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I'd Give My Right Leg To Win Olympic Gold

Below-knee amputee Craig Preece has been a Planet X sponsored rider for a couple of years now. He's been working his way up the cycling ranks, in track, road racing and TT He's edging ever closer to a place in the British Paralympic Squad and he popped into the office to update us on his schedule for this year, on his Olympic hopes and to swap his tired old bikes for some new swanky 2015 models.
Craig what have you've been up to it's a while since we last caught up?  "It's been crazy, I've been jumping between planes, trains and automobiles since before Xmas, not so much trains maybe, but snow sleighs count right?"
You'll have to explain. "I took the family to Lapland over Xmas, we've been there before, the kids love it and me and the Mrs got married there back in 2009. The following year I got injured and lost my leg. So it's a special place for us, and at Xmas well it's just magical for the kids. It was -32 degrees when we landed though, really cold. Ice on the eyebrows cold! We got back from Lapland on the Sunday, landed at Birmingham airport at about half seven, drove back home, I had to drop my cold weather bag off, grab my bike box and Lycra and head off to Stanstead at the crack of dawn to catch a flight to Mallorca to be with the Team GB podium squad. "
You've made the jet set then? "It would seem so. There's nothing glamorous about hanging around in airports with a trolley packed with biking gear. It was nice to be with the Podium Squad, especially when they are in Mallorca doing some winter training. That's a real treat.

How did that trip come about? "I was invited. The Podium Squad is the group of riders that Team GB think have the form and consistency to make the podium at international events, and specifically those who are focussed on the Olympics. I don't have the results to qualify yet, or the international ranking, but I was invited along because I'm on that path. I've been working hard making gains and I need to get some international points under my belt to improve my ranking, and early season training is critical for that."

Craig how many legs do you have? "Laughs, well I have my left leg, it's not brilliant, I'm missing quite a bit of flexion control in my ankle, but it works pretty well and then I have my right leg, but only just below the knee. Below my right knee, I have a couple of different prosthetics and I'm going through the process of having a new 'race leg' made for later this season."
How does that process work, do they just measure your other side and then make one to fit? "It's way different from that. Because there's no cost-effective way to accurately control the ankle flexion on the upwards part of the pedal stroke they don't really make prosthetic legs for cyclists that include an articulated ankle. That means my right hip follows a very different path to my left as I turn the pedals. Basically my right hip drops and that puts unwanted pressure between the legs, it makes the saddle uncomfortable and makes delivering smooth power next to impossible. The development of my new leg has been amazing. The first thing they did was to put me on a Watt Bike and measure my output. Then they made me a mock up of the leg, basically an adjustable test rig with a big old SPD cleat mounted on the bottom. This leg isn't good looking but what it allows them to do is to adjust my leg length while at the same time adjusting the effective crank length. And we spent a day doing between 50 and 400 watt tests and producing a range of power analysis for all the different combinations of leg length, crank length and pedal path. And with the help of the team at Bournemouth University we've arrived at a set-up that is comfortable, efficient and allows me to deliver almost as much power as I can with my left leg."

"The guys at Pace Rehab have been amazing throughout this process they really care about the results, not just the lab data but what the results mean for me in helping me to achieve my goals. There's a hierarchy in terms of prosthetic provision between the armed forces, the NHS, and private care, and Pace are right at the top of the tree. I've been really lucky to be able to work with them and I hope this development work goes to helping lots of other amputees to move forward and achieve their mobility and sporting goals."
You sound passionate about the work they do, you've done a fair bit of charity stuff yourself since your accident. "It's a rite of passage for any ex-armed forces amputee. We pull together to help each other just like we worked together as a team when we were in the army. You take strength from the power and experiences of others, especially those who've gone through what you have gone through. I remember begging the surgeon who was working on me after my incident to save my leg, I didn't want to lose it- it was part of me. I needed it! The medical team at Camp Bastion did a heroic job in piecing my legs back together. But you know what, after a further year of struggling with a barely functioning leg and a quality of life that was steadily declining I had to make the decision to have it amputated. It's the best decision I've made, and I felt strong enough to do that with the support of the army colleagues I knew who had gone through the same deal, with the help of my family who supported me 100% and with the support of all the medics I had met along the way. I'm grateful for everything anyone has ever done for me. So yeah it's only natural I should try to give back, and I'll always continue to do so."

