BEND, Oregon — After a decade of pursuing — and achieving — his Olympic dream, Exeter native Adam Craig is taking his mountain biking career down a new path.
But it won’t be any less physically challenging than the rocky climbs and rooty descents that marked his years on the International Cycling Union’s (UCI) World Cup cross country circuit — a run that earned Craig status as the America’s top mountain biker and led to a 29th-place finish at the Beijing Summer Games in 2008.
After early season illness served to derail Craig’s bid to earn a 2012 U.S. Olympic Team berth, he decided to redirect his athletic focus toward two other mountain biking disciplines — enduro racing and cyclo-cross.
“I knew after the London Olympics (in 2012) that after spending 10 years on the World Cup circuit that I wanted to look toward doing something different,” he said. “Enduro presents a good new challenge for me along with the cyclo-cross I’ve been doing for a while.
“And the schedule works out pretty well because the enduro racing goes through the summer and the cyclo-cross starts at the end of September and goes through January. My season will still be 10 months long, but, instead of having December and January off like I used to, I’ll have February and March off now.”
Enduro racing is a relatively new concept that began in Europe within the last decade and is just now gaining traction in the United States.
This form of trail riding — a cross between traditional downhill and cross-country mountain biking — involves timed downhill sections of a course combined with untimed linking uphill sections.
Races are conducted in a time-trial format with riders leaving the start line one-by-one rather than as a mass group, as is the case in cross country races. Riders make several runs during the course of a one- or two-day event, and final results are determined by cumulative times.
“It’s way more aggressive,” said Craig, who has won nearly 20 national titles in various mountain biking disciplines during his career, including the 2007 and 2008 U.S. elite men’s cross country championships.
Many of Craig’s major enduro competitions will be in Europe, home to five of the seven stops on the Enduro World Series tour that kicks off its inaugural season May 18-19 at Punta Ala, Italy.
Subsequent tour stops are at Val d’Allos, France (June 29-30); Les 2 Alpes, France (July 6-7); Winter Park, Colo. (July 27-28); Whistler, Canada (Aug. 10-11); Val d’Isere, France (Aug. 24-25) and Finale Ligue, Italy (Oct. 19-20).
Although enduro racing in North America is even more in his infancy, there are the seeds of a burgeoning sport spouting in the western United States and Canada with the North American Enduro Tour and Colorado’s Big Mountain Enduro Series, while the fledgling Gravity East Series will stage events along the East Coast.
“It wasn’t very long ago that it was hard to find an enduro race in the U.S.,” said the 31-year-old Craig, a 1999 graduate of Dexter Regional High School who went on to attend the University of Maine before deciding to pursue mountain biking as a fulltime career. “Now all of a sudden it’s almost overpopulated with races.
“It’s good to see enduro revving up around the country. It’s a new angle on the sport.”
Enduro racing will occupy most of Craig’s late spring and summer schedule as he competes with Giant Factory Off-Road Team colleague Josh Carlson of Australia. He does plan to enter occasional cross-country races, including the Sea Otter Classic in Monterey, Calif., April 19-21, and the U.S. cross country national championships to be held July 19-21 at the Bear Creek Mountain Resort in Lehigh Valley, Pa.,
At the nationals Craig expects to compete in the cross country race as well as the Super D [downhill], an event in which he is the defending champion and a five-time winner overall.
When summer fades to autumn, Craig’s attention will turn to cyclo-cross, a race in which riders typically are tasked to complete eight to 10 laps of a cross country-styled course that also includes obstacles requiring the rider to dismount and carry the bike past the obstacle before remounting. Each lap takes 5 to 7 minutes to complete.
“Cyclo-cross was created as a way for European road cyclists to stay fit during the winter, so they held races on the coast and there were a lot of sand elements to the races,” Craig said.
Craig has a long history in cyclo-cross, having won back-to-back U.S. under-23 championships in 2001 and 2002.
He already has competed in this year’s U.S. cyclo-cross nationals in Madison, Wis., where he won the singlespeed national title while placing 16th in the elite men’s race.
The nationals each January follow a regular season of sorts that includes the U.S. Gran Prix of Cyclocross, an American UCI-sanctioned four-weekend, eight-race series that in past years has included an event in Craig’s adopted hometown of Bend, Ore.
There’s also the New England Pro Cyclo-Cross Series, another four-site mini-circuit that last fall included stops in Gloucester and Northampton, Mass., and Providence and Warwick, R.I.
For now Craig’s challenge is to prepare for the new season ahead, an exercise in conditioning that, while continuing to stress cross country and aerobic fitness, also will include more strength training than in the past.
“I’ve had a pretty casual spring,” he said. “I’ve just gotten back into a training program in the last month or so, but I’m looking forward to this year.”