Lawson Craddock may have finished last in the Tour de France this year, but now he can drink free beer for the rest of his life.
The Austin-based cyclist broke his shoulder blade and cut his face during Stage 1 of this year’s Tour. Instead of packing up and heading back to Texas, Craddock kept cycling. For every stage of the race he completed, he vowed to donate $100 to Alkek Velodrome in Houston, the facility where he learned to race and which was damaged last fall during Hurricane Harvey. He invited fans to donate, too.
Craddock wound up finishing every stage of the three-week race, coming in last of the 145 finishers, a position known as “lanterne rouge.” As of today, the GoFundMe site has raised more than $252,000 for the velodrome.
To congratulate the 26-year-old cyclist, Karbach Brewing Co., the Houston-based company that makes the beer Craddock drank after he finally reached Paris, has promised to supply Craddock with Weekend Warrior Pale Ale for the rest of his life.
The brewery also pledged to donate $1 of every case of Weekend Warrior Pale Ale to Alkek Velodrome for the rest of the year.
Want to watch this year’s Tour de France with other cycling fans?
Juan Pelota Café, tucked inside Mellow Johnny’s, the downtown Austin cycling shop owned by ormer pro cyclist Lance Armstrong (who was stripped of his seven tour wins after a doping scandal), is showing into the race live every day.
As the cyclists spin their way up and down hills, through picturesque villages and over stretches of rough cobblestone in France, Armstrong waves his arms, yells at the monitor and lets fly with the occasional cuss word. It’s all recorded and livestreamed for fans around the world through Armstrong’s WeDū portal.
“I get pretty animated when I watch,” Armstrong said Sunday, while driving from his summer home in Aspen to catch a polo match down the canyon with his fiance, Anna Hansen, and two of their children. “And I do slip up and say bad words from time to time.”
“With broadcasting, a lot of times you have a boss and you have a certain decorum and you’re beholden to certain sponsors or a governing body,” says Hager, who for years co-hosted, along with Sandy McIlree, the morning show on Austin radio station Mix 94.7. “(Armstrong) gives such a raw honest look at it because he’s not beholden to anyone. He can say whatever he wants.”
These days, Armstrong, the seven-time Tour de France winner stripped of his victories in 2012 after a doping scandal, makes no apologies. He knows some people will tune in, and others, still angry over the cheating scandal, will never again listen to a word he says.
It’s all part of life post cycling for Armstrong, who launched “The Forward Podcast with Lance Armstrong” in June 2016. That program, available for free via YouTube, FaceBook and iTunes, features Armstrong interviewing an intriguing parade of celebrities, from musicians such as the Avett Brothers and Bob Schneider to retired NASCAR driver Dale Earnhardt Jr., politician Wendy Davis, former Austin police chief Art Acevedo, billionaire businessman John Paul DeJoria, and free diver Tanya Streeter. Talk focuses on everything from current events to politics, family life and the arts, and it rarely touches on cycling.
But some fans still want Armstrong’s perspective on bike racing, so last year, he teamed with Hager to add a separate series of podcasts just during the Tour de France. The pair built on that idea this year, and have once again put “The Forward” podcast on hold while they spend a month producing “The Move,” which includes daily coverage of the 21-stage Tour de France, plus some other special features.
Hager, who’s done his own share of recreational bike racing, drove his trailer to Aspen, where Armstrong owns a home, parked it in the neighbor’s driveway, then plugged in a bristling array of audio visual equipment. He tees up questions for Armstrong as they watch, which helps listeners who may not understand the nuances of bike racing.
“He knows enough about cycling to be dangerous, but spent 20 plus years talking to people on the corner of Main Street and First, so if it starts to get technical or wonky he can bring it back to Every Man Jack speak,” Armstrong says.
“The Move” podcast lasts about 30 to 40 minutes, but real Armstrong fans can get more content. A $60 WeDū season pass allows members to observe Hager and Armstrong as they watch the last 20 kilometers of each stage of the Tour live, before they record their podcast.
“I always said last year I wished people could see him while he’s watching the Tour unfold. Whether it’s a climb or sprint, he jumps out of his skin, he’s losing his mind,” Hager says.
Members can also watch pre-production meetings and participate in special evening “happy hour” sessions, when they can email questions directly to Hager for discussion. They also get a WeDū Tshirt and discounts on merchandise.
“We’re legitimately having cocktails and fielding questions in real time,” Hager says. Former professional cyclist George Hincapie dropped by for a session last week; NASCAR driver Jimmy Johnson is expected this week.
A season pass will include the behind-the-scenes coverage of other cycling races, too. So far, about 1,000 fans from around the world have signed up as members.
As for this year’s Tour, it’s particularly technical, according to Armstrong. Sunday’s stage included 15 sections of rough cobbled roads – the most ever in the Tour de France. Monday is a rest day, and coming days will include some short, explosive mountain stages.
“The first week was very hectic, with a bunch of nervous finishes. The guys are already tired,” says Armstrong, who picked a favorite – 2014 Tour winner Vincenzo Nibali from Italy – early on, but is backpedaling a tad on his choice. “I might regret picking him, but it’s too late.”
