Craig Lewis of Team Champion Systems and of Stelvio Selections
Congrats on your classification jerseys at the Tour of Utah and at the USA Pro Challenge! Awesome! Were these A-Races for you or were you just feeling good and decided to go with it?
Both the Tour of Utah and especially the USA Pro Challenge are super important races for me. Not only are they close to my home in Boulder, but they have both grown into two very important stage races worldwide. US racing in general has stepped up to rival the European scene, so to do well here is extremely valuable.
How did you first become a professional cyclist, or rather how did you come to join TIAA-CREF, the junior development team?
I started out mountain biking and got my first job at a local bike shop in Spartanburg, SC. From there I went on to race for TIAA-CREF for 4 years, starting with their first year in existence. It was the perfect fit as the program was growing as I was maturing. I later moved on to 4 years at HTC – Highroad and now I am in my second year with Champion System. I wouldn't change my path if I could.
Training and racing as a pro is a full-time commitment. When did you start tasting wines as you toured, and when did it occur to you that you could simultaneously race and start Stelvio Selections? Was there one particular moment that made you realize you wanted to dedicate [the other half of] your life to wine?
My first trip over to Europe on the bike was for the Route du Sud in southern France. We were based out of Provence for a few weeks and I quickly fell for the wine of the region. From then on I was always more interested in what vineyards we'd be racing by more so than the racing itself. I love the sport of cycling and the opportunities it's given me, but I've always had my eye on the wine world. After spending some time working at the Boulder Wine Merchant and the occasional appearance on the floor at Frasca Food and Wine, I knew that I wanted to work more in the industry. A trip to Chicago to meet up with Ken Fredrickson, Tenzing, showed me the distribution side of things and I decided that's what I wanted to move forward with. It's not easy to juggle both, but I do have a lot of free time in hotel rooms, so it's actually nice to thinking about something other than cycling while I'm away from home.
Craig Lewis with his wife Courtney
How do you find the time? What's a typical day-in-the-life of a professional cyclist/wine distributor?
I have quite the nice setup now. Bike ride in the morning until lunch and then the wine business takes over. The great part about being in Colorado is that so many of my customers are into cycling, so a lot of the business can be done out on the bikes. It's the lifestyle that I'm after. Cycling has exposed me to every corner of the globe, the same way wine can. I feel they both go perfectly together and I'm very fortunate to call both of them my job.
In 2004, while racing for TIAA-CREF you suffered a life-threatening injury while riding the ITT at the Tour of Georgia, and then two years later you placed first in the U-23 National RR Championship and in the Criterium Championship. How did you stage such an amazing come back?
Patience. The injuries were so severe that I had no choice but to let my body repair itself and slowly build up from zero. It's in those moments that you can really take a close look at what you want to do with your life and that's where all of the needed motivation came from. I also shattered my femur in the Giro d'Italia in 2011. The time I spent recovering gave me the opportunity to look outside of the sport and figure out what I wanted to do. That's what eventually lead me to wine distribution. After so many setbacks in cycling, I needed some balance and something outside of the sport to stimulate me.
How did you come to meet the three somms- Brett Zimmerman, Bobby Stuckey and Richard Betts—who help you select the wines that you carry at Stelvio Selections, and how do the four of you work together to select your wines?
Bobby is great cyclist and fan himself, and since I love food and wine, his Frasca restaurant was our first stop when I moved out to Boulder two years ago. I expressed an interest in his work, and he quickly put me on the floor of his restaurant to learn and introduced me to Brett. Brett also offered me a part-time job at the Boulder Wine Merchant and the education from the two still continues. I've yet to call on Richard, but he's been great with always keeping the door open if needed.
For now, I really rely on Brett and Bobby's palate. There's no arguing that they are some of the most respected people in the industry, so to be able to call on them and taste them through potential wine is a huge benefit for Stelvio. They help guide my selections in the right direction and in return I bring in wines which they've been trying to get. So far it's been a nice working relationship.
Craig Lewis wins Stage 2 of the 2012 Tour de Beauce
How did you come across T. Edward Wines?
I've heard of you through the cycling world before, and I know you've been working with Scarpetta. The il Colle brand came up one day, and that's how I eventually reached out to work together.
For how long have you been based in Boulder and has the food and wine scene there changed with the arrival of Bobby and Lachlan?
I've been in and out of Boulder for 10 years, but I just move here full-time two years ago. I remember coming to Frasca when they first opened. A huge risk for them to place a restaurant based on the food of Friuli in Boulder when no one even knew where Friuli was. But there's no denying that they've crushed it here. Boulder wouldn't be the same without them.
What's currently your favorite wine or wine region and is it connected to your favorite race?
I like that you used "currently" as it does always change. I just came back from a month in Friuli. I've been there racing before, but it was the first real chance to meet the people and experience the culture. When I first got into wine I didn't understand why people drank white wine…but now that's what I'm hooked on and Friuli can rival any white wine region. I love the wines from Miani. Your Toros Friulano is also showing very well for the 2012 vintage. And if I was looking for a red under $30, I'm going straight for the 2011 il Colle Rosso. But that's today, who knows what my favorite will be next week. That is the most fascinating part of the world of wine for me. There are so many great producers/regions/stories/grape varieties/vintages that no two people should truly have the same favorite wine.
What's on the horizon for you next year?
Another year of racing for Champion System, and my first full year in the distribution business. If things keep going the way they are now, I'm going to need a lot of help! But I'm excited. I lucky to work with bikes and wine and I can't wait to see what the future holds.