Champion System Pro Cycling Team’s Craig Lewis was part of a nine-man breakaway that saw its hopes for success dashed in the final kilometers of Tuesday’s second stage of the USA Pro Challenge. But that’s not remarkable in itself, after all every day riders toil in the break hoping that the break makes it to the line but it rarely does.
What is remarkable is the journey back to high level racing for the 2006 USA Under-23 national road race and criterium champion. At last year’s Giro d’Italia Lewis, then riding for HTC-Columbia, fractured his right femur and broke ribs in a potentially career-ending, high-speed crash. In December, he underwent a complex bone graft to aid his recovery.
“Last year I thought I’d never get back to this level,” Lewis said. “I’m getting stronger day by day.”
“It’s pretty heroic.” Champion System General Manager Ed Beamon told podiuminsight. “It’s certainly a greater accomplishment than winning a bike race to have the nerve and the guts and the will power to go through what he’s going through and still try to be an athlete. He broke his leg at the Giro last year, it was very serious, I understand that it was so serious that at one point they thought he might lose his leg.”
“In October, he was still having a lot of pain and a lot of difficulty and upon re-examination they decided that really the operation was not successful, that he needed to have basically another operation to repair the bridge, and the hardware that they were putting in and also do a bone graft to try to promote better bone growth.”
Lewis signed on with the China-registered UCI Pro Continental team Champion System in 2012, a move that Beamon considered somewhat a gamble. “I think there’s certainly a lot of uncertainty on our part with the team, but there’s a lot of uncertainty on his part as well, just what kind of capabilities he can have. The heart, the lungs and the engine are great, you need two legs to race.”
Journey back. Month by month Lewis has been seeing improvement in his leg and fitness as he raced around the world with his new team.
“I’m feeling good, I’m having my ups and downs with consistency which just isn’t there with missing almost a year of racing. The legs are coming around, getting stronger, not quite a hundred percent but every month I noticed some good gains so hoping to continue that trend” Lewis told podiuminsight at the end of the Larry H. Miller Tour of Utah.
“That’s been a really long process for him and he’s had to race most of the year with one leg, and it’s just now in the last month that he’s really started to see some progress.” Beamon said.
Showing that he was on the comeback trail, Lewis soloed to victory out of a three-man breakaway that had been off the front for more than 100 kilometers on Stage 2 of the Tour de Beauce in June. That victory was the first individual race win in eight seasons as a professional.
More confidence was gained after he spent a long day in the break on stage four in Utah. “It’s always motivating to be out front to get that feeling and that confidence back is what I’ve been missing all year. I’m happy to be there, felt good the whole time, felt fairly strong by the finish so it’s a good sign.”
The 27-year old rider had faced adversity earlier in his career when he was hit by car that stayed onto the time trial course at the 2004 Tour de Georgia. After months of rehab and physical therapy, Lewis made a full recovery from serious injuries that included sever internal bleeding, a dozen broken bones and both lungs punctured. He joined Team High-Road in 2008 where he spent the next five years.
Though the ups and downs, Lewis did not think of stopping. “It would be definitely be a lot easier to just give up and go home but it’s something that I enjoy doing and want to keep doing. I don’t think I’m finished with this sport so it’s what keeps me motivated and mentally tough.”
He simply loves the sport of cycling. “The whole culture of the sport, the travel, you get to see different part of the world. There are so many good aspects of it, it’s not a normal desk job. I’ve had great opportunities and met great people along the way.”