Lawson Craddock's 2019 season got underway in the best possible way Tuesday during stage 1 at the Tour Colombia 2.1, where EF Education First won the opening team time trial and placed Rigoberto Uran in the first leader's jersey.
The American team took the opening test ahead of Deceuninck-QuickStep and Team Sky, putting seven seconds into the Belgian team and 10 into defending champion Egan Bernal's squad. It was just the positive start to the season that Craddock had been hoping for after a rocky 2018.
"Here it's a really relaxing start," Craddock said of the Colombian race. "Everyone just seems super mellow. It's beautiful weather, beautiful country and the people here are just so friendly. I think it's important to start the year on a good note and get some results here that give all of us a lot of confidence going forward.
"A lot of cycling is having the confidence," he said. "So often you're getting your teeth kicked in constantly. Even the most successful guys, they race 80 days a year and if you win 10 races that's phenomenal, and that's what, a 12 per cent success rate? So it can be tough sometimes, but if you can get that ball rolling, you start to see the success and wins and small victories start to build back up."
A new dad
Although starting the season with a win is always nice, the biggest recent event in Craddock's life was the birth of his daughter, Caroline, in October, and learning to balance family life with the demands of an international cyclist.
"It's been great," Craddock told Cyclingnews from the team hotel on Sunday before the race started.
"My wife has been truly incredible. Pretty much ever since Caroline was born, I feel like my wife has done 99 per cent of the work and I just come in for the fun parts. I'm very fortunate and very blessed to have Chelsea as the mother to Caroline, and also my parents as well.
"There's been a lot of support along the way, but it's truly just been amazing every day watching her grow up and becoming more interactive. It's not something you can really explain to someone who isn't a father. But I'm loving it so far and looking forward to seeing her grow up and seeing who she turns into being."
The timing of his daughter's birth allowed Craddock to spend a solid three months with his wife and daughter, with only his daily training routine taking him away from home. Now that he's in Colombia with the new season underway, he'll have to adjust to spending more and more time away.
"I was just talking to them before this interview, and I'm gone for two weeks, and I realised that's 10 per cent of her life so far," he said. "But I'm really excited to start the season, race and get back into it."
The Tour de France
Craddock's 2018 season was a bit of a mixed bag. He found success early with second in a stage of Coppi e Bartali, where he went on to finish 13th overall. His ninth place at the Amstel Gold Race was a huge result, and he followed it with fourth in the individual time trial at the Tour of California. He was well-poised for success at the Tour de France, but then disaster struck when he crashed in the opening stage and fractured his clavicle.
Through an impressive feat of strength, willpower and determination, however, Craddock turned the situation into a positive by tying his attempt to finish the next 20 stages into a fundraising effort benefiting the Houston velodrome where he started racing. The GoFundMe page has currently raised $280,566.
"It was a really special month," he said. "It was really incredible to see how everyone responded to that and just stepped up. And we really set the velodrome up for an incredibly bright future.
"On a more personal note, it was a really tough month for me. When you look back on it you see all the success we had and what everyone in the world was able to do, but if I single it down to each day, I just remember a lot of pain and a lot of suffering, and just a lot of fighting from the second I woke up every morning to when I went to bed at night."
While Craddock joked that there were 21 days when he didn't think he'd be able to make it to the finish, two stages stuck out in particular.
"I think if I looked at really one day, I'd actually have to say two," he said. "There was the day before and day after the second rest day when we finished in Carcassonne and started in Carcassonne. On paper they don't look like extremely challenging days, but I think those were probably my two worst days of the entire Tour.
"The day after the rest day I spent about 70km five minutes behind the peloton in a group of three just chasing. At that point, you think it's done, there's no way I can make the time cut. But I was really fortunate for three weeks with how everything kind of bounced my way after the crash. The way the peloton raced every day, the first week the breakaway going away pretty easily without huge fights allowed me to recover somewhat as much as I could. And then going on all the way to the very end was just how I was able to kind of manage it."
Craddock also acknowledged that although he was the one enduring the pain, the drive to make it to Paris was a real team effort.
"The support that I had from the team was truly incredible," he said. "It was motivating to see what we could do for the velodrome, so there are so many different factors that all came together that really helped me get to the start to the finish 21 days in a row."
As one would expect, Craddock is champing at the bit to get back to the Grand Boucle and take another crack at the race, but this time without a crack in his clavicle.
"I ended up finishing in last place last year, so I'd love to go back and redeem myself," he said. "But we really have an incredible team. It feels like ever since I joined this team back in 2016, we've just been building, building and building and kind of getting the right pieces in place.
"This year I really feel like it's all come together exactly how it needs to be for us to have a lot of success. We have great champions on this team like Michael Woods, who has really come into his own. He podiumed at the World Championships four years into his career. That's pretty amazing. You've got Rigo, you know, and all across the board – Dani Martinez. We've just got really good guys who enjoy racing with each other."