Luke Lamperti appears to be a major overtake in his chosen field of cycle racing.
Two weeks after graduating from Cardinal Newman High School last June, the 18-year-old from Sebastopol became the youngest rider to win the men’s criterium at the US National Cycling Championships in Knoxville, Tennessee .
Lamperti, who rides for UK-based Trinity Racing, has a number of notable racing results, including seven national age group championships.
But there was a gap in his resume – his track record, in cycling parlance – for which training partners Peter Stetina and Tyler Williams had long given him good-natured grief.
Despite all his successes, Lamperti had never “won a Hopper”.
That is, he had never placed first in any of the particularly fun and slightly sadistic gravel-centric events hosted by the Grasshopper Adventure Series, a beloved Northern California institution that turns 25 this year. .
The series was founded by Miguel Crawford, who describes its events as “fun, often very long and challenging magical mystery drives through the diverse, challenging and eclectic hills of Sonoma County and beyond”.
Although Lamperti has been riding Grasshoppers since he was 12, he had never crossed the finish line first – until January 30, when he won the season-opening Low Gap Hopper, a 43-mile festival of suffering in Ukiah split equally between dirt and pavement, with 5600 feet of climbing.
Crossing the line in a very respectable 10th place, among women, and reminding the world that Lamperti is not Sevastopol’s only cycling prodigy, was Vida Lopez de San Roman, who at 15 already has three national titles per group d age, and rides for the prestigious Bear National Team.
The women’s race was won by Kate Courtney, a Marin County native and former world cross-country mountain bike champion, who ripped through the field, finishing nearly 8 minutes ahead of second-placed Maude Farrell.
For his part, Lamperti edged Brennan Wertz and Alex Wild to the line, then expressed both happiness – at having earned his first win of the 22 season – and relief that friends and fellow professional riders now have one less thing for razz. .
For pros who hail from or have adopted Sonoma County, “winning a Grasshopper is kind of a rite of passage,” Lamperti said. Not having that victory in his quiver “was one of those things that those guys always gave me (heartache) for.”
Crawford likes to cook up routes that mix pavement, gravel and dirt, often confusing riders, unsure of what gear to bring to the event – mountain bike? Road bike? Gravel bike? – or what tires to put on this machine.
Formerly an elite mountain biker himself, Crawford is a Sevastopol native who teaches Spanish at West County High School. He launched the Grasshopper series a quarter of a century ago, driven by a passion for adventure and for sharing the region’s hidden cycling gems – routes he calls Old Caz, Skaggs, Sweetwater for short – as well as ‘a hundred other barely known and passing trails.
The laid-back, low-fi and friendly atmosphere of Grasshopper events has long appealed to cyclists, from weekend warriors and world champions like Courtney to professional road racers turned gravel riders like Laurens ten Dam, Alison Tetrick and Ted King, who describes Crawford’s series as “the OG” – the original gangster of gravel events that have grown in popularity over the past decade.
While most of his elite peers started at Low Gap on gravel bikes with beefier tires, to guard against punctures in the off-road sections, Lamperti went against the grain, riding on his Specialized S Works road bike with slick race tires.
On this simplified setup, he stayed reasonably close to Stetina, Brennan and Wild on the climbs. After traversing a 9-mile descent strewn with ruts and rocks in Ukiah, Lamperti then unleashed his world-class sprint to take the W.
In the last 400 meters, Lamperti was producing 1,500 watts, according to his bike’s power meter – exceptionally high power, comparable to the levels produced by sprinters at the highest levels of the sport.
He had tapped into those afterburners to claim the USA Cycling criterium crown in June – and also in the final moments of Stage 5 of the Tour of Britain in September. Digging deep, the teenager edged out a better-known runner to claim fourth place. The guy who came in fifth – and who seemed to be looking to his right at the finish, wondering “Who the hell is this kid?” – was Mark Cavendish, coming out of the 2021 Tour de France, where he had won four stages.
In Belgium a fortnight later, Lamperti placed 10th at the Under-23 World Championships, before being disqualified for making contact with another rider – a Belgian and local favorite – on a cobbled section.
After a training camp in December in Spain with Trinity, Lamperti was invited to another camp with Quick-Step Alpha Vinyl, a Belgian WorldTeam at the top level of the sport.
“You understand what the team is about, they understand what you are,” said Lamperti, who will ride for Trinity this year and plans to move up to major league cycling the following year when he’s all 20.
“Luke is a total stallion – the real deal,” Crawford said. “It’s going to be fun to watch it.”
You can contact editor Austin Murphy at [email protected] or on Twitter @ausmurph88.