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National champion and Sebastopol cycling star Luke Lamperti recounts his thrilling win in Tennessee

As a skier, wakeboarder, former motocross racer and 8-time national champion on a bicycle, Luke Lamperti has a wide array of talents. One of them is finding his mother in a crowd.

“Somehow, about halfway through a race, he’ll find me, and make eye contact,” said Maxine Lamperti, who has learned, over the years, to read the expression on Luke’s face in that moment.

“He gives me a look, or a nod, and I can tell if he feels good or if he doesn’t.”

On June 18 in Knoxville, Tennessee, Luke Lamperti, 18, of Sebastopol, was feeling good.

Halfway through men’s criterium at the USA Cycling Pro Road National Championships, he looked strong and confident.

“I didn’t know if he’d win,” said Maxine, “but I thought he’d end up on the podium.”

Shorter than a road race, a criterium is more stressful and intense, a series of laps around a fixed course, with riders packed together, cornering and jostling for position. Maxine and her husband, Tony — they own Tony’s Trucks &Toys, a used car dealership in Santa Rosa — had staked out a spot at the last corner, a left hand turn into a slightly downhill straightaway to the finish line.

In the final lap, in the moments before the lead group reached that corner, there was a crash: two riders hit the deck. One of them, Travis McCabe, was the event’s defending national champion.

Swerving around them, Luke came catapulting into the final stretch on the wheel of Sam Bassetti. It was a small world at the front of a big race: Bassetti is from Santa Rosa.

‘Oh my God, he’s going to do this’

Summoning a supreme effort — the power meter on Lamperti’s bike showed that he was putting out nearly 1500 watts, a ridiculous number — he pulled out of Bassetti’s slipstream.

“Oh my God,” Maxine remembers thinking, “he’s going to do this.”

And he did.

Two weeks after graduating from Cardinal Newman High School, a few days after flying back from Europe, where he’d been competing this spring for his United Kingdom-based team, Trinity Racing, Lamperti became the youngest-ever winner of U.S. men’s pro criterium.

Luke Lamperti atop the podium after outsprinting 2nd-place finisher Sam Bassetti, left, to win the criterium at USA Cycling’s national road championships in Knoxville, Tenn., June 18, 2021. Lamperti and Bassetti are products of Santa Rosa’s Team Swift, a junior cycling development program founded by ex-pro rider Laura Charameda. (Tommy Zsak)
Luke Lamperti atop the podium after outsprinting 2nd-place finisher Sam Bassetti, left, to win the criterium at USA Cycling’s national road championships in Knoxville, Tenn., June 18, 2021. Lamperti and Bassetti are products of Santa Rosa’s Team Swift, a junior cycling development program founded by ex-pro rider Laura Charameda. (Tommy Zsak)

While that result astounded the velo-world — not only was Lamperti one of the youngest riders in the 129-man field, he was racing without teammates — it came as less of a surprise to the winner himself.

“Honestly, no,” said Lamperti, when asked if the victory had come as a shock. Racing in Europe, he’d been off the radar of many of his USA-based criterium opponents, who may have overlooked him. “But I knew I had the ability to be up there” in the front of the bunch, “and do well.”

Both Lamperti and Bassetti are products of Santa Rosa’s Team Swift, a junior cycling development program founded by ex-pro rider Laura Charameda, who was elated by the news that her alumni had taken the top two podium spots at the elite men’s criterium in Knoxville.

“I mean, can you believe this?” she said. “First and second in the nation, all from little Team Swift!”

An unlikely prodigy

Growing up in Sebastopol, Lamperti and his family spent many weekends at his grandfather’s ranch in Clearlake Oaks. Luke and his older brother Gianni — an outstanding cyclist in his own right, who would go on to win the 2019 U.S. Junior National road title — spent much of their time riding motocross on a track at the ranch. Around the age of 9, Luke decided he wanted to be a bike race

“He’s too young,” Charameda recalls telling his parents.

“I don’t know,” replied Maxine. “He’s pretty good.”

He was, in fact, a prodigy, winning 7 age-group national championships by the time he was 15. But he was an unlikely prodigy. As a toddler, Luke was stubbornly risk averse, unwilling “to do anything,” Maxine recalled. “He was like, ‘Nope — when I’m 3, I’ll do it.’”

He was true to his word. At the age of 3, Luke took up motocross. His father would attach training wheels to his dirt bike. After finishing their chores on the ranch, the boys raced on a track Tony had built. At some point they took up mountain biking, to train for motocross. Luke and Gianni came to love their bicycles so much, they decided to start racing on them instead.

He was competing for Team Swift before his 10th birthday. In that hyper-competitive world, how did he not burn out?

Maxine has a simple answer: “Because it was always fun. It was always their choice,” she said, referring to her sons. “I don’t ever remember telling them, ‘Hey, you’ve got to go ride.’”

