Houston native Lawson Craddock became one of the biggest stories of the 2018 Tour de France in a most unexpected way. The EF-Education First rider fractured his scapula in a crash on the first day of the three-week race. Uncertain how long he could continue with the painful injury, Craddock pledged funds toward repairing the Hurricane Harvey-damaged Alkek Velodrome for each stage he completed and urged fans to do the same. What happened next exceeded his wildest expectations. Craddock made it all the way to Paris, crossing the finish line last in several stages and occupying the lowest spot in the overall standings from wire to wire. For his perseverance, he earned the valorous title of lanterne rouge (red caboose light), and he raised more than $300,000 from individuals and businesses for the velodrome that helped him fall in love with the sport.
He celebrated the accomplishment late last month with a party at the facility. ESPN.com senior writer Bonnie D. Ford caught up with Craddock last week in Quebec City after the first leg of the Grand Prix Cyclistes.
Tell me about the immediate aftermath of the Tour.
My family flew over. They were there for the last stage in Paris -- that was really nice. We spent a day being tourists in Paris, had a picnic at the Eiffel Tower, just walked around enjoying the city a bit. The day after, we took a train back to Girona [Ed. note: the Spanish city where Craddock is based during the season]. I got on the bike once or twice to ride with my dad. The recovery process, once I stopped racing, went a lot quicker than I expected, letting my body rest and actually recover from the race and the injuries. For another week or two, I had some pain and discomfort from the shoulder, but it felt decent.
Compare your fatigue level after this Tour to the last one.
I can't compare it to anything. I was just a zombie. You do these Grand Tours, they take an incredible toll on your body already, and then you add in that injury -- my body's fighting two things at one time. You can do it while you're racing because you have this switch flipped. You're just in it, and the body's working constantly. But once you kind of step away from that and rest a bit, everything goes full-on into recovery mode. It's not prepared to do anything exercise-related, and I really felt that after the Tour. I just basically sat on the couch for a few days. It was rough, I was incredibly tired, but it was nice to relax and not go out there and suffer each and every day.
Six days later, you're back in a one-day race. What was that like?
San Sebastian is a great race. It's in this beautiful area. I love the Basque region of Spain. It's one of my favorite places to race in Europe. It's normally a race I'd really be looking forward to [laughs]. But this year after the Tour, my body wasn't quite having it. The team needed me to go, so I basically went and got [hydration] bottles [for teammates] for a few hours, and then the shoulder started to feel it a bit again. After that, I went back to the bus and had a good lunch.
And then Hamburg?
That was two weeks after. I was actually feeling really recovered, really good. I had a decent day there, did my work for the team, kind of used that as a start of the second half of the year for me. Then I came back to Austin, did some time in the heat, and now I'm here.
What is it like to get all this attention for being last? And being the gallant, suffering cyclist, when I know your ambition is to be something other than that?
You never go into races wanting to be the last-place rider. That was my mentality the entire race. I didn't want to finish last. I wanted to get the absolute most out of myself. Unfortunately, that's just the way the cookie crumbled for me. I mean, we definitely made the most out of it. Everyone came together and worked together to do this incredible thing for the velodrome. For me, that outweighs finishing in last place, or even first place, any day.
You got value for your sponsor, that's for sure. Was it distracting by the end, when CBS Evening News wants you on, and people who don't normally follow cycling are paying attention?
I wouldn't say it was distracting, no. It was different, for sure. But it was cool. Having that story projected was something I was proud to be a part of. The coolest part for me was seeing messages saying, 'We haven't watched the Tour in 10 years, but we're following it now, watching this story.' It's changed the landscape of cycling in Texas forever. That's the biggest thing for me. When my career is all said and done, I think this will be the biggest bright spot out of all of that. We've had some positive meetings so far about how we want to run the velodrome, where we want everything to go and how we want to make this last not only for one or two years, but for 20 or 30 years down the line to keep growing the cycling community in Houston and the state overall.
It sounds like there's enough money not only to repair the velodrome but also to make it into a different facility.
The track is functioning. The main concern they have is replacing the storage units that the track lost during the hurricane, having a place for 80 to 100 bikes as opposed to 20 to 40. They've had to turn a lot of people away in the last year, just because they don't have the bikes there for them to ride. They brought in someone who taught them how to more professionally and permanently repair the cracks in the velodrome. For years, the juniors would go out there with bags of [quick-drying cement). When it rained, all of that would be done for, and you'd go out and do it again. Now they have a more permanent professional solution of concrete to fix all the cracks. What they've done in the last few months has been truly incredible. The track is looking better than it has in years, and that's in a pretty short amount of time. The guys who have run it for the last 10-15 years on such little money, they've stretched their dollar so thin, and having confidence in them to know what is right to take the velodrome to the next level is pretty incredible.
You never saw it at its worst, right?
I just saw the pictures. That was enough. When Hurricane Harvey hit, I was flying to the Tour of Alberta. Ever since then, I've been trying to find a way to help the velodrome. I never felt I could do something to the magnitude that it really deserved. I've really been wracking my brain.
Well, the answer found you.
This incredible opportunity arose and hit the ground running and went further than anyone could have imagined.
How has it changed -- if it has -- your ambitions and how you look at what you want to do with your career?
Yeah, I'm still ambitious, and I still want to be in front and winning races and having an impact on them. I finished basically dead last every day for 21 days at the Tour, and I got pretty sick of that position. It's definitely given me a lot of motivation to finish this season strong and to carry into next year and be at the other end of the results sheet.
What was the hardest day?
It feels like there were 10 hardest stages for me. The two or three days after the crash. The Roubaix stage. The three days in the Alps where I ended every single one of those not thinking I could really continue. Just on the limit, every single day. Even the last week, there was one day where I was four minutes off the back of the peloton, 50 kilometers into the stage, chasing with three guys. I can't pinpoint one exact stage and say it was the hardest.
Your idea of your capabilities has evolved.
It just goes to show you the power of the mind. Every day I came to the race prepared to suffer and put myself in a world of pain and will myself to fight to the finish, and every day I was able to do that.