Craig Lewis of Champion Systems will ride this year’s Tour of Beijing with his Chinese teammates Pengda Jioa, Biao Liu, Kun Jiang and Chinese national road race champion Gang Xu. Beijing ticket punched — enjoy the Great Wall, stay away from the clenbuterol-laced Kung Pao chicken.
The question is, where Lewis is headed after China? When we spoke with Lewis at the recent US Pro Cycling Challenge in Colorado, he couldn’t reveal his destination for next season.
Lewis spent four years at HTC-Highroad and while he admitted he’s happy to ride for Champion after recovering from a broken leg in the 2011 Giro d’Italia, he told us he hoped to get back to a ProTeam and ride the biggest races in the world.
By any measure, Lewis has had a rough ride. In the 2004 Tour of Georgia he was almost killed when a car pulled in front of him during a time trial. The resulting impact punctured both lungs and broke 47 bones — which will really slow you down in a bike race.
It took him a while to piece his body back together and then the Giro crash set him back again. The entire HTC-Highroad squad was also wiped out that season thanks to a lack of sponsorship money. Everybody found a new team except Lewis — who was viewed as damaged goods.
Finally, Champion Systems came through and we had the pleasure of watching Lewis ride with confidence and aggression in Colorado, jumping in breakaways in the first three stages of the US Pro Cycling Challenge.
He’s also a terrific interview and not afraid to speak his mind. When Vincenzo Nibali, fresh off his third place in Le Grand Shindig, refused to work in the break, Lewis said so in no uncertain terms. He called Nibali’s attitude “junior racing” and “unacceptable.” It’s rare to hear a rider voice his displeasure and frustration like that.
We appreciated his candor and thanked him at the end of the race. He’s a rider we’d like to see back at the top and we hope he gets another shot. This last season, he moved to Boulder, the epicenter of pro cycling in the United States. He’s putting in the hard work — physically and mentally — to be at 100%.
As Lewis told cyclingnews last year, “What I’ve learned over my seven years of racing is that the body can adapt to anything. The hardest part of coming back is the mental aspect. You have to hit the reset button. You have to start from being like a 10 year old. People that struggle to come back don’t realize that.”
Champion Systems is an exciting squad with big plans and a focus on developing Chinese riders. Maybe that’s a good spot for Craig Lewis but we’d still like to see him riding for BMC or Garmin-Sharp or SpiderTech — a team aiming for a grand tour invite for 2014.