Rediscovering the faith: How Charlie Craig got me back on my bike

Posted on: August 4th, 2017

Charlie Craig bike

Charlie Craig puts father Nick Craig in the red in the hills of Mallorca. He died this year; taken from his family aged just 15 years.


How Charlie Craig got me back on my bike


By Dave Smith

When you’re in a hole it can be hard to stop digging. Being in half a hole is no different.

I was in a hole of my own making for around 6 months and the bottom kept getting further from the top.

Something had to be done. Someone had to tap me on the shoulder and make me look up, drop the shovel and start climbing. It was Charlie.

Last season all was grand, racing was fun, riding was fun, then the things away from the bike started to put a cold arm around me and draw me away from any pleasure the bike offered.

And the form dipped, the fitness left me, the weight piled on.

Psychological stress is a nasty shite. I was hit by a double whammy; nasty developments with a family situation and also problems in some of my cycling relationships.

I was filling up with cortisol. If you want to know what’s coming next, have a Google of ‘cortisol and belly fat’.

I got a bit big. Heaviest I’ve been all my life in fact. The big 95kg – I had one pair of jeans left I could wear. I was on the last hole of the belt.

I forgot to mention the broken wrist that I’d ignored for 2 months and the few doses of bronchitis.

Then came Charlie

For British pro Nick Craig is one of the few genuine legends in cycling.

Universally respected and evergreen, I’d known him since the early days of the UK mountain bike scene.

I’d coached Nick a bit and had bumped into him and the family again a couple of years ago on holiday in Wales.

Walking out of a Spar, Nick rode past. A quick shout went up and beers were arranged for the evening.


Top, the heavy Dave and the photo-shopped slimmer self he was working towards. His belt showing the signs of sustained pressure.


So my two sons and me met Nick, his wife Sarah, and their sons Tom and Charlie.

They were nice lads; athletes, cyclists, hard lads, polite, cheeky, no messing. They were up for whatever the roads and trails threw at them. My boys liked them.

And so from then on I was more aware than before of Nick and the lads racing, training camps; getting all their updates on Instagram and all that social media stuff.

Nick and his boys were off riding bikes all over; racing, touring, bike packing, training.

And then ‘that photo’ – Charlie leading Nick up a climb in Mallorca.

The look on Nick’s face could have signalled a few things; about to crack, about to attack, surprised at the pace, proud of the pace. It was some shot. It had everything.

On January 20th this year, Charlie didn’t wake up from his sleep. Only 15 years old, he was lost to his family, lost to the world.

And there was me festering, when I could do whatever I wanted to do.

So I tried a bit of riding but it was awful. I was slow and fat, hardly had a winter top to fit me.

I plodded along hating the bike. Then another dose of bronchitis. Once I recovered I knew I had to do something drastic for my fitness and mind.

After twenty minutes online and I had an evening manual job in a meat factory.

Lifting 25kg crates of beef onto pallets and shelving could be a job for a 50 year old. But it wasn’t a job for this one. Not until after a few weeks getting used to it anyway.

I was wrecked; in absolute bits half way through each shift.

It was like riding all the stages of Rás Dhun na nGall in one go (on a BMX). It also transpired the 6-hour shift was actually 9 hours; from 4pm to 1am 5 days a week.

In my head though I saw it as being paid to go to the gym, albeit the minimum wage.

And bodies adapt. Mine adapted. Most shifts I lifted 6,000kg of beef. I could throw a crate onto the top shelf on the rack after a time. At the start someone else had to do it.

Then another dose of bronchitis, two courses of antibiotics, a course of corticosteroids and 6 weeks to get it cleared up. Being ill was the end of the job.

But I was fitter, and by God I’d use it. All along I was thinking about something to do that would honour Charlie and help to prevent other families go through the unspeakable loss that Nick, Sarah and Tom were caught in.

I started riding again, I wanted to race; again drastic action was needed.

So I stuck half Tour de France stage distances on a spreadsheet as I’ve ridden a few half Grand Tours in previous years.

The #Tour50percentness was going to get me fit enough to race and then I could think of something worth Charlie’s memory.

A chance glimpse at a conversation on Twitter alerted me to a really stupid idea; riding from Geneva to San Remo in one go.

It was just 500km with 11,000 metres of climbing, starting at dawn on a Saturday and riding until the journey is done. You know where this is going don’t you?

I ticked off half the Tour with renewed enthusiasm for the bike and for life; not wasting a day, grateful to have a breath and a pulse.

I had 1,106 miles done in the 21 stages. The fitness came back and the weight fell off.

I’ve a bit more to go, but I’m back in my own head.

I only got rained on three times and I didn’t avoid big hills on every ride.

I treated headwinds as good training for Alpine climbs. As weight loss was a big goal I had a simple daily routine.

It was black coffee for breakfast, out on the bike, water in the bottles and then two snacks during the rides.

Through the door with each ride done and I had a 30 gram protein shake. Then one small and high fat main meal at night.

For some of the rides I was testing a supplement I’d never heard of before; Vespa.

It’s extracted from wasp spit or something equally rancid, and claimed to enhance fat burning.

It tasted like pleasant sawdust and honey, no idea what was going on but it was good.

I did a few longer rides only on water – with a sachet of Vespa before the ride and one during. It was riding at a decent pace and ticked off numerous PBs despite being on a cruise setting.

It wasn’t cheap, but I’ll definitely give it a few more trial runs. I was one of the few supplements I’ve used that made an immediate impact.

Riding half a Grand Tour takes a bit of commitment; allow 3-3½ hours per day most stages.

You need to go out the door even when your legs feel awful. They usually come round and if they don’t you’ll have still logged some more miles. The Vuelta starts soon, give it a go!

So I hope Charlie Van Der Craig approves that on August 12th I’ll be at the start of the 500km Wolf Pack Ride to San Remo.

I’ll be with seven others; two are friends and five more hopefully will be at the end.

I’m doing it for the Ride For Charlie Foundation. It will help fund the development of young cycling talent. I’m also riding for the Cardiac Risk in the Young charity.

More information on the ride and about how to donate can be found by following this link.

A couple of £/$/€ would be greatly appreciated.

As Charlie would say, there will be ‘no shortcuts’. I like riding a bike now, so I’ll just get to do something I like doing but for a very long time.

My main concern is not falling asleep on the decent of la Bonnette. Otherwise, one rev at a time will get the job done.

And when I stop and have a gelato, a pizza, and a beer or three Charlie will have helped me get there, and helped me get myself back.

And sorry young Craig but I’m using a compact!

Dave Smith has been involved in coaching cyclists in all disciplines for more than 25 years. A former GB national and Olympic road coach, Dave has trained Tour stage winners and Olympic medallists, world champions and numerous national champions. In addition he has applied his quirky and counter intuitive thinking to help dozens of regular cyclists, polo players and F1 drivers. He normally rides 250 miles a week on and off-road in all weathers.