In 2021, Luke Lamperti became the youngest US Pro Criterium champion in history when he blasted to the victory in Knoxville, taking an upset win over the dominant teams most of whom were caught up in a massive crash in the last lap. Lamperti has since gone on to show the result was no fluke, taking a hard-fought victory in the British NRC race, the Rapha Lincoln GP. Upon his return Stateside, he won the last race of Tulsa Tough and the overall Omnium title.
"I'd rather win the road race - the crit is a bonus. I love to race crits but my main goal is the road race at nationals," Lamperti tells Cyclingnews.
After two seasons with Trinity Racing, hitting all of the major under-23 races, Lamperti says he's ready to take the next step and hopes to get a neo-pro position in a WorldTour team for 2023. A US Pro road race title would help strengthen his bargaining position.
"That would be a huge step - to win the road race at US Pro would be a big step toward that," he says. "I'd like to get in the WorldTour if the second half of the season goes well."
Lamperti raced the hilly Knoxville road race circuit last year but dropped out before the finish. The heat and the ten trips up the steep Sherrod Road climb wore him down. One problem was the lack of team support - an issue many of the European pros have when they leave their service course, mechanics, soigneurs and directors behind and fly solo at the US championships.
This year, former pro Brent Bookwalter is working with the Pro Cyclist Foundation non-profit to bring a full complement of support for the Euro pros coming to the race in Knoxville. With soigneurs in the feed zone and Mike Sayers in the team car, it will be much easier to stay fed and hydrated and get mechanical support during the race.
"It's super nice of the Pro Cycling Foundation to put together support for all the guys coming from European teams that don't have staff. People don't realize how much the people behind the scenes do at a race," Lamperti said.
He raced in Tulsa on his own, mixing up his own bottles, adjusting tyre pressure, all the little considerations that go into a bike race, and says it adds up.
Racing with no teammates
Racing with no teammates is another issue, but he showed in Tulsa he can surf the other teams' trains and still get a result.
"Tulsa was really fun... It was kind of a bit tricky with no teammates coming over. But then I was able to win overall on the last day which was the harder day on Cry Baby, one of the more well-known days. So that was definitely fun, and to win in the jerseys is nice for sure."
"As far as racing with no teammates, it's never ideal but if there's a place to do it, it's Nationals. A lot of guys come back and only have one or two teammates. A lot of guys don't have big teams. I'm not the only one and it's not an excuse at Nationals."
"You have to race with a different mentality. Teams don't bring moves back as much, so you can make it from the early break and save enough to be there at the end, or save it and try to go at the right time. If I learned anything, the climb gets bigger and bigger every lap. It's deceptively hard."
While the Sherrod Road climb might be "on the limit" of Lamperti's climbing abilities, he showed in the 2021 UCI Road World Championships that he can handle a tough course, finishing 10th before being declassified because of a mid-race run-in with a Belgian rider.
Lamperti says he feels he can win the US Pro title if everything goes right. "It's for sure possible and I really want to give it a good run. It's been a big goal of mine this season."
First up is the criterium title defence. Whereas last season, L39ION of Los Angeles was the dominant team, they have faced a major challenge from the likes of Best Buddies and Project Echelon. Lamperti says this is a natural evolution in the scene.
"I think it's going to flip and flop no matter what if you have a team that is that dominant one year, people are going get better and better. And then the team that's on top is always going to have people coming after them and want to beat them." "People want to be where they were and they're starting to realize how to get there and realize it's possible. The scene is getting bigger, so more teams are going to rise to that level and watch what Legion's done and try to do it, too."
"Going into Nationals, I think it will be a lot more wide open of a race than it was last year. I think there'll be less control. There's less dominance in the crit scene nowadays. So I think it could be a lot less predictable."
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