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Sebastopol cyclist Luke Lamperti repeats as national champion

There was some talk a year ago, after Luke Lamperti became the youngest-ever winner of the U.S. National Criterium Championship, that his victory may have been something of a fluke — that the 18-year-old from Sebastopol had been lucky avoiding crashes, and simply been in the right place at the right time.

Now 19, Lamperti shut that talk right down on June 24 at the USA Cycling Championships in Knoxville, Tennessee, successfully defending his title and repeating as this country’s elite criterium champ.

Where Lamperti went into last year’s race as an unknown quantity – “I’d been racing in Europe, I hadn’t been really been back on the U.S. scene,” he said Wednesday – this time he lacked the element of surprise. In the end, it made no difference. When Lamperti dropped the hammer on Church Ave., some 500 meters from the finish, none of his rivals could answer.

In the men’s road race two days later, the 2021 Cardinal Newman High School graduate finished in fifth place, just 5 seconds behind winner Kyle Murphy. Lamperti’s results in Knoxville follow a strong first half of the 2022 season: In January he won the Low Gap Hopper in Ukiah, the season-opening event in the Grasshopper Adventure Series, before heading over to Europe for a series of spring races.

In May, Lamperti became the first-ever American winner of the 66-year-old Rapha Lincoln Grand Prix, a criterium in Great Britain.

He won two events at the prestigious Tulsa Tough series in Oklahoma earlier this month and was named to USA Cycling’s national team, recognition of his status as one of the country’s most promising young riders.

Following this season, Lamperti is hoping to sign as a neo-pro (someone under age 25 competing in their first year as a professional cyclist) with a WorldTour team in Europe — bike racing’s major leagues.

For now, the 19-year-old rides for the United Kingdom-based Trinity Racing team. Like last year, he had no teammates in the Knoxville criterium — a series of 1.1-mile laps around a fixed course, with riders packed together, jostling and elbowing for position.

And, like last year, Lamperti managed to somehow use that to his advantage, riding in the slipstreams of the teams who dominate this discipline: Legion of Los Angeles, then Best Buddies, before making his decisive attack.

With 10 laps to go, a pair of riders pulled clear of the main bunch. While that worried him slightly, Lamperti told Velonews, it was the responsibility of the dueling alpha squads to reel in those escapees.

“There can be benefits to riding by yourself,” said Lamperti, who lurked in fifth place, behind a quartet of Best Buddies riders, with two laps to go.

With a single lap remaining, he’d moved up to fourth wheel. As the front group began the slight climb on Church Ave. in the final minute of racing, Lamperti attacked on the inside, emerging in the lead. With just two corners remaining, he summoned a jaw-dropping acceleration to which his rivals had no response.

“Meet the new boss,” shouted announcer Brad Sohner on the Flobikes livestream feed as Lamperti won the race going away, “same as the old boss!”

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

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