Craig Lewis Interview: Crucial season ahead for Champion System rider
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Friday, January 06, 2012

Craig Lewis Interview: Crucial season ahead for Champion System rider

by Ed Hood at 8:17 PM EST   comments
Categories: Pro Cycling, Interviews, Injury
 
American once again battling back from injury

Craig LewisCraig Lewis (Champion System) is no stranger to bad crashes; in 2004, whilst riding for TIAA-CREF in the Tour of Georgia, he was hit by a motor vehicle – breaking 47 bones.

This season, on stage 19 of the Giro, he and HTC team mate Marco Pinotti were involved in a bad crash and were rushed to hospital.

Pinotti is well on the way to 100% fitness, whilst Lewis still has a way to go to recover fully from a badly broken left femur, not to mention broken ribs.

His bad year was further compounded by the HTC team’s failure to find a sponsor for 2012.

But the 26 year-old American is nothing if not resilient. Within two years of his Georgia horror crash he was US U23 road race and criterium champion.

And whilst his health isn’t back to where it should be, the issue of a ride for 2012 has been resolved by his signing for Chinese Pro Continental team, Champion System. It is going to help him build back up, giving him a say in determining what races he will do.

“The team has been great to work with on the program - very open and very supportive of my selections,” he told VeloNation recently.

Back in 2007, Lewis moved up to Slipstream after three years at TIAA-CREF, and showed much promise in his pro debut. He was 30th in the World U23 road race championship, seventh overall in the Tour de l’Avenir and sixth overall in the Tour of Ireland.

The following season he moved to Colombia and he would stay with the team through the metamorphosis to HTC and the eventual demise.

A ninth place in the US Pro championship and eleventh in the Tour of Lombardy were the highlights of that year.

In 2009 his first pro win arrived - the team time trial in the Tour of Romandie. He also took seventh on GC in the Tour of Ireland and made a huge contribution to team-mate George Hincapie’s win in the US Pro championship.

In 2010 he rode his first Giro and took another top ten in the US Pro championship.

He went back to the Giro in 2011 and it looked like it was set to be a good year for him when he flew across the line as part of the victorious HTC train in the Giro’s opening TTT in Turin.

But the Giro can be a fickle mistress and with just one day to go until the closing time trial, Lewis found himself on the tarmac. That was the beginning of another long, frustrating time off the bike, but fortunately he was able to find a team for this season and continue his career.

He took time between Xmas and New Year to talk to VeloNation about 2011 and his new beginning with the world’s first Far Eastern Pro Continental team.

Craig LewisVeloNation: Do you like Chinese food, Craig?

Craig Lewis: I've never been to China, so it's hard to say if I've had the real thing, but I love what we have here in the U.S.

VN: Have you raced in Asia before now?

CL: Never been, but I’m very excited to see that part of the world.

VN: Your previous team HTC folded, despite being a very successful setup. How much of a surprise was that?

CL: It was more of a sign of the times. So many other programs are going through the same deal with riders retiring or returning to the amateur ranks.

VN: Why do you think that HTC couldn't get a new sponsor - was it the lack of a GC guy?

CL: I wasn't involved with any of the meetings with potential sponsors, so I'm not sure what went on there, but other than that, it's safe to say that the riders and staff did everything possible to appeal to sponsors.

We won countless races and even the overall of races like Paris-Nice. Some say we didn't have a GC guy, but I think they were unable to look past all of our stage wins to see that we almost always had a guy fighting for the win or top ten on GC.

VN: What do you think the answer is to the situation where a rider works selflessly for his team but wins few UCI points and can't get a contract?

CL: I don't think that will ever change.

I'll take the blame for myself. No one owes me a ride anywhere or favours, and it probably came down to fact that other rider's bonds were stronger with each other or with the directors. I all but disappeared after the Giro.

VN: What's your initial reaction when the axe falls?

CL: It’s all for a reason - good or bad. You could look back to late last year when I signed back with HTC in December.

I came back and had my best spring and Giro ever and then ended up in the hospital for a month and was left disabled.

Would things have been different for me if I didn't break my leg at the Giro? Absolutely, but a lot of doors have opened up for me since then. Champion System has been one of them.

I never panicked as I knew it would work out and I always make the best of a bad situation.

Champion SystemVN: How did you hook up with Champion, initially?

CL: Ed (Beamon, team manager) got in contact with me in August.

We kept talking for a few weeks as I figured out if I wanted to keep fighting for a World Tour team or not. The more I talked with Ed the better I felt about going with him and Champion System.

I'd say it's one of the smartest decisions I've made in the sport.

VN: Do you have an agent - and if not, who vets the contract terms for you?

CL: I was working with an agent on the basis that if he found a team, then he could work the deal. Ed found me and I made the decision to sign, so I did the whole deal myself.

VN: What's Champion's vision for the team?

CL: I can't speak directly for Champion and I'm not sure if this is even their vision, but I see them being the first Asian team in the Tour de France. Why not? The team is growing when almost every other team is getting smaller.

If they can keep building on that momentum, the big riders and the big invites will come.

VN: How's the training going for the new season - tell us about the team's training camps, please.

CL: I've been riding for one week! It was great until early December when I had another operation to fix my femur.

I just got back on the bike and so I am building up from nothing. I'm out of shape, yes, but I tend to get it all back quickly.

I'm not sure what to expect for our upcoming get together in Asia - sunny and warm weather I hope!

VN: That Giro crash really was a turning point for you…

Craig LewisCL: Many things in my life would be different. I'd be able to go for a hike with my wife here in Colorado or even just walk down the street pain-free.

I'm working at fixing those issues, but I'm not sure of what the outcome will be. The health issue is ongoing - the bone graft has set me back some, but should help me finally recover.

Aside from the damages to my health, I'm very happy with how everything else has turned out.

VN: Has pro cycling been the way you thought it would be when you were a young amateur?

CL: Let's see… Well, I've broken over forty bones more than I imagined…

VN: 2012 will be a good year, if..?

CL: If I keep racing in 2013, you'll know I had a fun time in 2012.

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