So this new leg of yours, does it come with NACA shaped tubes for maximum aerodynamic efficiency? "You'd think it would, but it's not allowed. Apparently there's a minimum frontal profile that is allowable, no super-legs allowed! At the minute, it's just a test mule, but the finished version is coming. I'll probably need another session to get the fit perfect where it connects to my thigh, but it's mostly done. I think there might even be room for some Planet X logos."
Your training regime must be pretty focused these days, you were a runner before your accident, how was the transition to becoming a competitive cyclist? "It took a while. I had been a good half marathon runner as a U21, 1hr-14mins. I was introduced to cycling through my rehab. Back in 2012 as part of my recovery I trained for and entered my first triathlon, a full-length Ironman. That was brutal. I also did the Trois Etape, three stages of the Tour De France. I loved the bike riding, it was hard but it gave me back my freedom. I guess it was natural that I should start racing, I'm competitive, it's in my blood.
We've seen you at the evening league races as well. "Yeh, I like to mix it up with the bipeds." It looked liked you were smashing them up from where we were. We saw you at Nottingham at the evening road race league. That was an awful race, there was blood on the tracks, a truck backed onto the race line just round a blind bend, only five riders dropped out so there was a huge bunch and you were mixing it up in the breakaway. Taking your time on the front driving it forward right up until it got overturned with a few hundred to go on the last lap. If you don't mind me saying you're a beast. "It's nice of you to say. I feel like I have to race in the 'normal' events as I don't see myself as disabled. People might think that because I'm missing half a limb that I can't cut the pace but people don't realise that top flight para athletes are training and riding every bit as hard as their fully able counterparts. We might not have exactly the same power output, but we're riding on the limit."
What do you do with your right shoes? "Ha ha, I have a little collection of brand new, pristine, right road shoes in size 43. I guess I should find a 'righty' for them and we could share." Every time Jamie orders samples they send them over, always the same size and always the same foot. We should check them out and see which they are. We could corner the market in single footed, one sized Paralympic cycling shoes!  Seriously though, we should get in touch and see if we can use these, they are great shoes, carbon soles, ergonomic footbeds, wired closures. There's no point you lads paying £200+ for a set of Sidi and only using one of them.

When do you start for Rio, what's your chances?  "I've already started; the first of quallies is coming up, on the track at Newport. If you can build my new track bike by then I'll break it in at that event. My chances are pretty good. Because of the combination of damage to my left leg and the loss of my right leg I'm classified as a C3. I came 4th last year in the factored time trial, that's nationally for all Para-cyclists. That put me 2 minutes ahead in the C3 cat. I guess I'm about 5% off the medals internationally. It's hard to say as we expect everyone will have improved, it's a moving target isn't it?"
"If I want to go to Rio the way Team GB work it is that you have to multi-medal, especially in the Paras. As long as I can show that I'm competitive on the track and on the road and for the TT then I'm in with a really good chance. I'm collecting points and pushing hard on the track, that's my way in. They have said that they want us out there at least a week in advance though so that we can acclimatize to the temperature. There's no point going out there and being gassed due to the heat, that's the problem with being British, no matter where you go it's going to be too hot! That's one of the reasons for going to Mallorca."

So what do you ride? "Well, at the minute I've got my TT bike, that's an Exocet 2, love that bike. On the track, I was riding a PX Frankie Bianco track bike, but you've just replaced that with the Track TOR and she's a beauty. I've got a Dirty Disco that I use during the mucky weather to keep my training up. I could do with a new road race bike though, there's a gap in my line-up there. If you have anything coming down the line that would be great." I think we can fill that for you..."
Are you training with power? "Yeh most of the time, you can't afford to ignore it especially when it's used as part of your selection. I can chuck out 300+ watts for a 20-minute test with my race leg on."  A voice from the back of the office chips in, "300+ watts, hell, half of us couldn't manage that! Craig do you remember the Six Million Dollar Man?" Craig laughs, "I do, hopefully I'm not that expensive to keep kitted out with bikes!"

I guess we should make arrangements and have you come back in for a full Retul fit when you have that new leg of yours. We could do a video of your fit with you strapping your new race leg on with the Steve Austin 'ner-ner-ner-ner' music playing in the background. 'We have the power to rebuild him', we could do a montage with power meters jumping as you crank the pedals round, it'd be retro, it'd be mint!"

And with the theme tune to Seventies TV hero worship favourites ringing in his ears, Craig trades in old bikes for new. We'll catch up with him soon when he comes back in for his bike fitting with his new 'race leg' and hopefully help him move another step closer to him dreams of racing in Rio and bringing back some gold. Best of luck this weekend on the track in Newport Craig. Do us proud!

29 January 2015


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