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Giro d'Italia

Lewis poised for Giro debut

Lewis poised for Giro debut

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Back in 2004, when Craig Lewis was recovering from his horrific crash at the Tour de Georgia, one race helped him fight through the pain and fear – the Giro d’Italia.

Lewis at the 2009 Dauphiné. | Graham Watson photo

Watching the Giro each day from the hospital bed inspired Lewis to recover from his injuries and race once again. Now, nearly six years later, Lewis makes his grand tour debut in the Giro.

The 25-year-old is especially motivated that his first three-week tour is the Giro. With HTC-Columbia lining up with sprinter André Greipel, Lewis will be wearing many hats during the race, helping set up the sprints in the opening two weeks before testing his legs in the grueling climbs of the Alps and Dolomites.

VeloNewscaught up with Lewis ahead of the race, here are excerpts from the interview:

VN: How have you been since the classics?

CL: Good. I’ve been doing a lot of driving. Since I was not able to get up to Amstel Gold, I rented a car and drove up to Belgium by myself for the Ardennes. That wouldn’t have been bad, but I had a trip to Italy planned to see stages, so I drove from Belgium to Italy. Yesterday I drove from Como to here (Girona). I missed Amstel, but I made it for Flèche and Liège. In total, I drove about 4,500km. I’m preparing for the long transfers at the Giro.

VN: Was that your first chance to see climbs of Giro?

CL: I saw them once years ago, but I forgot how long and steep they are. They are some tough climbs, plus coming three weeks into the race, it’s going to be hard. I went to the Alps. I wanted to Zoncolan and Plan de Corones, but it was too far to go to the Dolomites. So I did Tonale, Aprica, Gavia, the Mortirolo and the final time trial. It has quite a climb on it. It does the (2004 road) worlds course backwards, so that’s a good steep climb for the final day.

VN: How has your season gone so far?

CL: It’s been going well. I had some good time trials. I felt good in the longer stage races. I’ve been pretty happy. Everything has gone pretty much to plan. I’ve had a couple of crashes. I crashed in the first road stage at Paris-Nice and hit my head pretty hard. I was a little out of it after the stage, but I felt good the next morning and I gradually got better throughout the race. I was able to finish Paris-Nice. After Catalunya, I got strep throat, so I was 10 days on antibiotics and I had to skip País Vasco. That’s not a race you want to go into less than 100 percent.

VN: Will races like Flèche and Liège became big goals for future?

CL: I definitely like them. I really like Amstel Gold, so I was bummed to miss that this year. Liège is the hardest race on the calendar. It doesn’t have cobbles like Paris-Roubaix, but just the climbs and the speeds they go over them is pretty ridiculous. I certainly enjoy them and I like being in the most important races. Last year, I did all three. I also like Giro di Lombardia, too. I love that race and I want to give it a shot this year.

VN: You’ve had some good TT results, at Algarve and Catalunya, are you working on that aspect more?

CL: I’ve been feeling good on the time trial bike. Even at Paris-Nice, considering the level of competition that was there, I was happy with my performance. This is the first year that my training bike is identical to my racing (TT) bike, so that really helps. I’ve been training about 10 hours a week on the TT bike. The position is dialed, I am comfortable on the bike. It’s good to get used to using those muscles, because they’re not the same as how you race the road bike, or in climbing. It’s important to keep those muscles active and stay strong in that position.

VN: How is the form coming into the Giro?

CL: I would say it’s good. You have to be good to finish a race like Liège. I am more focused on being rested and prepared for the Giro. I have no idea how my body’s going to react in three weeks. I don’t want to I go in too tired or dig myself a hole before it even starts. I am just waiting to see how I progress throughout the race. Right now I am feeling strong and healthy.

VN: What significance does this first grand tour have for you?

CL: It’s huge, looking from where I came from, from being so badly injured to 2004 to come back to do Giro this year, it’s really special for me. When I was in the hospital after that accident, it was April and May, and the first time I started thinking about trying to race again, the Giro was on TV. I watched the Giro every day. That’s what I looked forward to every day was watching the Giro. That kept motivated when I was lying in bed all banged up. It’s been a long road to get back to here. I am fully recovered from that crash. Whatever effects I have will be life-long, but I can race and I am as recovered as I will be.

VN: What are your expectations and goals?

CL: We have (André) Greipel for the first two weeks. Our No. 1 priority is to win some stages with him, do well in the prologue and the team time trial and maybe grab the pink jersey for the team. Once we get to the big mountains, it’s every man for himself. If you survive with the front group in the big mountains, that’s great. If not, just wait for the next day. It’s pretty simple.

VN: How do expect to react in the big climbs, you’ve done some big climbs in Dauphiné?

CL: I’ve raced the Alps in the Dauphiné and there are some huge climbs in Paris-Nice. I’ve done similar climbs in similar races, racing against the same guys all year. I am not too concerned about getting in over my head. I feel pretty confident going into the mountains.

VN: So you will be working for Greipel in first two weeks?

CL: Yes, that’s the top goal for the team. It would be hard for the team to say, ‘OK, Craig, we’re going to save you for the last week when it’s your first time at a three-week race.’ I will be the guy with 100km, 50km to go to ride. I believe you can do that and not kill yourself if you don’t dig too deep. For sure, Greipel has a chance to win a lot of stages, and we’ll be working for that.

VN: Who does the team have for GC?

CL: We have Albasini and Pinotti. Those two guys are good climbers, they’re not the best climbers, but they can hang with the best on a good day. If they do well in the first mountain stage, they will keep riding for a place in the overall. If not, then they will have a chance to go for winning a stage.

VN: What are your personal ambitions for the mountains?

CL: I want to be there for Greipel, have a great prologue and finish that race. I would like to my chances when I have them to go into a break. It’s not a goal to try to be high in the overall GC. I want to see how my body will grow from racing three weeks.

VN: Is there any particular climb or stage you’re looking forward to?

CL: All of them! Racing over the big climbs in the Alps and Dolomites should be incredible. To be in the Giro, I will be fulfilling some dreams as well as making some new ones.

VN: What’s your racing schedule after the Giro?

CL: It’s still kind of up in the air. I will take a break, maybe race the Route du Sud in June. Otherwise it will be a light month. I’d love to do the races in North America, the Canadian races, maybe the world championships or come back and have a good ride at Lombardia.