Reflecting on life's defining moments

Craig Lewis (Champion System)

Craig Lewis (Champion System) (Image credit: Champion System Pro Cycling Team)

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.

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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.