Craig returning to ‘home’ course this weekend

Posted Sept. 01, 2010, at 11:35 p.m.

     Adam Craig has been looking toward this weekend ever since leaving Beijing and the 2008 Summer Olympics.

The UCI Mountain Bike and Trials World Championships are coming home, after all, or at least as close to home as they can be for the Exeter native, when the 20th edition of mountain biking’s crowning event is held at Mont-Sainte-Anne, Quebec, just northeast of Quebec City.

Craig, 29, made his international mountain biking debut at Mont-Sainte-Anne as a 14-year-old in 1995, and his path to the world stage since then has been a steady climb complete with 13 national championships and an U.S. Olympic Team berth.

Craig also has scored some strong finishes on the UCI World Cup circuit at the Quebec resort, topped by fourth-place efforts in 2005 and 2008.

But as the world championships return to Mont-Sainte-Anne for the first time since 1998, the Dexter Regional High School graduate still is rounding back into peak form after being sidelined earlier this year by a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee.

“It’s been a long process,” said Craig, one of seven Americans in Saturday’s elite men’s cross country race.

After undergoing surgery on Feb. 9, Craig rehabbed his knee during the spring before returning to competition. He placed fourth in this year’s U.S. championships, then headed to Europe in late July and scored two top-20 finishes in World Cup races at Champery, Switzerland, and Val di Sole, Italy.

Craig then came back to the United States to prepare for a World Cup stop last weekend at Windham Mountain, N.Y., followed by this weekend’s world championships.

Craig spent last week in Maine to visit family and train on the ATV trails around Corinth and Charleston as well as along Route 15’s Charleston Hill — during one rigorous workout he climbed the steep, mile-long hill six times, averaging four minutes per climb.

But it turned out that while his knee is in good shape, his overall fitness base was still feeling the effects of having sat out the early part of the year — and he paid the price at Windham, where he finished a disappointing 43rd.

“I overtrained, and then I had a flat tire on the first lap,” said Craig. “I thought the way things were going I was about a nine [on a scale of 1-10]. But the race at Windham was about a six.”

So Craig has taken a more low-key approach this week, spending Sunday with friends on Sebec Lake and working out lightly before driving to Quebec City on Tuesday evening.

“Racing in two World Cups in Europe at the end of July, I really felt close to riding to my ability,” he said. “At Windham I was just gassed from overtraining, but I still think I’m pretty fit and should be able to ride pretty well this weekend.”

As for the knee, Craig says he has no worries.

“I met with the surgeon a couple of weeks ago, and he said I was about 90 percent and starting to plateau there,” said Craig, who rides for Giant Bicycles. “So where before I was gaining about 10 percent a month, now I’ll gain about 2 percent a month as I build toward that final 10 percent.”

Former Olympic and world champion Julien Absalon of France, who is unbeaten at Mont-Sainte-Anne since 2007, will be one of the favorites in Saturday’s race, with newly crowned World Cup champ Nino Schurter of Switzerland among his top challengers.

As for Craig, previous strong finishes on what he describes as his World Cup home course — he placed 12th in his most recent race there in 2009 — leaves him confident of a solid finish, though the aspirations may not be the same as they were before injuring his knee.

“For me, if I could finish in the top 10 I’d be really happy,” said Craig. “Before the injury I was looking for a podium [top-five] finish, but who knows what will happen.”

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