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Sebastopol’s Luke Lamperti, 18, wins national championship in criterium bike race

The most remarkable victory at last week’s USA Cycling Pro Road National Championships was snatched by Luke Lamperti, a native of Sebastopol. Two weeks after graduating from Cardinal Newman High School, the 18-year-old became the youngest rider ever to win the men’s criterium at the U.S. nationals.

Despite his youth, and having no teammates in the 129-rider field in Knoxville, Tennessee, Lamperti rode a crafty, opportunistic race, eluding a pair of riders who crashed going into the final corner, then outsprinting Sam Bassetti to take the win.

Bassetti rides for a team called Elevate-Webiplex, Lamperti for the United Kingdom-based Trinity Racing. Both 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 Friday’s elite men’s criterium.

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

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 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 racer. “He’s too young,” Charameda recalls telling his parents, Maxine and Tony.

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

Luke was, indeed, a prodigy, winning seven age group national championships by the time he was 15. Selected to be a member of the U.S. Junior National team, he won a stage of the Grand Prix Ruebliland in 2019, also notching a top-10 finish that year in the Paris-Roubaix Juniors race, a shortened version of the legendary, cobbled one-day classic.

Between 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.

Like many other cycling events in 2020, Paris-Roubaix was canceled due to COVID-19.

After going more than a year without racing, Lamperti got off to a strong start this season, winning a stage of the Tour D’Eure-et-Loir, in France, in mid-May. After a solid performance in the 10-day, under-23 version of the Giro D’Italia, he flew to Tennessee, for the US. national championships.

With the elite men’s criterium Friday evening, Lamperti went for a spin that morning, and was encouraged by two things: his legs felt great — no residual fatigue from the race in Italy. And it wasn’t humid. For Lamperti, riding in humidity is like riding at altitude. It takes him awhile to adjust.

The big dogs in the discipline of criterium — repeated circuits of a fixed course that’s usually about a mile — are the members of a team called Legion of Los Angeles. With half-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 Elevate-Webiplex.

Lurking just behind was Lamperti. Going into the penultimate corner, the 18-year-old swung wide, setting up a pass. On his right, a pair of riders crashed into the barriers. Swerving to avoid them, 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 pretty heartbreaking to get second place in national championships, again,” Bassetti told Cyclingnews. “Luke just rolled us out of the corner.

“I’ve been riding with Luke since he was just a little kid and it’s super special to be on the podium with him. He’s going to go on to be a very good bike racer.”

Charameda was delighted for both riders.

“Sonoma County’s kicking ass,” she declared.

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

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