“There’s already been quite a shakeup, there’s been a team time trial, and some very technical stages in what almost looks like Austin that are real hilly but don’t have long climbs,” he says. “Now we have the rest day and three days in the Alps, culminating with Alpe d’Huez on Thurday, then some transition days where they basically have to ride across the country to the Pyrenees. It’s hard and hot. The Pyrenees are really the show this year, I think.”
After the tour ends July 29 in Paris, Armstrong and Hager will put together a “best of” podcast featuring edited versions of some of their favorite interviews from “The Forward.”
“We’ll edit it down, put those up, and then launch a new structure for ‘The Forward’ in the fall which will be more based around specific themes like fear or cancer,” Armstrong says.
Does all the Tour watching make him yearn for his racing days?
“Not at all,” he says. “I’m happy to be in Aspen, Colorado.”
Which is where he plans to stay for the summer, before returning to Austin sometime in September.
He has another bit of business coming up, too: a wedding.
Armstrong got engaged to Hansen last May, but neither one is saying when a wedding will happen, or exactly where, but they are considering both Marfa and Napa Valley.
For more information about WeDū, or to sign up as a member, go to www.wedu.team.
Austin cyclist Lawson Craddock, who crashed midway through the first stage of the Tour de France, finished the seventh stage of the race Friday, despite a broken scapula and nine stitches in his eyebrow.
That’s good news for cyclists back in Texas, because for every stage he completes, Craddock has vowed to make a donation to help repair the Alkek Velodrome in Houston, where he learned to race. The facility suffered damage during Hurricane Harvey last year.
Craddock, wearing race number 13 – pinned to his jersey upside down, per tradition, to break the unlucky spell – hit a full water bottle dropped by a cyclist in front of him at a feed zone on Day 1 of the 21-stage, 2,082-mile Tour de France. Without any room to maneuver, he careened off road on his bike, hit a spectator and crashed spectacularly. In typical Craddock style, he picked up his bike, hopped back on and continued, blood streaming down his face. At the finish line, a doctor examined him and found a fractured scapula, or shoulder blade. The cyclist also needed seven stitches in his eyebrow.
“It was a huge mental blow, really. I put a lot of work in just to make it to the Tour this year,” Craddock says. “I knew immediately something wasn’t right, but halfway through the first stage you don’t want to pack up the suitcase and go home.”
Craddock, who had decided before the tour began that he’d auction off a pair of custom Houston Strong cycling shoes to raise money to repair the Alkek Velodrome, amped up his efforts to motivate himself to push on. He decided to donate $100 for each Tour stage he completed, and invited fans to join him. So far the Go Fund Me effort has raised nearly $70,000 for the Greater Houston Cycling Foundation, which runs the velodrome
“That blows my mind,” Craddock says. “When I get on after every stage and wake up in the morning, I check the donation page. There’s been a lot of suffering in this last week, but seeing the support I’ve received all across the world has kept me going. It just really makes me proud to be in this race and know every pedal stroke I make, every time my shoulder gives me a jolt of pain, it’s all really worth it.”
Craddock covered about 140 miles in Friday’s stage, then plopped onto a table for a vigorous massage and some chiropractic work.
“It definitely doesn’t feel great, but every day has gotten a little better,” he said by phone from the table. “The biggest issue wasn’t the fracture, but the muscles contracting around it every time I move my arm. It’s not ideal, it’s not pain free and it still hurts, but I’ve made leaps and bounds over the last week, and it’s given me a lot of hope I’ll be able to continue the race.”
No telling if he’ll make it all the way to Paris. He’s already fatigued.
“When after a week your body is working overtime to recover a fractured bone, and then add the stress of the Tour de France, it’s not ideal for the race,” he said. “But I’m looking at this as 21 individual races, and waking up in the morning with my only focus being making it to the finish that day.”
First, though, he’s got to make it through Sunday’s Stage 9, the Roubaix stage, which winds over rough and punishing cobblestone streets.
“Your body gets jolted all over the place,” Craddock said. “I haven’t sat down and thought about how to get through that, because the main focus has been finishing the stage at hand. If I can get through tomorrow, that will be a big obstacle to manage those roads.”
Craddock started track racing at Alkek Velodrome in Houston at age 10. He moved to Austin in 2011 and has been racing at the sport’s highest level since 2014. He counts among his career highlights competing at the World Championships in Richmond, Va., in 2015, and winning a stage of a multi-day race on the French Caribbean island of Guadeloupe in 2011, where an official race car clipped him as he crossed the finish line, knocking him down. He still won the stage and saluted from the ground.
He rode in the Tour de France in 2016, becoming the second Texan (after Lance Armstrong), to complete the grueling stage race. He didn’t make it to the Tour last year, but landed a seat on the EF Education First-Drapac team this year, alongside team leader Rigoberto Urán, runner up in last year’s Tour.
“Ambitions were high. The main goal was to win the Tour de France,” Craddock says. “I was looking forward to being part of that.”