Giant-Alpecin's Lawson Craddock will be looking for more consistency in 2015 as he targets the Tour of California, another shot at the Vuelta a Espana and a spot on the US team for Worlds.
Craddock, who will turn 23 in February, logged 67 race days during his neo-pro season with the Dutch WorldTour squad, finishing third overall in California and placing sixth in the individual time trial at the Tour de Suisse. He started his first Grand Tour at the Vuelta, where he played a part in three stage wins for Giant before abandoning on stage 14. The Vuelta result started a string of six DNFs that carried through to the end of his season at Sluitingprijs-Putte-Kapellen in October.
"There were definitely some good times, but also some bad times," Craddock told Cyclingnews from Houston, Texas, where he was visiting family over the Christmas holiday.
"Obviously, California and Suisse went pretty well," he said. "I was pretty happy with that and I think there's a lot to build off of. But the beginning of the second part of the season, the Vuelta and a string of DNFs at the end of the year was not the way that I wanted to end it. But my first year as a professional, yeah, it was a huge difference from what I was used to – definitely a huge step up – but I think I was given the tools to help succeed in the future."
Craddock is hoping his future in 2015 will involve taking another crack at finishing the Vuelta and building on what he accomplished this year in California, where he finished 13th in the stage 2 individual time trial and then climbed into the top three overall during the summit finishes on Mt. Diablo and Mountain High.
"And then hopefully I'll have another good either Dauphine or Suisse," he said. "But we'll see. My main goal really is just to be more consistent throughout the whole year. If you look at this year, I had a couple of ups but a lot of downs. So I'd just like to be consistent throughout the whole year."
He'd also like to end his season by representing the US at the UCI Road World Championships in Richmond, Virginia. The event will be in the US for the first time in nearly 30 years, and Craddock said he'd love to compete at Worlds in front of a home crowd. The goal of competing in Richmond, however, is one Craddock shares with every other pro who holds a US passport. Craddock said he knows the not-so-secret route to making the team.
"Winning bike races," he said. "I know I'm capable of it, it's just putting my nose to the grindstone. There's a lot of really strong Americans out there, so I've just got to go out there and do everything I can and hope that I make it. It's definitely going to be a lot of work, but I'm up for the challenge."
All aboard the Giant train
Finding his place in one of the world's most successful sprint teams was a challenge Craddock had to face quickly this season. Craddock made his debut with Giant in February at the Dubai Tour, where teammate Marcel Kittel sprinted to wins during stages 2, 3 and 4.
Craddock also played a part in three of the four stage wins that John Degenkolb piled up at the Vuelta on his way to winning the points jersey. As a teammate with two of the world's top sprinters, Craddock regularly found himself mixing it up in the frenetic final flat kilometres of the sprint stages.
"It's intense. I'm not going to lie," he said. "Looking back at the year, I think my heart rate was so high during those sprint trains not just because you're going hard, but because you think you're going to die every second. I definitely have a new-found respect for those guys who put their lives on the line pretty much to guide their leaders to victory.
"It's definitely a whole new aspect to the sport," he continued. "Fortunately, with Trek-Livestrong, the Bontrager Pro Cycling Team and USA Cycling Development Team, I got a taste of that when I was younger, but nothing is quite like trying to lead out John for a stage win at the Vuelta. It's just crazy, but I will say it's a lot of fun. When you set a goal at the beginning of a race and then make a plan and everything goes according to it, it's a lot of fun."
Getting an early start
Craddock's 2015 campaign will start in earnest in less than a month at Australia's Tour Down Under. The race will mark not only Craddock's earliest start ever, it will also be his first time in the country. The Houston, Texas, native said he's looking forward to beginning his 2015 season in the anticipated heat in the Southern Hemisphere, where he expects to play a worker's role.
"We'll have Tom Dumoulin and Simon Geschke, who are capable of pulling out a pretty good result," he said. "I'm going there mainly to support them and also get the season started. It's given me good motivation over the last couple of months to train hard, but I'm going solely to help those other guys out."
In preparation for the early start, Craddock joined fellow pros Nate Brown (Cannondale-Garmin) and Gavin Mannion (Jelly Belly-Maxxis), along with future teammate Caleb Fairly, for an informal training camp in Austin that ran from November through just before Christmas.
"We actually had a really good camp going," Craddock said. "We called it the camp of champs. It was a really fun time. Carter Jones came down for a couple of days. Chad Haga came down for a couple days, too. So it was definitely a really good month of training."
Haga raced with Craddock on Giant this year, while Fairly is coming to the team from Garmin and Jones is coming aboard from Optum Pro Cycling. Giant did not renew with American Tom Peterson for 2015, but with the addition of Fairly and Jones there will be four US riders on the Dutch squad next year.
"Four guys, and three of us are Texans," Craddock said, referring to himself as well as Haga, who is from McKinney, and Fairly, who is from Amarillo.
"So there are three Texans and one American," Craddock joked, exhibiting some of the famous Texan pride. "It's been really good. For the last week we were all down in Austin training together. It's really cool. It just shows that USA Cycling is doing something right. Three of us went through the program, and getting on one of the most successful WorldTour teams is just really cool to see. We've all come up and now we get to race together."
Aside from all of the training, Craddock has also been focused on recharging his mental batteries before he heads back overseas for another long year in Europe. He'll live in Girona again next year with Brown, and he said his girlfriend, who graduated form college last spring, will likely come over for much of the year.
"I was in Europe for so long this year, that I wanted as much America as I could get when I was back," he said. "So I've gone fishing a couple of times with my dad. I went to the past couple of Texans [NFL] games and I'm going to the Texans-Jaguars game again this weekend. So it's definitely been a good off-season, but I'm ready to get back into it."