There’s extreme irony in the knee injury that has sidelined U.S. Olympic mountain biker Adam Craig until late spring.
Rather than tear an anterior cruciate ligament during a fall from his bike amid the roots and rocks of a mountain trail, or as the result of such other favored extreme activity as skiing, whitewater rafting or rally-car racing, the Exeter native’s injury was far less spectacular.
He fell while carrying groceries across a slippery parking lot in his adopted hometown of Bend, Ore.
“It was pretty obvious when I fell that something was really screwed up,” said Craig, who competed in the 2008 Summer Games in Beijing and has been the nation’s top-ranked cross country mountain biker for the last five years. “When you think about it, it is pretty funny how I actually got hurt.”
Since having surgery in Bend on Feb. 9, the 28-year-old Craig has experienced more down time than he’s had throughout more than a decade of competition that has produced 13 national championships.
Craig now undergoes physical therapy three times a week as well as acupuncture treatments, and he’s riding a stationary bike to begin redeveloping the range of motion in his injured left knee. He expects to start riding a road bicycle soon, another step on his schedule to be back on the mountain bike circuit by mid-year.
“I’ve got a pretty good handle on the timetable,” said Craig. “I feel my knee getting better, for sure, but it’s actually fairly pleasant to have this down time.”
There’s evidence to suggest Craig will return from his injury as strong as ever.
Willow Koerber, one of the country’s top women’s mountain bikers, suffered a similar injury in late 2007 but was back earning International Cycling Union World Cup podium finishes the following June.
Koerber showed she was all the way back last summer, winning the bronze medal at the 2009 UCI Mountain Bike World Championships at Canberra, Australia.
“She thinks my timing for coming back from this is perfect,” said Craig.
That’s because Craig is gearing his comeback toward this year’s world championships, set for Labor Day weekend at Mont Sainte Anne, Quebec, a venue that holds special personal meaning.
Craig first competed in the worlds in 1998, the last time they were staged at Mont Sainte Anne. Since then that course, located just northeast of Quebec City, has been one of his favorites, with several top-10 finishes in UCI World Cup events.
“I’m hungry to get back to Mont Sainte Anne, and I’ll do whatever it takes to be ready for that race,” he said.
Craig also plans to compete in the U.S. Nationals in July as well as in World Cup races at Champery, Switzerland, and Val di Sole, Italy.
The World Cup events are important, Craig said, because world team standings determine how many riders each nation will be able to qualify for the 2012 Summer Olympics in London. Craig and Todd Wells earned the two U.S. berths available for the Beijing Games, but top-ranking nations at the end of 2011 can earn three Olympic spots.
But first Craig, who has enjoyed battling nature’s challenges throughout his professional career, must let nature take its course.
“The doctor’s given me a conservative timeline, because he knows if he tells me I could be ready sooner I’d push it,” said Craig. “But spending as much time as I do on a mountain bike, I know I need my knee to be as stable as possible.”