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Craig Lewis

Craig Lewis (Champion System)

Reflecting on life's defining moments

By:
Craig Lewis
Published:
May 11, 2012, 16:08 BST,
Updated:
May 11, 2012, 17:31 BST

Nearly one year has past since Craig's devastating Giro crash

I spent this past week racing down in New Mexico in the Tour of the Gila, a tough race, but a far cry from the Giro d’Italia that was kicking off over in Europe. Watching and reading about the Giro really got me thinking, and it’s hard to believe that a year has already past since I broke my femur in the 19th stage. What makes it even more difficult to comprehend is that my leg is still trying to heal after eight surgeries and countless doctors visits.

There is nothing I hate more than dwelling on bad experiences. I’ve talked a lot about the troubles of recovering from injuries, and the repercussions that come from breaking one of your legs in a sport that is centered around them. But it’s important to look back and reflect on our past, and to not just focus on the negatives as we all pass over our successes too easily.

The 19th stage last year was a defining moment in my career and life. Yes, I was taken from the top of the sport, and yes, I experienced a lot of pain and still do, but I consider myself lucky and very fortunate. Defining moments in our lives are just that, defining, but we are the ones that decide if they are positive or negative. A lot of things have changed since then. I’d even say that you could form more than a few parallels between solitary confinement and spending a month in a foreign hospital, you don’t come out exactly the same. Now that it’s a year later, I just don’t know if I’d change a single thing.

I’m in a different position in the sport than I was last spring. In previous years, I was a domestique for Mark Cavendish, Matt Goss, Andre Greipel and George Hincapie among others. My job was helping to control the race for them. I had a few successes myself - 11th in the Giro di Lombardia, I came close to winning the 13th stage in the 2011 Giro d’Italia and I was part of our TTT win in the Giro last year - but I took the most pride out of helping my teammates. And I always seem to get the most out of myself when riding the front.

Now, at Champion System, I am in the position to ride for myself. This seems like the perfect position to be in, but it’s a tough transition for me. I spent the better part of the last four years in the service of others and now I am expected to perform like a leader. That’s a tall order, and if there is some switch that needs to be flipped to make the change, I have yet to find it. I am really enjoying my new setup at Champion System, but I find myself missing those days on the front in a Grand Tour.

The recovery from my last surgery in December couldn’t be going any smoother. After taking the month off, I shot back onto the racing scene in late February at the Tour de Langkawi. I found it easy to regain 90 percent of my fitness, but since then I have been really struggling to find those last 10 percent. I find comfort in the fact that my doctors tell me it could take 12-18 months to regain strength, but that’s hard to explain to others when I look normal and healthy.

There is a lot going on, to say the least, but to sum up my stance in the cycling world, I’m content. Serious injuries have a way of resetting one’s life. You find balance through them. Where I was once in the bubble of racing a Grand Tour and not noticing a thing around me, I am now well aware again that there is life off of the bike and I’m going to live it. I realize that there are those out there that just want to read that I live in some cave where all I do is eat, sleep and breath cycling. The good news for those is that there are plenty of cyclists out there to fill that void, but that’s not healthy for me. For the first time in a long time, I’m getting so much enjoyment out of riding my bike because I have a balanced life off of it.

I’ve gotten a lot out of the sport over the past decade, but I’ve also given even more. I don’t know where I’m heading. I don’t know how I’m going to get there. Just when I think I’ve got things figured out, I’m reminded that I know nothing. Not knowing is part of the fun, but I have learned a lot of lessons through all of the setback and successes. The most important lesson being that I know I can make the best out of any situation.

Craig Lewis (Champion System)

Tour of California rejection: Destined for Disappointment

By:
Craig Lewis
Published:
March 17, 2012, 12:22 GMT,
Updated:
March 17, 2012, 12:26 GMT

Missing out on selection, but sympathize with the tough choice

Coming into this year, the Amgen Tour of California (ATOC) was always in the back of my mind as a race where I really wanted to shine. I knew there was never a guarantee that Champion System would be invited, but you can’t let thoughts like that get in the way of your goals. After reading the list of teams that would be invited to ATOC this year, I’m sure I wasn’t the only one left scratching my head. Are we at Champion System disappointed? You bet. However, there is not much we can do about it other than to go out and prove that we deserved to be there in the first place.

Having a look at the format for selecting the teams draws a slightly clearer picture. For starters, eight of the sixteen teams come from the WorldTour. But even then, as we saw with Sky, you are not sure of a spot. Sky doesn’t seem to have too much of an interest in the U.S. market so it’s hard to say if they even wanted to attend. Still, I’m sure they would have been happy to send a team. Then there are four Professional Continental Teams and four Continental Teams rounding out the roster. It’s safe to say that there are twenty-plus teams fighting for these eight spots.

Going a little bit further, you have the obvious invites. UnitedHealthcare Pro Cycling Team, Bissell Pro Cycling and Team Optum Presented by Kelly Benefit Strategies. These teams have been included, in one form or another, for the last several editions. They are all based in the U.S. and focused on a full racing program here in the States. Now there are five spots left open, three Pro Continental and two Continental, and this is where things get tricky.

