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A Rider On The Rise: Sam Spokes
Another young Aussie talent is burning up the cobbles in Flanders – Sam Spokes from Tamworth in New South Wales recently won the Zillebeke-Westouster-Zillebeke ‘inter-club.’ ‘Inter-clubs’ are hotly contested and a win in one can be a solid first step to a pro career. We spoke to young Mr. Spokes, a few days after his win.

PEZ: Tell us about Tamworth, Sam – is there a cycling scene?
Sam Spokes: Tamworth is a medium sized country town in New South Wales; it has a population of around 45,000.

The cycling scene is very strong with up to 60 riders taking part in local racing, every week.

There are also some strong riders; which helps me with training and racing when I’m home – good competition!

There’s actually another Tamworth rider staying with me in Belgium for the next two months – Mitch Carrington who keeps me on my toes in the local criterium series back in Australia.

PEZ: Your dad was a rider; he won a stage in the Sun Tour in Australia.
SS: Yes, my Dad was a rider and is still riding strongly; he was and still is my biggest hero on and off the bike.

He is the reason I started cycling and along with my mum is my biggest fan.

He did win a stage on the Sun Tour and also six international races in Europe where he had the opportunity to go professional, but due to family reasons he had to return to Australia.

PEZ: Do you have a coach?
SS: I do have a coach; my team director Wim Feys is setting my program.

He knows which races I’ll be riding and prepares me for them.

PEZ: You were in the team which won silver in the 2009 national team pursuit champs – did you never think about going down the team pursuit route?
SS: As a junior rider I did a lot of track, as I think it is important to get the correct bike handling skills to be competitive in the European fields.

In Australia, we don’t get to ride in bunches of between 100 and 200 riders on a weekly basis, like you do in Belgium.

As a second year under 19, I was focused and ready to try and make the Australian track team for the Junior Worlds but after some political decisions went against me, I wasn’t even present in the N.S.W. team.

That ended my hopes of making the Australian track team and my track days – but I managed to earn a spot in the Australian road team.

PEZ: EFC QuickStep is the pro team ‘feeder’ – how did you get that ride?
SS: I was lucky enough after my stint in the Aussie team in Italy to get a ride with the Belgian Johan Museeuw Test Team – I was able to have the exposure and victories that led to me signing with EFC Omega Pharma QuickStep

PEZ: How well do you get looked after at EFC?
SS: At EFC I think we are one of the best looked after under 23 teams.

When we go to races you would think you’re in a pro team with two soigneurs and two mechanics catering to our every need.

PEZ: Sixth in the U23 Liege-Bastogne-Liege, that’s a nice result.
SS: Liege was my first big goal of the season and I was happy to come in sixth. I also had two team mates in the top 10, so for the team it was an awesome result.

I think I was one of the freshest riders coming into the final 10 kilometres, it would have been interesting if I could have been with the front guys before the last climb instead of coming up from the main group.

PEZ: You won the Tour de l’Eure et Loire, tell us about that one.
SS: The Tour de l’Eure et Loire was a big weight off my back; I had a good season up until then with some quality results, but I hadn’t got that victory which I was so desperately wanting.

So to be able to get the victory on the first stage and then win the team time trial, and come second in the last road stage to hold onto the leaders’ jersey was the highlight of this season, so far.

The team has had a few times this year when we’ve lost the leaders jersey on the last day – it was a big relief to cross that finish line at the front.

SS: And you won an interclub the other day, tell us about that one, too.
SS: That was one of my hardest days ever on the bike – in Zillebeke-Westouster-Zillebeke.
It was raining and muddy, and I missed the front group; but on the main climb I gave it all and went across to the front.

And then with 17kms to go I decided it was time to go it alone and I managed to hold the chasing group of 20 off – but it was a nail biter.

I was always between 20 and 25 seconds and to ride the last kilometre knowing it’s yours is the feeling that as a cyclist we do all that training for.

PEZ: They reckon that if you win an interclub then the pro teams come knocking . . .
SS: That would be nice, but we will have to wait and see.

I can say I am ready for the knock, but hopefully I can put some more runs on the board before the season is out and see what happens.

PEZ: How would you describe yourself as a rider?
SS: I’m definitely a rider that is suited to the hilly terrain; at the moment the climbs of one to five K are where I’m really strong.

But I think in the future when I’m living and training in the high mountains I can be competitive on the big climbs.

But for now I’m be suited to the course of this year’s Worlds; but whether I get a call from the selectors is another question.

I think I have the form and skills to be a big asset, but whether the selectors feel the same we will have to wait and see

PEZ: Which aspects of your riding would you like to improve?
SS: I think at this stage I don’t have too many weak points; but I’m always trying to improve my sprinting skills as I think a lot of races can be won if you have that speed and knowledge in the finale.

PEZ: I heard you do up to seven hour training runs – heavy duty for a 20 year-old . . .
SS: Seven hours is a ride I don’t do too often, but I normally do between five and six hours at least once each week.

I think it is a lot for a 20 year old, but if I want to step it up to the big boys in the next year or two then I have to be prepared spend the time in the saddle

PEZ: How’s the Vlaams coming along?
SS: ‘Ik speal een beetje van het Vlaams,’ or in English; ‘I speak a little Flemish,’ but in a country where everyone is so good at speaking English, it’s hard to pick it up, as sometimes I forget their first language isn’t English.

PEZ: How about that Belgian weather?
SS: Ha! The Belgium weather! Well, as my dad would say; ‘it’s either raining or dripping off the trees!’ so not the best.

But I can say that I will never have a problem racing in the rain – and in all seriousness, that could be a big bonus in the future.

PEZ: Where are you staying – and what’s the arrangement to prevent from starving?
SS: I’m living in Geluved near Ieper close to the French border.

I live in a 3 bedroom apartment with a New Zealander Andy Van Der Heyden and my fellow countryman and ‘Tamworthian’ Mitch Carrington.

We actually do it pretty well, we shop together and all take turns in the kitchen, but we are very careful with what we’re cooking, because diet is such an important factor.

PEZ: If you could win just one race – what would it be?
SS: I think like any other young cyclist it would have to be the Tour De France.

In all honesty that’s my goal and has been since I was five, as I’ve grown older, it’s think it becoming closer to my sights – I’m developing into a Tour rider with my climbing and time trialing improving year to year

PEZ: What are you looking forward to most about getting home to Australia?
SS: I would have to say my friends and family; they are a big part of my life, so it’s good to be able to spend three or four months with them to boost the batteries.

But I would also have to say the weather, not many countries have the kind of summer we have in Australia!


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