year,” Craddock said.
But before they can dream of winning races or fighting for team results, the two riders have to settle down for their first full year in Europe. Craddock said he will move to Girona, Spain, a hub for many US riders. Haga will share an apartment with Garmin-Sharp's Ben King in Lucca, Italy, for the 2014 season.