Who do you invite and whom do you leave home? The list to choose from is endless and ever growing. There are teams from all over the world throwing their name in the hat and it all comes down to what AEG, the organization that runs the event, and Amgen, the sponsor, want. A race with the stature of ATOC needs just one thing, exposure in key markets.

For instance, they need the European teams to gain the media attention in Europe. I’m sure this is why they wanted to have GreenEdge on board to have more exposure in Australia. With Champion System coming from China, I thought we had a lot to offer. The race isn’t even covered in China, but clearly that is not a key market for AEG or Amgen. At the end of the day it’s their race, so it’s hard to blame them for any choice they make.

I know one thing; I wouldn’t want to be in the boardroom at AEG sorting through these options. I’m sure they don’t want to break any hearts, but with so many teams out there planning on spending the month of May in California, it’s bound to happen. Other than the media exposure there are the connections that certain sponsors have to California and the U.S. Felt Bikes were certainly instrumental in bringing in Project 1t4i. Team Exergy is based in California and must have somehow gained the edge over the other local favorite, Jelly Belly. Steve Bauer’s Spidertech team deserves a nod as they have a strong roster, having won the KOM last year with Pat McCarty, and have been building up their presence for years now.

The one wildcard to me is Colombia-Coldeportes. I’m not sure what their team has to gain from racing in California, but they definitely have a solid squad. In my opinion, the most deserving invite goes to the Bontrager Livestrong Team. I wish that all races were required to invite at least one development team. My first big race on the National Team was the 2004 Tour de Georgia, and I will never forget the emotions I had when I found out that we’d be in the race. Those are the experiences that build young riders into seasoned pros.

So that’s it; all sixteen slots are full. Left out in the cold are Jelly Belly, Team Type 1, Competitive Cyclist, Champion System and the list goes on… I’ve always been a big advocate for having less teams and riders in races for safety reasons, and I’m not going to go and say they should just invite more teams. AEG and Amgen have built a powerhouse of a race and I couldn’t be happier for them and for the excitement they bring to the sport. Disappointment is around every corner, and it’s how you deal with it that defines you. I can say that we at Champion System are taking this in our stride and are even more motivated to make our mark here in the U.S. to help showcase the sport in new parts of the world.

 

Craig Lewis (Champion System)

Back to business at the Tour de Langkawi

By:
Craig Lewis
Published:
March 06, 2012, 23:23 GMT,
Updated:
March 06, 2012, 23:23 GMT

Craig on the challenges of racing in Malaysia

The 17th edition of the Tour de Langkawi – which never actually visited the island of Langkawi itself – marked my first race of the year and my first time to Malaysia. Malaysia's tagline of being "Truly Asia" left a lot to the imagination, but I was pleasantly surprised with how western, or even American the country seemed. Waking up in our big hotel rooms, and eating in the large dining halls, this race could've easily been mistaken for any race in the U.S. The roads followed down that same path, smooth and wide-open. A fine way to ease into the year, versus racing on the overly congested roads that I grew accustomed to in Europe.

The level of the field in Malaysia was about a diverse as you can find. From WorldTour riders to guys that you'd think just jumped right off of the sidewalk and into the race. One constant thought running through my head was "how is it possible that some of these guys are so sketchy?" You know that every race – even their training rides at home – have been just as tricky or even more so, yet they are still horrible at handling their bikes. Doesn't practice make perfect? There are more than a few rides here that are evidence to the contrary.

I came out of the staring block with a surprisingly good 15th place in the opening time trial. I wasn't expecting to be that far up there at all, but I'll take it! It's always nice to consider the race a success after just the first day. The next few stages were far more controlled than I would have imagined. With small teams of just six riders, it's hard to predict and control a race. I think that more than a few riders were nervous about the heat and the many days ahead. Garmin-Barracuda also rode perfectly to keep Dave Zabriskie in the lead and set things up for the sprinters in stages 2-4.

The hills and mountains followed for the next two stages and the race switched hands from Garmin-Barracuda, to Drapac and finally found its home with Jose Serpa and his Androni Giocattoli team. I hated to see Dave lose the jersey, but he did so in a fine fashion. He certainly made good on the motto of "if you ain't first, you're last."

The sixth stage up Genting Highlands lived up to everything I had heard. If there is one part of the sport that is nearly impossible to replicate in training, it's sprinting for the first few kilometers of a twenty-kilometer climb and holding on for dear life. Genting Highlands starts with a u-turn after a 70-kph descent and shoots straight up into a double-digit grade. It just gets steeper as the top approaches over an hour later. With its unrelenting grades paired with the blazing heat and humidity, there's nothing else quite like it.

