Day in the Life:
July 7th of 2018 marked the beginning of the most prestigious and widely known bicycle race in the world, The Tour de France. The pro cyclists lined up to start the race had spent the last year meticulously preparing for the event with excruciating attention to every training hour and calorie consumed. Many of the competitor’s sole purpose is to ride in support of their teammates hoping to share in their glory and success. Others with loftier goals were hoping to snag a win on one of the 21 stages of the tour.
Other opportunities to shine include the awards of the prestigious sprinter’s jersey for winning intermediate sprints or the climber’s jersey awarded to the cyclist with the best times through the breathtaking Alps and Pyrenees. Above all of those impressive accomplishments, there is the famed yellow jersey, which is awarded to the cyclist who manages the best overall time over the 21 days of racing.
The yellow jersey cements the winner into road biking history. Only a small group of riders are strong enough to compete for the yellow jersey, but strength can only accomplish so much. The chance to win can be lost in a fraction of a second because of mechanical issues, illness or one of the many crashes that inevitably occur.
For all of the focus given to those individuals topping the leaderboards, there is usually little said about the hundred plus riders whose jobs it is to shepherd their star teammates to glory and peel off to the sides for the star to pass when their job is done. They trickle in behind race leaders hoping to cross the line before the time cut. Typically, these men go unmentioned in headlines, but the year’s last place competitor (lanterne rouge) has managed to draw attention from the first stage to the last.
Those who have followed Lawson Craddock know that the young Texan crosses the finish line each day through sheer grit and determination. Fighting to make it to the finish line every day was not how Craddock envisioned his second Tour de France after missing the race in 2017. In Craddock’s first Tour (2016), he managed to finish two stages in the top 20, an accomplishment for first Tour de France cyclist.
The extraordinary challenge presented by his first Tour motivated the rider to work even harder for the 2017 season. Unfortunately, an overzealous and poorly designed training and dieting plan undermined any chance of a return to the infamous Tour as he failed to finish top ten in any races. He found himself hardly able to keep the pace of races and by the end of a disappointing 2017 season, he knew he needed a change.
For Craddock, 2017 marks a year to learn from. Despite everything that went wrong, he gained perspective on how to make his days more productive on and off of the bike. No more guilt from eating a piece of chocolate or micro managing fractions of lbs. gained or lost. The off-season between 2017 and 2018 involved a greater focus on the balance between training hard and more importantly, “staying committed to having fun doing it”.
One of the most important changes to his 2018 routine was a focus on sleep and recovery. Diagnosed with Overtraining Syndrome (OTS), his doctor suggested he begin tracking his sleep, stress and recovery levels. This enabled Craddock to better observe how his body responded to training. Paired with a sleep schedule that includes a set bed time, wake up time and a daily nap, things began to turn around.
The contrast between the competitive rider in 2018 and the frustrated athlete of 2017 is night and day. This year, the young cyclist picked up where he left off in 2016. Craddock has returned to form with top 10 finishes in a few large races and added a climber’s jersey from the Italian race Coppi e Bartali to his collection. He also knows that routine is vital to success.
“… I do things like focus on being hydrated, taking a nap in the afternoon, maybe getting to bed 20 minutes earlier…”
With 2017 in the rearview, Craddock once again found himself at the start line of the Tour de France. Unbeknownst to him, he was soon to encounter yet another bump in the road: a crash in the first stage of the race. A fumbled water bottle dropped by another rider sent Craddock’s bike off the road where he barreled into a spectator and flew into a ditch. With the pack of cyclists whizzing away at close to 30 mph and no time to lose, he jumped back onto his bike and finished the stage sporting a gash above his eye that coated the left side of his face in blood. Later, it would be discovered that he had suffered a fracture to the scapula in his left shoulder.
Not knowing the extent of his injuries, Craddock answered questions about his future at the 2018 tour. “I’ve put too much work in,” he chokes up as it truly dawns on him that his race could be over. “I’ve put too much work in to get here and go home after day one. So I’ll see how I feel and give it my best shot tomorrow.”
With his tour in question, Craddock would have to face new challenges at the race. His morning would now include a visit to the team doctor after breakfast to inspect his injuries. The team chiropractor comes next spending 30 minutes or more working out any swelling or stiffness in the muscles in the shoulder. The chiropractic work can often be excruciating but is necessary both before and after the race. All in all, Craddock’s 18 to 20 hours off the bike are centered around recovery.
Craddock, turned his crash into an opportunity. He set up a Go Fund Me page to raise money to rebuild the cycling velodrome in his home town which was severely damaged by hurricane Harvey. The goal was to raise $102,100, with Craddock vowing to donate $100 of his own money for every stage of the Tour he finished. As he continued to race, Craddock watched as money from inspired and generous donors flowed in.
Inspired by the generosity and support from so many people, the young rider endured the physical pain of both rehabbing his injuries and racing. As the race reached it’s final stage only 145 riders of the 218 who had started the race remained. Among them was Lawson Craddock. The 2018 Lanterne Rouge crossed the finish line in Paris with $224,381 raised towards his Go Fund Me page and an incredible story of perseverance. Now, he can rest easy for a few weeks and set his sights on next years Tour de France.
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