Perfecting the balancing act

By Jackson Weber

Talking to Adam Craig in person, it is easy to miss the fact that he's one of the top professional US mountain bikers and the current cross country national champion. The 26 year-old, Mainer-turned-Oregonian sounds and acts like he's still the goofy, fresh-faced kid who only a few years back was an up and coming sensation, but with more experience, he's finding ways to balance racing with professional responsibilities.

While Adam Craig still crosses the line in victory with a shoulder shrug and a smirk, boisterously cracks jokes, and "likes riding bikes in the woods, fast" he is, like the sport in which he competes, learning to balance that his happy-go-lucky side with the responsibilities of a true professional athlete.

For Craig, 2007 was a mixed bag. The year hit a high note when the former New Englander won the elite cross country race at USA Cycling Mountain Bike National Championships in front of a home crowd at Mount Snow, Vermont. "A dream come true for sure," said Craig later that weekend, fresh off victory. It was the first elite cross country title Craig had won since racing as a U23 rider. That same weekend Craig also won the Super D, an event which he pretty much owns in the US, giving him two stars and stripes jerseys for the weekend.

Curiously (and maybe sadly) for many spectators and fans, and much to his own irritation, Craig's biggest win this season from a publicity standpoint may have come at an event that has no official meaning – the Singlespeed World Championships (SSWC) in Aviemore, Scotland, just one weekend before the UCI Mountain Bike World Championships.

"Literally hundreds of people came up to me in my two days at Interbike and said something to the effect of 'Nice work at Singlespeed Worlds' [and] people out on the trails say, 'Hey, singlespeed champ' and such as I roll by," wrote Craig in an email. "Not one person has said, 'Good work' on being the proper national champ, which actually took some doing."

But while Craig had a shining Nationals and Singlespeed Worlds, the only other major event that he won this season was the Pan American Games in Brazil. The rest of his season lacked some luster. On the World Cup circuit, Craig barely broke into the top 10 on a few occasions, which was still better than his fellow American competitors, but well off the podium, unlike in years past. At other American races, Craig's form was lacking, never coming together like the weekend of Nationals in July.

"I had planned to get in shape and take things serious-like, but all the other aspects of being a professional..." Craig trailed off for a moment as he chose his next words. "I dunno just doing stuff for sponsors – which is fine, great and easy to do and beats the hell out of a real job, but I'm still figuring out the balance. I think I'm getting closer…or at least riding faster so I must be getting closer."

Events and words like these highlight the change that is still ongoing in Craig. He is the goofy Mainer who showed up to the SSWCs clad completely in denim with a mustache and a rather unfortunate mullet. He continues to crack jokes and has the best post-race color comments of any racer but now he also displays an impressive amount of poise and maturity – more than that for which he often gets credit. He's reached the point in his career where he knows he can win and that he has to represent his sponsor well at the same time, and he now sounds fully prepared to take on both roles successfully for 2008.

Much of Craig's new-found seriousness stems from the fact that the 2008 Olympics in Beijing, China, are looming in the distance, and Craig appears dead set on representing the US. "I've acknowledged the fact that bike riding is my career," said Craig rather nonchalantly, "and the Olympics are always good for John Q. Public and the career in general."

Even when pressed further, Craig remained relatively controlled about the whole thing. "I don't have the super duper Olympic dream of 'I just want to be an Olympian,'" explained Craig. "I am an athlete and I want to compete on the grandest stage and compete well there. I want to go to the Olympics and do as well as I can - the Olympics are just another World Championship except with less dudes."

To read the complete feature, click here.

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