PezCycling News - What's Cool In Pro Cycling : PEZ Talk: Svelte Cycles’ Justin Spinelli

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PEZ Talk: Svelte Cycles’ Justin Spinelli
Every once in awhile, we come across riders who have done a lot and seen a lot, but for many, these riders are still not household names, sometimes even unheard of. Case in point: Justin Spinelli. Spinelli spent three seasons racing for Farm Frites and Saeco in the early 2000’s. He eventually returned to the US, and has quietly carved a niche for himself in the American racing scene. PEZ catches up with the entrepreneurial bike racer from the Northeast.

By: Nathan Rand and Jered Gruber

PEZ: Could you give PEZ readers some background? Tell us about how you got into riding bikes…
JUSTIN: I was born in Portland, Oregon on August 31, 1979. I moved to New Hampshire at the age of four and grew up in Nashua, New Hampshire.

My interest in bicycles started at the age of 13, and by the spring of 1993 I saved up enough money to buy my first real bike – a Cannondale M400 mountain bike that cost $399.99. I rode just for the fun of it until 1997 when I entered my first mountain bike race and won.

Working at Goodale’s Bike Shop after school and during the summers as well, I was able to afford myself entry fees and equipment with plenty of time off on the weekends to race. By the summer of 1998 I was receiving enough support from NECSA/Richard Sachs to race full time and stay off my feet in the afternoons.

This move proved to be a good one because the extra bit of support and rest sent me right to the top of the U-23’s in the Tour de Toona stage race and landed my a spot on the US National Team.

I had a relatively late start to road racing and in my first full season, I went from a Cat. 4 to a Cat. 1 and was the leader of the U-23 road squad for the ‘98 World Championships in Valkenburg. I spent the following year with the US National Road Team as well as riding as a stagiaire for Team Mercury at the Tour de L’Avenir. That was the year Floyd Landis came in 2nd overall and I was very proud to be a part of that team. I also raced the road Worlds in Verona, Italy that year.

While riding for the Mercury Team in 2000, I got an offer to race for Team Farm Frites. A couple of weeks later, I was a 20 year old on the start line of the Giro D’Italia.

PEZ: You raced the Giro? How was that?
JUSTIN: I raced the Giro once and it was an experiment of sorts. Seeing as how it was my first race with Team Farm Frites and my first Pro race period they wanted to know what I was made of. They were shocked to see that I made it up to the rest day (12 stages) and urged me to keep going. I said no and went to my Aunt’s house in Italy for a break. I was still a boy physically and not prepared to tackle a race like the Giro. Of course they know that from the get-go.

PEZ: What was your role within the team?
JUSTIN: I was always a worker. The faster I became the higher up the totem pole my role was. On one occasion I had my shot at the GC in a stage race. This was in the Uniqua Classic (now the Tour of Austria?). I was 5th overall… not bad. I would like to think I always performed when called upon… I was consistent.

PEZ: Where did you live?
JUSTIN: Mostly in Tuscany. I did a stint at the Saeco team apartments in Brescia but that was a rough environment. Tuscany felt like home to me as my Aunt and Uncle live there.

Yes, that is Mario Cipollini in the middle.

PEZ: What was it like to be a 20 year old racing at the highest level? Did you have any problems?
JUSTIN: It was very very hard. Physically I still had a lot to mature and mentally in the early 20s I was still a babe in the woods really. Italian was not easy to learn per-se but I did grow up speaking French so that certainly helped. There was no choice but for me to learn the language though as nobody spoke English, and I worked for an Italian company. Those are two very compelling reasons to linguistically adapt.

PEZ: Did you ever pull off any results? Make any solid breaks?
JUSTIN: I had some very notable results. A top five in a mountain stage in Austria with a top 5 GC there as well. Countless top 20s in the super hard races in Spain and Italy. Plus plenty of DNFs from giving it all for the team. Oh, I was in the break away at the Classica San Sebastian World Cup…. that was something else.

PEZ: What did you take from your experience racing in Europe?
JUSTIN: Hard work pays off.

PEZ: What happened? Why did you come back Stateside?
JUSTIN: It was all just too much and to be very honest the pressure to perform became overwhelming to say the least. I feel very grateful to have accomplished what I have though. Racing a bike or doing anything for that matter at that high a level, the very top… nothing compares to it and the lessons I learned are priceless.

