The suffering of Lawson Craddock

“F---------ck,” Lawson Craddock screamed, or cried maybe, every time the pack slowed and a fistful of brake threw his weight forward onto a scapula that screamed back.

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“Fuuuuuuuuuck,” Lawson Craddock screamed, or cried maybe, every time the pack slowed and a fistful of brake threw his weight forward onto a scapula that screamed back. He had blood in his eye and grit in his teeth and he wouldn’t stop.

Behind, in his team car, Charly Wegelius was on the radio. Lawson’s down, he said. Lawson’s hurt. He’s up. He’s riding. He’s chasing. In the cars. In the peloton. Lawson’s back. Keep riding, Lawson. You got this, Lawson. Check on Lawson, guys. Riders went back, one by one, to keep him company. For some words of encouragement, maybe a little push.

Pierre Rolland pulled a gel out of his own pocket and opened it and squeezed it into Craddock’s mouth so he wouldn’t have to take his hands off the bars. Dani Martinez rode by his side, offering encouragement in a Spanish accent. Venga, Lawson. Vamos. You can do it.

Simon Clarke dropped back. The road captain, the roommate. “I wanted to make sure all my men were ok,” he said. “Just seeing what happened and to see him, the state he was in, it was pretty gut-wrenching.”

“I know what he’s been through,” Clarke said. “He had a bad year last year. He’s got everything back on track this year and he’s worked so hard to get back to where he was the year before and he’s skinny and in form, so to have this happen, it was so much more weight behind it then the crash itself.”

Craddock wasn’t here a year ago. He was at home, not watching the Tour de France. He was angry at his season and his form. Angry at a year that had started with hope and fizzled quickly into the worst sort of nothing. No results, no form, no luck. Athletic purgatory.

“I didn’t even watch the Tour last year,” he said. “I didn’t want to think about bike racing.”

This year was important. He went back to his old coach and embraced his natural body type. And it worked. Remember Amstel Gold? He was in the breakaway there, off the front all day, and when the heavy hitters came through he held on for dear life. He had more dear life than any of his breakaway companions and finished 9th. “It was proof to me that I can do this,” Craddock said. He got the call-up to the Tour squad as a key part of EF’s team time trial.

“I put too much work in…” he said hours after his crash, unable to finish the sentence, turning away from the cameras.

All that weight, held up by a broken shoulder.

The Tour de France does a funny thing sometimes: It magnifies the typically insignificant. It grabs hold of small stories and runs with them. Riders fall down and hurt themselves all year. They chase and chase and sometimes they make it, sometimes they don’t. They drop out, or they fight through. That’s just bike racing. Except at the Tour.

The Tour takes little moments and makes them as powerful as a yellow jersey. Lined up at the EF team bus on Sunday were French television and the sports reporter from La Gazzetta and a British podcast and half a dozen others, waiting to speak to a kid from Texas they hardly knew existed two days ago. “He’s British?” The Frenchman asked. “No, American,” his cameraman said. Craddock’s story — this crash, and this chase — is now international news.

He’s taking advantage. There’s a velodrome in Houston that was damaged by the hurricane last year. It runs kids programs and is a vital part of the cycling world there, and it needs help. Craddock is donating $100 of his own money to the velodrome for every stage he finishes. He wants others to match him.

“I came to the Tour to help Rigo and put him on the top step in Paris,” he said Sunday morning, leaning into the shade in front of his team bus. “I’m hoping I can still to do that, but at this point, my main focus is on continuing to help. And I think the best way for me to do that now is to help the next generation of cyclists.”

He spent stage 2 dangling, avoiding surges and, most of all, avoiding hard braking. Making sure he didn’t accidentally crash anyone else. When the race sped up at 10k to go, he was gone for good. But it was close enough to make the time cut.

Craddock rolled across the line on Sunday with a large group held by late crashes, just over three minutes down. He’s the lanterne rouge, last on GC, eight minutes and six seconds behind Peter Sagan, but he’s still in the race. He rolled straight past his soigneurs and waiting media and weaved through the crowd to his team bus, where he gingerly stepped off his bike and straight through the bus’s pink curtain.

“Honestly, it felt a little better today, which is encouraging,” he said after a shower. There was still a bit of blood stuck in the hair above his left ear. “It’s a different kind of pain than I’m used to, but that’s the situation I’m in right now, so I just gotta keep fighting and hope for the best and it heals a little bit day by day.”

“I’ve suffered for years on a bike, I’ve suffered for half my life on a bike,” he said. “But really never like that.”

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