Lawson Craddock's performance Wednesday in the Amgen Tour of California's 34.7km stage 4 time trial in San Jose delivered a dose of confidence for the 26-year-old American, who suffered through an off year in 2017 and finished a disappointing 49th – more than 10 minutes back – on the stage 2 climb up Gibraltar Road.
The EF Education First-Drapac rider went a long way toward banishing those bad memories on Wednesday, starting 48th out of 116 riders and setting the fastest time of the day up to that point. Craddock's 41:33 unseated UAE Team Emirates' Filippo Ganna from the top of the leaderboard, and it held for nearly half an hour before BMC Racing's Paddy Bevin set a new best time of 40:54.
Bevin's teammate Tejay van Garderen eventually crossed the line with the winning time of 40:47, and Team Sky's Tao Geoghegan Hart knocked Craddock off the podium by 14 seconds. Nevertheless, Craddock took stock in his performance on a relatively lengthy power course at the WorldTour level.
"Any time you have a long time trial, a lot of power comes into effect, and fortunately I was able to put that down today," he told Cyclingnews outside the team bus as the last handful of riders were still on the course. "I felt really good, and I put a lot of emphasis into this one day in the last few weeks.
"A time trial in America is not like a time trial in Europe," he said. "It's not just a lot of corners and it's not technical. It's really just who is the strongest, and when you have a 35km time trial, really what it is, is who's the strongest."
Craddock was obviously one of the strongest riders on Wednesday, and his time trial performance came after a concerted effort to improve his race against the clock.
"For whatever reason over the last couple of years I've let my time trialling slip, and I kind of sat down with my coach at the beginning of the season and said, 'Let's do this and let's do this right'," Craddock said. "So I put a lot of emphasis and a lot of work on my own to try and be the best that I can be, just disciplined. Today was just another step in that direction."
Craddock finished third overall at the 2014 Tour of California while riding for Giant-Shimano, coming in behind Bradley Wiggins and Rohan Dennis, but he's had an on-off relationship with the race ever since. In 2015 he was 28th, and in 2016 he climbed back up to fifth. Last year he finished 113th overall. He's currently 58th overall while riding in support of Dani Martinez, so his time trial result is a big confidence booster.
"I don't really know where I'll end up," he said of his stage 4 result. "Hopefully I'll hold on for a podium, but the fact that I was able to do that today gives me a lot of confidence going into the next few months."
Craddock hopes that confidence carries him back to his second Tour de France start this year. He raced the Vuelta in 2014 and 2015, then tackled his first Tour in 2016. He missed the race last year and wants to go back this year to help team leader Rigoberto Uran, who finished second to Team Sky's Chris Froome last year.
"I'm going straight back to Europe and I'll do Dauphiné, and then I'll work my ass off to try and make the Tour team," he said. "I'd love to be there. I really missed it last year. It's tough to watch it on the couch, but I'm fairly motivated and think I'd be an incredible asset for the team to have there.
"This has been actually a lot better year than last year, but, honestly, it's still been a bit of a rough year," he said. "I've had good moments and bad moments, and I feel like I've been operating at 85 per cent all season of my true capabilities, so if I can keep progressing and keep building over the next month or so, I truly believe I can be 100 per cent. I think I just needed a lot of racing to get back at the top level, but I truly believe that I'm almost there."