In 2003, I returned to the states to race for Team Navigators, but was feeling the effects of too much too soon. After 2003 I said enough was enough and left cycling to pursue my education in Industrial Design. It only took me about two months and I was pedaling a bike again, and by the summer of 2004 I was going to the local MTB races just for fun.

Spinelli’s time with with the Navigators was enough to send him to a little time away from racing.

That fall, Richard Sachs went out of his way to give me a shot on his cyclocross team. after coming a close second to National Champion Mark McCormack in my first race back, I was right back at it and very happy to be racing again.

The following season saw my return to the road racing as an amateur for Target Training. In 2006 I returned as a Pro for Team Nerac/OLP and just won my first Professional Road Race at the Hills of Housatonic.

Jonas Carney of Team KBS/Medifast took notice of me that year after a strong ride at US Nationals and took me on for 2007 and 2008.

Spinelli has been a stalwart on the US Cross scene with the famed Richard Sachs team for a number of years now.

PEZ: How was your 2008 season?
JUSTIN: 2008 was my best ever season. I worked hard on refining my time trialing, did some aero work with Steve Hed and saw the results coming. I earned top ten places in both the US PRO Time Trial National Championships and the US Elite National Cyclocross Championships. Other highlights included 2nd Overall at the Fitchburg Classic and two Podiums at UCI Verge Series Cyclocross Races.

Justin rode to a solid top 10 at the USPRO TT at the end of the 2008 season.

PEZ: After that great season, you were looking forward to an even better 2009?
JUSTIN: Yes, I thought my team for 2009 and 2010 was set in stone, giving me even more incentive to improve on my results.

[Editor’s Note: But it just didn’t work out – Justin originally signed with the small American professional squad, DLP, but for numerous reasons, the deal fell through, and Justin was left without a professional license for 2009.]

PEZ: What are your plans now?
JUSTIN: I had the foresight in 2006 to understand that racing as a Pro would not last forever and decided to start my own company specializing in tailored bicycles and handbuilt wheelsets. I handle all the operations from taking the orders, assembling the bicycles and wheels, answering the phone, managing the cash flow…I really can’t think of anything I would rather be doing, as it is a combination of all my passions culled into one effort. I think my customers can really tell I have a genuine interest in putting them on the best equipment for their own skillset, which does not always equal the latest and greatest offering used by the ProTour peloton. I see my business keeping me busy for many years to come.

PEZ: How is your company, Svelte Cycles, doing?
JUSTIN: Svelte Cycles is the reason I jump out of bed in the morning. I love everything about what I do and how I do it. Fortunately my customers are not “price shoppers” and come to me for my expertise….This makes for a very comfortable environment to work within.

PEZ: How is the season going for you so far?
JUSTIN: My season thus far has been interesting. I don’t think I have once finished outside the Top Ten, or missed the break in any race I have entered. Perhaps the highlight was when I got within 10 seconds of closing a 2:30 minute gap solo on Scott Nydam and Bobby Lea at Battenkill-Roubaix only to have my vest fall out of my jersey and lock up my rear wheel. I don’t think too many people know that story. Perhaps if I had better luck I could have gone to the line with Scott? Who knows?

PEZ: How are the prospects looking for moving back to the pro ranks in 2010?
JUSTIN: The situation would have to be just right. of course I would entertain the notion though. There is nothing quite like racing as Pro… it’s a real privilege.

PEZ: Was it hard having to sit out Philly last week?
JUSTIN: I would be lying if I said no. I was glued to the live updates hoping my pals on KBS [Kelly Benefit Strategies] would pull of the win for Cando [Alex Candelario]. We all know Alex can excel in that finish. Perhaps next year?

PEZ: What are your goals for the rest of the season?
JUSTIN: It is funny how the discipline and work ethic you inevitably inherit from being a Pro for ten years never dies. Success in tandem with quality of life are the ultimate goals. The list of goals that get filed under those two is very long.

Expect to see much more of Justin on the cross circuit as well this Fall.

PEZ: How is your training going? What does a typical training week look like for you?
JUSTIN: I train as much as I can and as best I can. I may not be a pro on paper but my legs would say otherwise.

Much thanks to Justin for his time and patience. Make sure to check out his company, Svelte Cycles.

It is also great fun to keep up with Justin and Svelte Cycles on the Svelte Cycles blog!

Want to get in touch with Justin? You can find him here: justin at sveltecycles dot com.


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