It seems as if English pro James Spragg’s luck has finally turned. After a crash blighted 2011 and the all too typical broken pledges regarding a contract for 2012, Spragg has finally put pen to paper for Algerian/Belgian Continental team, Geofco Ville D’Alger.
Spragg spent 2011 with Continental team Donckers Koffie which had morphed from the QiN team in 2010 having being reinforced by stronger riders.
The QiN contract was signed for season 2010; with 2nd in Rukkelingen-Loon and 6th in the Memorial Van Coningsloo typical of the results he achieved – as well as having to work hard for the team.
His best result of 2011 for Donckers was 5th in the Heistse Pijl behind Vacansoleil aggressor Bjorne Leukemans – but a broken collarbone as a result of a race crash didn’t help his palmares.
Spragg originally came from the world of mountain bikes before moving on to skinny tyres and taking silver in the 2006 British U23 road race championship.
He turned pro with the Marco Polo team in 2009, winning a stage in the Tour of Thailand before joining QiN.
VeloVeritas caught up with him shortly after the team presentation.
How was riding for Donckers, James?
“It was a better race programme than QiN but there seemed to be a lot more problems – I got along fine with everyone in the organisation, but I could never get to the bottom of the selection criteria.
“You would be told you were riding a race and then, at the eleventh hour you wouldn’t be.
“I was meant to ride Paris – Brussels and the Franco Belge but was left out of both – it’s bad for the morale.”
The original plan was for Donckers to merge with Willems Accent, wasn’t it?
“The Willems Accent team and Donckers came together but it wasn’t really a merger – only two riders from Donckers came across.
“I was reading in an interview our manager gave to the Het Laatste Nieuws newspaper that I was being retained, but then I received the phone call to say that I wasn’t.
“The two guys who went across both had two year contracts and one actually took a sponsor with him.
“Donckers have actually gone in to sponsoring Marco Polo, this year.”
How many days did you race in 2011?
“I only just hit 50 – and that was with me riding pro kermises under my own steam.
“There have been so many promises that haven’t been kept – I was told I was riding a race in Iran as part of the team’s preparation for the Tour of Belgium but again I was told late in the day that I wasn’t going.
“As it transpired they didn’t go to the race anyway – visa hassles or something like that.
“But then I was told I that I wasn’t going to the Tour of Belgium – I had prepared for it and was fifth in my last race before it was due to start.”
Tell us a little about the new team.
“Geofco comes from ex-pro Geoffrey Coupe who has bike shops in Wallonia under the Geofco banner and also does custom clothing.
“Ville D’Alger is obviously the capital city of Algeria and the plan is for the young Algerian athletes to be introduced to European racing through the team.
“I got the ride through contact with Luc Assez of the Flanders bike shop in Oudenaarde, which where I have an apartment in Belgium.”
Did you consider an English team for 2012?
“Yes and no – I was speaking to an English team but so were a lot of other riders.
“I would only have considered riding for an English team with a good continental programme.
“You have to be across the channel to flower properly as a rider – look at Jonathan Tiernan Locke, how he’s blossomed in the European theatre.”
It must have been a depressing winter for you.
“I was starting to think it was the end of the line – I was talking to teams all winter but all you get, is maybe, maybe, maybe.
“There are so many guys on the market – and good guy at that, who can win races.
“At the top end of the scene the riders on big money are unaffected and a lot of guys on the continental scene ride for free, anyway – supported by family or private sponsors.
“It’s the riders ‘in the middle,’ who have a mortgage to pay and/or a family to support who have suffered.
“Despite all of the uncertainty I kept training and my weight is good, although I’m a little behind with my fitness due to the problems with the tooth.”
Who’s on the team with you?
“The best known riders will be Bert Scheirlinckx who won the Pino Cerami for Landbouwkrediet last year and the former Estonian champion, Janek Tombak.”
How does the programme look?
“With the Algerian connection we’ll be riding African races like the Tours of Gabon and Morocco – but also a strong Euro programme with races like Nokere Koerse, the Tro Bro Leon and Tour de Finisterre.
“I’ll also ride the pro kermises in Belgium, they start in April.”
And when’s your first race?
“Unfortunately I have an infection in my tooth for which I’ve been taking antibiotics and have to let my dentist monitor it.
“I can’t start racing until that’s cleared up but the team understand the situation and there’s no problem.
“One race I’m really looking forward to is the Pino Cerami; Bert’s really keen to defend his title. (Unfortunately Bert could only manage 27th in the mass charge at the end of this year’s Cerami which was won by Lotto’s Belgian neo pro Gaetan Bille, ed.)
“I’m just looking forward to putting all the hassle behind me and getting back to racing.”