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Downhill veteran Lee Craigie will not shrink from the challenge

THE thrill of the sport remains, even if there is still the lingering memory of the pain it can inflict.

Lee Craigie, who will be taking part in the mountain bike cross-country at Glasgow 2014, extols the myriad physical and mental benefits of her sport. Picture: Colin Mearns
Lee Craigie, who will be taking part in the mountain bike cross-country at Glasgow 2014, extols the myriad physical and mental benefits of her sport. Picture: Colin Mearns

Lee Craigie, at 35, will launch herself and her bike off a very steep hill in Cathkin on July 29. It is a moment that has consumed most of her thoughts and a substantial chunk of her time.

"Four years" is her brisk reply to how long she has been waiting for that tilt down a brae.

"I probably wouldn't still have been in the sport if it hadn't been for the Commonwealth Games being in Glasgow," says Craigie, who was chosen yesterday to represent her country in the mountain bike cross-country.

"I'd have retired from the sport a couple of years ago. This has been the drive for almost as long as I can remember," says the rider who took up the sport at the comparatively late age of 25. "If I wasn't doing this now I'd probably just be riding my bike for fun, touring the world doing competitions, big-stage races instead of gathering UCI points."

Craigie has an interesting history with a hinterland of being a technical mountain guide, and her experience of helping others cycle in the Sierra Nevadas. She is also a psychotherapist and is engaging on both the pleasures and the trials of her sport. Why mountain biking?

"That feeling of being able to flow through the trees and over rocks, and really take these adventures through the hills, and be independent. Movement, travel, excitement, adrenaline. It's the perfect day. It does everything for you," she says.

"There are social and emotional gains as well as the psychological gains. I don't know what I'd do if I didn't ride a bike, especially mountain biking."

It is a sport, too, that makes demands of the body. "You need to have all the sprint speed that track and road cyclists have. You need to be physically strong, able to handle your bike over technical terrain," she says. "You need heart and lungs. You need to be strong and light, and have good enough aerobic endurance. It's a real mix. You need to be a well-rounded bike rider."

It also challenges the will and spirit. "You need a different psychology to chuck yourself off stuff. Slightly mad? That's a nice way of putting it. Maybe a wee bit," she continues.

"You also need to be able to assess very quickly your own level of skill to the terrain, otherwise you're never going to make it. You've got to be confident and brave but you've also got to know your limits."

Craigie has been successful in her chosen pursuit with a stellar year, winning British National Mountain Bike championship, the British National Mountain Bike Series, the Scottish National Mountain Bike championship and the Scottish National Mountain Bike Series.

Does she still feel fear when she looks down a course?

"It depends," she says. "Some World Cup courses will spook me a wee bit with a big jump or a big drop. But that's what practice is for. You go and just have to face up to it. You do it and fall off, do it again and fall off again. Then you don't fall off and do it again and know you can do it."

This philosophy has produced more than the odd bruise.

"I like to think as I get older and more experienced I get injured less but I'll usually get one big injury in the year," she says.

"Under race conditions you push that wee bit harder. I've broken fingers, cut heads, dislocated all my bones out my sternum. They've been pretty horrific injuries."

She has "a couple" of races before the Commonwealth Games but she is encouraged by winning on the course and the prospect of hearing Caledonian roars.

"The advantage will be the home crowd. That's going to be absolutely huge," she says. "Just knowing the city and being inspired by the backdrop will be the benefit."

If she has been waiting for four years for the Games to come round, her love of cycling has encompassed more than a quarter of a century.

"The first bike I ever had was a wee red BMX. You could not prise me off that plastic seat," she says. "I was on it all the time. I'd have been about seven or eight."

She concedes that the seeds for the challenge of Cathkin Braes were probably sown then.

"That same feeling of freedom and adventure and exploration and independence I got as a seven-year-old is still the reason that will get me out at the weekend, although now there's a different element to it," she says.

"I can't do as much of that exploration; I need to be pretty focused on specific training. But when I get some downtime I can explore faster and harder."

Craigie is determined to light that fuse at Cathkin.

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