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Craig optimistic for second half of season following knee injury

US short track national champion Adam Craig (Rabobank - Giant)

US short track national champion Adam Craig (Rabobank - Giant) (Image credit: Jake Orness / www.jakespointofview.com)

Following a ruptured anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) in his knee, US short track mountain bike national champion Adam Craig has had to alter his racing plans for 2010. The 28-year-old Bend, Oregon, resident will have to miss the entire spring season while he rehabs his knee, but he's optimistic about the second half of the year.

"I'm just trying to enjoy not riding and not having to do anything. I like doing what I do, but I'm trying to take advantage of the mental recuperation time after being on straight for about 10 years," said Craig, who has consistently raced for years at the international level and as one of the top American cross country riders.

Craig sustained the injury upon falling while walking across a parking lot after a trip to the grocery store on February 3. "I ate crap in a parking lot, which is excessively stupid and annoying," he said to Cyclingnews at a team training camp earlier this week in Tehachapi, California. "I didn't feel a pop, but I felt an immediate sharp pain and my patella wasn't tracking right." On February 9, he underwent surgery to repair the ruptured ligament.

Surgeons used a tendon from the shin of a cadaver as a new "tendon" to connect the tibia and femur. "There were two portals drilled in my leg: one vertically through the femoral head and one through the tibial plateau. The doctors looped the cadaver tendon around a pin through the femoral portal and fixed both ends back to the tibia. They did it all with dissolvable screws that will get absorbed by the bone structure."

Craig had the option to use part of his own hamstring or a cadaver for the procedure. "If you do the hamstring, you have to rehab that, too, and there is only a two percent rejection rate with cadaver tissue." He noted that the general success of ACL reconstruction surgery overall is approximately 85 to 90 percent.

He can already ride although he's under orders to be very careful and his range of motion is quite limited.

"It's a ticking bomb until 16 weeks from surgery. That's when your body converts cadaver tissue to tendon tissue. Then that ligament needs to be strong enough. Any jar could rupture it or stretch it."

"I rode around the neighborhood on Sunday before I came here. It's matter of getting my range of motion back - improving it enough to get my pedal stroke back to normal. That's when I'll ride more. I've got to take is slow and let the muscles recuperate and rebuild without causing some other overuse injury through compensation."

Instead of his usual training, Craig does a half-hour of rehab twice per day and rides the trainer for 15 to 30 minutes. He gets around walking with a brace. "I've just gotten the range of motion to get over the top of the pedal stroke," he said.

In his eight years under Giant sponsorship, Craig had always raced with the Giant Factory Team, but this year he will get extra support by virtue of his association with the Rabobank-Giant team. The relationship will give him more on the ground support when he's racing World Cups in Europe.

"The timing of the injury is especially frustrating because with the Rabobank-Giant team, I was planning to have a big spring European campaign, with great support from my new team, then take a break mid-summer, but now I can't do that."

"It's strange to not be going over there as I have for the past eight or nine years."

"I'm hoping my season works out fine and I can get to training effectively in a few weeks. I think it will push everything back. I should be able to get back to racing in June," said Craig, who is even wondering about the possibility of making the late May US Pro XCT round in Texas.

With US Nationals in July and the World Championships in September, Craig may have an advantage in that he comes into the second half of the season mentally fresh and hungry to race and win. He'll be hoping to defend his short track national title or win back the cross country national title he held in 2007 and 2008.

"I am looking forward to worlds at Mont Sainte Anne [in Canada]," he said. "I've put all my eggs in that basket now. That's my opportunity to redeem myself from this slip. I've been fired up for that race since I heard about it." Craig first raced at Mont Sainte Anne when he was 16 and it's been a favorite venue for him ever since. "To go back there will be pretty awesome. I'm also looking forward to the World Cup finals in Windham, New York the week before."

The ACL injury is Craig's first injury since he was 12 years old, when he fractured his tibial plateau. No injury has previously kept him from racing. "I've been lucky so far," he said, offering a theory as to how he's avoided broken collarbones and shoulder injuries common to cyclists. "I've always had a bigger upper body which I think has helped me stay injury-free."

Fortunately, for Craig, as he waits for his body to heal enough to return to training and racing, he can still compete in one of his other favorite activities: rally car racing. "Since I'm not going to be in Europe for the World Cups, I will be at the next two rallies: the Rally Olympus and the Oregon Trail."