The race rounded out with more days for the sprinters, or I should say Andrea Guardini (Farnese Vini). Guardini proved time and again that he rules the sprints in Malaysia. Our fast-man, Anuar Manan, gave it nudge a few of the days but always came up a bike length short. Anuar is from Malaysia and has been dubbed the "Asian Mark Cavendish." He is very quick and to sprint here in Langkawi, you have to be crafty, so I see a few similarities. I also can't seem to understand much of anything that either of them says. I'll leave the comparisons at that.

There is one other observation that I'd like to share; it's on an issue that is very important to me, course safety. Here in Malaysia the risks are as they should be, left up to the riders. There are a few obstructions that you must navigate from time to time, but for the most part the roads are free and clear of dangers. I realize that it's impossible to replicate this in the more crowed parts of the world, namely Europe, but here a marshal's whistle actually carries meaning. When you hear it, you pay attention and are alert; its sound is not lost in an endless succession. It's been refreshing to not have to worry so much about what we are charging into.

I couldn't be more satisfied with how I came out of the race. I began with the goal of just getting through the 10 stages, but I left knowing that I can still go as far as I want to in the sport. I felt a bit like my old self, and after almost a year of feeling useless, life on the bike couldn't be better. I'm also leaving with a fresh tan, but it's now time to re-adjust again to the freezing temperatures of Colorado until the next adventure.

 

Craig Lewis (Champion System)

An introduction to China

By:
Craig Lewis
Published:
January 21, 2012, 19:00 GMT,
Updated:
January 22, 2012, 1:57 GMT

Craig gets his first taste of Asian culture at team camp

As I entered my eighth year as a professional cyclist, I began 2012 like so many of the other years by spending my birthday and most of January in a foreign country. This time, however, the first get-together with Champion System has been taking place in various cities and regions across China versus the more common spots in the US and Europe. I’m still not sure how to classify the trip other than to say it’s been quite an experience.

The Champion System Team has the ambitious goal of growing the sport of cycling in China, and a mixture of international riders will pass along their experiences and knowledge with the hopes of doing just that. All of the pieces are still falling together - in fact, we just added Australia’s Cameron Wurf to the roster - so a bit of chaotic gathering this month was to be expected, but I am pleasantly surprised at how well everything is playing out.

Ed Beamon, the general manager, has been doing the job of ten men these last few weeks. It’s hard to comprehend the logistical nightmare of managing a team of nearly forty staff and riders across a country as big as China. I felt bad for the pressure Ed was under, but I’ve still often thought of throwing one more question or comment at him just to see if his head actually would explode. Through the trials and tribulations he kept his composure and led the team in the right direction at all times – a great sign of a true leader and for the year ahead.

On our first day of team bonding in Hong Kong, we ventured down a dark alley and up a staircase into what seemed like someone’s residence. We gathered around a few tables with plastic chairs and in front of us, on burning gas stoves sat our lunch; a bowl of mystery meat and seafood all prepared in various ways. I cringed at the very thought of even touching the contents with my chopsticks. Don’t get me wrong, I love trying foods from every culture, but testicles and tripe are just not my thing. The verdict is still out on what the entire bowl comprised of, but I still worry that I might have swallowed a toenail at some point during the meal.

After this lunch of local “delicacies,” we took to the streets with a few instructors and learned a bit of Kung Fu. We then attempted to replicate what is known as the “dragon dance.” I’ve been part of many team-bonding experiences, from as simple as throwing a football on the beach to the over-consumption of alcoholic beverages. This was far from anything I’ve ever imagined, but it served the same purpose. It’s obvious that if you get a group of twenty men together, under any circumstance, men will be men. The same jokes are made and same bonds are formed. The team becomes a fraternity and that’s the real reason for these camps.

When our time came to an end in Hong Kong, we made our way up to Beijing for our team presentation and the usual medical testing. I was pleased to see a rather large group of press and media warmly welcome us as Asia’s first Professional Continental Team. I think there is still a long road ahead before we see the first Asian win the Tour de France, but that road begins here.

The island of Hainan is now playing host to the actual training part of the camp. Here the weather is a constant 70 degrees and since we are staying the countryside of rural China, there are little distractions. The roads are in impeccable shape, and there are more than enough climbs in the area to build a solid base. With wild animals running in the streets, motorbikes jumping out of the jungle and a total lack of stop signs, adapting has been a challenge. But for the most part, you couldn’t ask for a better setup.

With just a few more days left here on Hainan, we are taking full advantage of the warm weather before most of us head home and back to a more typical winter. Champion System has gathered a lot of interested across the globe and our racing schedule will reflect that. Even though we do not feel the pressure upon us, we all want to do our best to prove ourselves and give back to the sport. There is a big year ahead for the team and for the sport cycling in China. With our rider Will Clarke – racing for the trade team UniSA - already taking a WorldTour win in the Tour Down Under we are off to a great start!
 

Author
Craig Lewis

In his eighth professional season, American Craig Lewis is transitioning from four years in a support role at Highroad to more of a leadership position with the new Professional Continental squad Champion System. Riding for an Asian team will take Lewis to exotic places in the far reaches of the globe and back home again, and he will describe his adventures for our readers throughout the season.