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.
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?