Sebastopol native Luke Lamperti, 18, Thursday, June 24, 2021, the youngest national champion in the history of the USA Pro Cycling Championships, won the criterium at the national championships in Knoxville. Lamperti is a member of the under-23 US National Team.  (Kent Porter / The Press Democrat) 2021
Sebastopol native Luke Lamperti, 18, Thursday, June 24, 2021, the youngest national champion in the history of the USA Pro Cycling Championships, won the criterium at the national championships in Knoxville. Lamperti is a member of the under-23 US National Team. (Kent Porter / The Press Democrat) 2021

And cycling wasn’t their whole world. The skied in wintertime, waterskied and wakeboarded during the summer. When the boys started racing seriously, the whole family would strap their bikes on the back of a hulking RV, and make an adventure of it.

It didn’t hurt that both Lamperti boys won a lot. After peaking with that Junior National title two years ago, Gianni made the tough decision to stop racing. He’d been accepted at Pepperdine University, and opted to move on with his life. Though passionate about the sport, he had other loves — skiing, wakeboarding — that he’d drifted from, the more he focused on his bike. He missed those pastimes.

Aiming for the ‘Classics’

Luke missed them, too. But their absence wasn’t a dealbreaker for him. The more he raced, the more success he had, the more he believed this sport was his future. He saw that future more clearly in 2019, after notching a top 10 finish in the Paris-Roubaix Juniors race, a shortened version of the legendary, cobbled one-day classic.

He speaks of that day with reverence: riding to the cheers of the fans camped out to see the pros, who would speed past later in the day; the challenge of those cobblestone sectors; and finishing in the Roubaix Velodrome.

“That was definitely the coolest race I’ve ever done in my life,” said Lamperti.

While not a pure climber, like the spindly mountain goats who win stages in Alps and Pyrenees in the Tour de France, Lamperti is a strong climber and excellent sprinter. He is, in the parlance of cycling, an all-rounder.

Sebastopol native Luke Lamperti, 18, Thursday, June 24, 2021, the youngest national champion in the history of the USA Pro Cycling Championships, won the criterium at the national championships in Knoxville. Lamperti is a member of the under-23 US National Team. (Kent Porter / The Press Democrat) 2021
Sebastopol native Luke Lamperti, 18, Thursday, June 24, 2021, the youngest national champion in the history of the USA Pro Cycling Championships, won the criterium at the national championships in Knoxville. Lamperti is a member of the under-23 US National Team. (Kent Porter / The Press Democrat) 2021

Asked if he hopes to lead teams in grand tours like the Tour de France — which begins Saturday — Lamperti demurred. His goal, for now, is to excel in cycling’s Spring Classics, one-day sufferfests with storied pasts like Milan-San Remo, the Tour of Flanders, Liege-Bastogne-Liege and Paris-Roubaix.

“I would say that’s a really great role for him,” agreed Charameda, who in 1993 won a bronze medal in the women’s road race at World Championships. While he might not win “an uphill, 10-mile time trial,” he could be “amazing” in the Classics.

After most of his 2020 season was wiped out by COVID-19, Lamperti got off to a strong start this year, winning a stage of the Tour D’Eure-et-Loir, in France, last month. After an uneven performance in the 10-day, under-23 version of the Giro D’Italia — he was ill for the first few days — he flew to Tennessee, where, frankly, no one expected much from him.

Seizing the moment

The big dogs in the discipline of criterium are the members of a team called Legion of Los Angeles, whose stacked roster includes Tyler Williams. He’s from Santa Rosa, along with Jackson Duncan of Team Mike’s Bikes, who also took the start in Knoxville but crashed twice and didn’t finish.

With half a dozen riders in the national championship, including two of the fastest sprinters in the country, Legion was a solid favorite to produce Friday’s winner. But the racing was hectic, and in the final laps, Legion was unable to hold its usual place at the front — supplanted by, among others Bassetti of Team Elevate-Webiplex.

Lurking just behind was Lamperti, whose strengths include his keen sense of tactics — his ability to read a race and seize the moment.

Luke Lamperti, 18, moments after outsprinting Sam Bassetti to win the elite men’s criterium at USA Cycling’s national championships in Knoxville, Tenn., June 18, 2021 (Tommy Zsak)
Luke Lamperti, 18, moments after outsprinting Sam Bassetti to win the elite men’s criterium at USA Cycling’s national championships in Knoxville, Tenn., June 18, 2021 (Tommy Zsak)

While never taking the lead, he’d kept the leaders in sight, biding his time. Going into the penultimate corner, Lamperti swung wide, setting up a pass. On his right, a rider crashed into the barriers.

Reacting swiftly to avoid him, Lamperti glued himself to Bassetti’s back wheel, then, following the final turn, “went full gas” to the line, earning his eighth, and most meaningful national title.

It's unlikely to be his last.

You can reach Staff Writer Austin Murphy at austin.murphy@pressdemocrat.com or on Twitter @ausmurph88.

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