Its a tough gig when you are a New Zealand mountain biker competing on the world stage without the support of a factory team. 2022 sees Craig take the opportunity after a successful season in New Zealand finishing 3rd on the podium behind his brother Ben and friend Anton Cooper after a cracking race at the National Championships in Christchurch - giving him some motivation and self belief he could compete once again at an international level - especially after both Anton and Ben had a competitive season in 2021 on the World Cup circuit.
With a break in the racing whilst the UCI World Cup circuit headed to North America, and the Commonwealth Games were in the UK, Craig was able to spare some time to answer a few questions about his season:
How long has it been since you last raced in Europe?
Its been 5 years . My last year was in 2017 - racing my last year as a U23. It didn't end that well with some training accidents and injuries.
What motivated you to want to head back to race on the global stage at Elite level?
Unfinished business I guess - haha. I love racing and if you're going to race you may as well race the best. Right now the best riders are at the World Cups in Europe so if you get 1st or 100th in a world cup you know exactly where you stack up against the best in the world on that day and no one can take that away from you.
I have represented NZ in U19 and U23 at World Championships so I'm doing my best to get selected for this years World Championships so then I would have competed at each level. That would be an achievement.
**(UPDATE - since this interview - Craig has indeed been selected to compete in the World Champs in Les Gets, France (24-28 August 2022)).
Is this Oliver Bros Racing Mk2? How good is it being back in Europe racing scene with your brother?
Ummm in a way yes I guess, but we have different bikes sponsors these days and don't quite look identical any more. Its been good being able to take the piss out of him again face to face while training and racing rather than on a Facebook call from the other side of the world like the last 5 years.
It's also been outstanding so see him mixing it up with the top Elite men and beating alot of the pro guys. I know what a process its been not to just have the speed to do so but getting into a good start position by building up points which takes alot of time and commitment. Its more than deserved after putting in a ton of work over the last few years.
You have obviously been racing in a few World Cups. Tell us – how has it been going?
Surprisingly well. I have managed to always move forward from a start position at the back of the pack. Normally my plate number is about 115 out of 120 riders and I have had a top 40 and top 50. Getting the body used to racing back to back weekends and up to the level of race speed took a couple of races but I am back into the swing of it now.
Coming back to Europe – after 5 seasons what changes have you noticed?
Race times seem to be shorter and the laps also. There are more technical features on the course so the bikes have changed to suit these. They have got lighter and work more efficiently now allowing riders to run more travel and also full suspension bikes with seat droppers and wider-bigger volume tyres.
After the time away - and since your return have you approached the races any different from a mindset perspective?
Now that I think about it I probably have to be honest.
After spending time in the real world, my perspective has definitely changed. Now racing a bike feels like a luxury. Being over here at the moment with nothing to do in the day except riding the bike, doing maintenance and administration, eating and sleeping - life seems so easy. I think a lot of Pros could do with taking a step back and seeing how many people would kill to be in their position.
It's great to see so many young kiwis – heading to Europe and the USA attending the races and chasing the dream you guys did back in the Juniors. Given your experience - what advice could you offer young riders heading off to Europe?
Firstly - just to give it a go. Plan the best you can for your trip but expect stuff to go wrong. It's going to happen but at the end of the day in a year or so it will be a good story to tell. Make sure you have done lots of racing in New Zealand like National Champs and then Oceania's before making the step up and tackling Europe. There are progressive steps to take to make life easier if you don't know what those steps are ask someone as there are now plenty of friendly mountain bikers that have raced overseas now and can offer advice. Most of all have fun.
So looking ahead – what does the rest of the season look like for you, and what are your thoughts about beyond this season?
World Championships alongside Ben, Anton Cooper and Sam Gaze - fingers crossed! Also a French cup and the final UCI World Cup. I fly back 8th September. Next season - who knows, I will get this one done first and see what pops up for next year but I am always keen to race and get closer to the front. I definitely feel I am still capable of it!!