Lawson Craddock (EF Education First) and his WorldTour cohorts racing at the Larry H. Miller Tour of Utah this week are used to the long slog of a season away from home and getting beat up in the WorldTour races where they usually ride in support of their teammates' ambitions.
This week in Utah, they have a chance to take centre stage and make the race happen rather than reacting to moves from other teams and riders. Craddock took advantage of the freedom on Tuesday during stage 1, launching a late move inside the final 5km and finishing second with enough time to jump into the race lead.
"Today was more of a stage for Alex [Howes] and I," the 27-year-old American said at the post-stage press conference. "Alex came up once the circuits started and said, 'I'm not feeling fantastic, so if you have the legs try something.' Then he sacrificed himself for me on the last lap.
"We were just racing our bikes, and that's what we're all here to do," Craddock said. "A lot of us, we go to Europe, and you're racing against world champions and all this stuff – the world's best. Although there's a very strong field here, it's nice to come back to America and do the animating for once."
Craddock said he and his EF Education First teammates were in Utah to rediscover the "joy" of cycling.
"That was kind of a point we had coming into this race, where we wanted to really just race our bikes and find the enjoyment back in that because it's just so tough in Europe for a lot of the year," he said. "Today was a big step for that, and we're looking forward to the rest of the race."
Sometimes you have to be careful what you wish for, however, as the Tour of Utah peloton faces the summit finish to Powder Mountain on stage 2. The infamous 14km climb is incredibly steep and finishes on gravel above 2,700 metres of elevation.
Asked if he had a chance to pre-ride the climb, Craddock said he "tried."
"Seriously, I made it 3km from the top and had to stop," he said.
Keeping the yellow jersey on the stage could be a tall order for Craddock, but his team has multiple options to play on the stage with two former Tour of Utah winners in Lachlan Morton and Joe Dombrowski.
"I'd love to keep it," Craddock said of the race leader's jersey. "But [Wednesday] is an extremely hard climb. Powder Mountain is probably one of the hardest climbs you can find in this area and possibly even in the States.
"With my style of rider, it could be a bit too difficult, but at the end of the day we came here with Lachlan Morton and Joe Dombrowski as our leaders, and me being in the jersey today doesn't change that tomorrow," he said.
"We'll go into tomorrow with a plan and hopefully execute that and keep the jersey in the team."
Growing up in Missoula, Montana, Pat competed in his first bike race in 1985 at Flathead Lake before studying English and journalism at the University of Oregon. He has covered North American cycling extensively since 2009, as well as racing and teams in Europe and South America. Pat currently lives in the US outside of Portland, Oregon.
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