It was back in April when we last spoke to ‘Our Man in Oudenaarde,’ we said; ‘It seems as if English pro James Spragg’s luck has finally turned.’
It looks as if we got that wrong – it’s been another frustrating season for Spragg, one of British Cycling’s ‘forgotten men.’
You’re either on British Cycling’s radar, or you’re not.
After a crash blighted 2011 and the all too typical broken pledges regarding a contract for 2012, Spragg finally put pen to paper for Algerian/Belgian Continental team, Geofco Ville D’Alger.
Spraqg 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.
Back in April, Spragg had dental problems, we opened by asking if these had been sorted out;
“It’s all sorted – it took a while, there was root canal work and nasty stuff like that . . .”
How has Geofco-Ville d’Alger been?
“A wee bit of a shambles, to be honest.
“The organisation was good for the first month, but then it fell away.
“It wasn’t a total shambles; we rode some nice races like Veenendal-Veenendal, The Dutch Food Valley Classic.
“But when my frame broke with six weeks of the season to go, they wouldn’t give me another.
“I guess you get problems with new teams . . .”
Are you with them for 2013?
“No, I have nothing lined up for next season.
“Originally they said they wanted me for 2013 but then they said they’d given my place top someone else. I was talking to another team who said they wanted me; the owner said he’d meet me at my next race to; ‘make an offer,’
“But he didn’t show up and then didn’t respond to emails, calls or texts.
“At my last race with Geofco the DS told me that I couldn’t take my bike home because they’d heard I’d signed for someone else – which of course wasn’t true.
“When I got home, there was an email from the team’s other DS saying that he wanted me to race in France, the next day!
“It doesn’t look like I’ll be racing on the road, next year – this year has just been so much hassle.
“It’s tough enough without having to fight against your own team.”
How were the palmares in 2012?
“Not great, it wasn’t a great season – I missed so much time with the dental problems and didn’t get stated until April. I could get top 20 in an UCI 1.2 but that was it.
“The other problem was that the team couldn’t get rides in most of the Top Competition races in Belgium because it was registered in Algeria. My last race was Putte Kapellen; I got round fine, but bunch sprints aren’t really my thing.
“At the level I’m racing at in Belgium it’s either tightly controlled and there’s a bunch sprint or it’s very selective.Guys like Gilbert turn up, the best guys in the world but even they’re up against it with the sprint trains. The Pro Tour guys start so early at Qatar and the like and are in such good shape at the start of the season.
“I was at the start of the Samyn – that was my second race – it was Bobby Traksel’s 22nd start of the season. I only managed 40-odd race days – of those, only 10 or 12 were road races, the rest were kermises.”
Didn’t the ‘African programme’ materialise?
“I thought we were going to ride a number of Tours in Africa, but the team only rode the Tour of Morocco – and that was when I was out with the dental hassles.
“But that was it; I never even saw the six Algerian guys in the team.”
You’re coaching now, though – for Dan Fleeman’s Forme Coaching?
“Yes, it’s really good; I’ve picked up clients, some of whom are full time riders.
“I’m a qualified coach but I can pass on my experiences as a pro, and also explain to riders why they’re doing the programmes that they are.”
And you’re spending the winter in Flanders?
“I was here last winter, too.
“My girlfriend is Danish, Margriet Kloppenburg; she rides cyclo-cross for BMC Concept Store – World Cups and Super Prestige.
“I’m at the races with here, helping with the bikes.”
Can Sven Nys win the Worlds, this season?
“I don’t know, I don’t see much of the men’s races, us pit guys leave after the ladies’ race.
“You can see that at some of the events the organisers don’t really want ladies – the Elite men are on at 15:00 and they put the girls on at 10:00.”
And, I have to ask – Lance?
“When it all came out, it was what we expected.
“But what really pissed me off is the guys like Danielson and Leipheimer who stole rides from clean guys – it’s shocking.
“And now we have Danielson trying to profit on the back of his indiscretion – what about the riders who gave up at 18 years of age because they weren’t kitted and couldn’t break in?”
Do you have a ‘Plan B’ for 2013?
“I don’t know, it’s up in the air – I’ve been out on the bike with my girlfriend, but not doing as much as I normally would. I might go back to the mountain bike.
“Cyclo-cross is an option, but there’s so much skill to learn – you’re starting right back at the bottom of the ladder, again.
“One of the problems in Belgium just now – and even the locals are talking about it – is guys paying to get rides with teams.
“Maybe a rich relative or businessman friend pays their salary and even puts some money into the team – but it serves to devalue everyone and makes riders worthless . . .
It’s not all ice cream and fairies in the Flatlands.
We’ll keep you abreast of which direction James takes in 2013, as the year progresses.