Craig Lewis of Champion Systems had reason to be pissed. He’d seen life at the high end as a rider for HTC-Columbia before a horrific crash took him down a notch and threw him into rehab hell.
He’s been working his way back up the ranks fast with Champion and the stage to Crested Butte looked like a potential jump back into ProTourLand. A win today in stage two of the US Pro Cycling Challenge would have been a boost in several ways, all good..
There was just one guy in his way, the Italian, the lime green caption, Vincenzo Nibali. We caught up with Lewis moments after he arrived back at the Champion team bus after almost pulling off a miracle — a breakaway win on the nasty climb up to Crested Butte. A victory practically writes a new contract for Lewis and his irriration with Nabli was visceral and immediate.
“It’s tough for those guys coming to the US somtimes. They say ‘we’re on vacation,’ no stress, they’re not here to win bike races,” said Lewis. “But there’s no reason not to be motivated here. It’s frustrating because you know they’re strong, you know what they’re capable of.”
What Nibali was capable of after his third place in the Tour de France wasn’t exactly clear — did he have the form and desire to pull though on a break that had a golden opportunity to hit the finish line way ahead of the peloton and maybe win him the overall?
Lewis was having a hard time with motivation and race calulations.
“I don’t get it. When you got 12-13 guys, it’s not hard to roll through. It’s a lot harder to sit on the back and close gaps and sprint and stop and sprint,” said Lewis. “It’s stupid, it’s junior racing and at this level it’s not acceptable.”
You can excuse Lewis for his honesty, minutes after a brutal final climb up to Crested Butte. It was a nasty, leg-killing and will-destroying gradient that wiped out the break and opened the door for winner Tejay van Garderen of BMC and his fellow van — Vande Velde of Garmin-Sharp.
Lewis was still mentally in the war zone and his emotions were right there on the surface. He wasn’t about to give Vincenzo Niabli the benefit of the doubt. “There were a lot of stare-downs, a lot of yelling,” said Lewis. “I know he understands, he was well aware of our feelings toward him.””
Feelings not good, no invitation to pasta dinner at Lewis’ house, no plans to share a vacation rental in the off-season in Maui or Cabo.
Craig Lewis had a problem and his problem was what exactly was Nibali doing in his breakaway? “I mean, Baldwin, Cooke, Zabriske and Howes, we all know each other well,” said Lewis. “We’re not there to screw each other over, we’re motivated to keep it smooth.”
However there was no “smooth” and little cooperation with Nibali. Chris Baldwin of Bissel was also in that break and agreed there was yelling at Nibali and some frustration at the Italian given “the great salary discrepancies” but Baldwin was philosophical and Lewis wasn’t.
Read the race however you want but from the perspective of Craig Lewis, the Italian who earned third place in the Tour De France didn’t impress him. Not acceptable.