We caught up with the 23 year-old – who for many was ‘Man of the Match’ – on Monday, but we had to take precautions:
PEZ: Craig, we can‘t catch this thing down the phone, can we?
Craig: No, no, you’re safe!
PEZ: Wasn’t it dangerous to ride?
Craig: I was pretty bad last week, I was in bed for a few days and wasn’t even thinking about riding; but the fever broke and it began to cross my mind Thursday/Friday that I could ride.
No, no, no! Keep your hands to yourself. Dave Zabriskie jokes with Craig on the start line.
PEZ: How do you feel, now?
Craig: Much better, I think the race blew a lot of stuff out of my system; I didn’t feel too good yesterday but now I feel better.
PEZ: You and George were out maneuvered last year, was this ‘pay-back?’
Craig: Last year we did everything; this year we risked it a bit by waiting and making our moves on the climb.
There were a lot of guys racing against us but we tried to ride smart – and George is one of the smartest riders there is.
PEZ: The weather was pretty intense; hot and humid.
Craig: In Europe, I live in Girona – that’s super hot, so I’m used to it.
I spent the summer in Greenville, I knew what to expect; some cloud came in later in the day so towards the end, it wasn’t too bad. We live locally, there were guys all over the course with bottles for us – there was no way we’d have dehydrated.
Craig enjoys his call up before the start of the race in his hometown of Greenville.
PEZ: I believe you live close to the course?
Craig: It goes through my neighbourhood; I was born about 15 kilometres from there.
PEZ: Tell us about Paris Mountain.
Craig: It’s nothing crazy, not one for a pure climber – about three-and-a-half kilometres and five-and-a-half percent. But if it’s ridden hard, it wears you down and the gaps begin to open at the top as the race goes on. In European races we go over climbs like that every day but you have to remember that the rest of the course is tough too – up, down, lefts, rights.
Craig driving the pace up Paris Mountain.
PEZ: Paris was where you took control.
Craig: The first time up we thought that the other teams would control it, but they didn’t and it was way too slow – that was no good for us, it would have meant sixty guys coming over the top for the last time. Lap two we put the pressure on; lap three we went even harder and on the fourth and final time up we did everything we could to blow the race apart. If 60 guys come over the top together then there’s no way you can control it – that’s what happened last year and you had some teams with six, seven, eight guys left; we set out to eliminate that possibility.
This year the George group went over clear; then there were about 40 in the second group – but they were a lot of tired guys there.
PEZ: Garmin were the big losers.
Craig: I’m as surprised as you are by that – they are a strong experienced team with a lot of European racing behind them.
I wasn’t sure of their tactics; maybe they were racing for us to lose?
They fired one rider up the road (David Zabriskie) then sat back, that was fine by us!
PEZ: You finished 27th, did you get a big ovation at the line?
Craig: Yeah, I guess, everyone was happy to see me!
PEZ: And will George be doing a job like that for you, one day?
Craig: You’d have to ask him that one! I was happy to race for someone who can win – if I’m in that position one day, that would be a dream come true.
PEZ: Are you happy with how 2009 has gone?
Craig: It’s been a great year; I did the Spring Classics, Romandie, Catalonia, the Dauphine.
Then I had a summer break and came back for Poland and Ireland. I was disappointed that I wasn’t 100% for the Nationals – but we still won!
I’m riding at a new level this year; the only thing that I didn’t ride was a Grand tour. Now, I’m looking forward to the Worlds; the US has nine spots and the likes of Levi, Lance and George won’t be riding, so I think I’ll make the squad.
Expect much more from Craig in the waning months of the season…and beyond.
PEZ: Your first pro win, the TTT at Romandie.
Craig: That was a great feeling, it gave me added motivation to train hard and it was a nice experience to be on the podium at that level.
PEZ: The Dauphine went well for you, too.
Craig: That was a big week for me – it must be the hardest week long race there is with the big mountains it goes over; and there’s a time trial in there too. I rode it last year so it was possible for me to see the progress I’ve made – that was cool.
PEZ: Ireland saw you top ten.
Craig: The parcours weren’t that well suited to Cav [although he won stage 2] so I had a little more freedom – I made the split on stage 1 and the team gave me freedom to ride.
Then on the last stage I was fourth on a really tough day – that gave me seventh on GC.
PEZ: What’s it like being part of ‘Cav-mania?’
Craig: It does put you under a lot of pressure with the media and the fans, but we’ve grown to accept it – it comes with the territory!
PEZ: What’s next?
Craig: Missouri, Isbergues, the Worlds then a little break and back for the late season Italian races including Piedmont and Lombardy.
Craig: I’m with Columbia but there will be changes, it’s difficult to keep so many quality riders in the one team; some will move on, I’m hoping that the spaces left mean I’ll be able to move up and perhaps get a start in a Grand Tour, next year.
We hope so too; with thanks to Craig and wishing him a successful late season.