He has a great name for a cyclist, Sam Spokes; we first spoke to the young Aussie in 2013 when he was making a name for himself with QuickStep U23 feeder team, Etixx.
Last year also saw some nice results – but not enough to move him up to the Etixx World Tour squad.
But all is not lost, he’s signed with Australian Pro Continental team, Drapac – and in his first race in the Aussie team’s distinctive red jersey he made the winning break in the recent Australian Elite Road race taking a solid fifth behind winner Heinrich Haussler (IAM Cycling).
Sam wasn’t part of the Drapac team in the Santos Tour Down Under, where his Dutch teammate Wouter Wippert won Stage 6, but we caught up with him recently to hear about his fine ride in the Nationals.
Congratulations, Sam – fifth in the road race, any ‘with the benefit of hindsight’ thoughts about the race?
“I think even in hindsight I raced a pretty sound race.
“As a team we went in with a plan and I think we stuck to it.
“Sometimes the better rider wins.
“But I can be proud of how the team rode as a unit and how I rode personally.”
How does the Aussie National compare to a big Euro race?
“This was my first year in the Elite Nationals and the atmosphere of the race was something I have never experienced previously – even topping the two world championships I’ve competed in.
“As for the level, I think Australia has one of the most competitive scenes in the world.”
Drapac for 2015 – how, why after your time in Europe?
“I have had a link with Drapac for a long time now; I raced with Real Aussie Kids development team as a junior and it was linked in with Drapac.
“I also rode two Australian Madison Championships with Pat Drapac (the sponsor’s son) in the Drapac colours.
“As for leaving Europe it just seemed the right move to make.
“Drapac pro cycling is moving in the right direction; where I see a lot of European teams are just going year to year, struggling to find sponsors.”
What does your Drapac programme look like?
“I have a very solid race program for 2015.
“I’ll race the Cadel Evans Classic followed by the Sun Tour then move straight to the Oceania Road Championships; then most likely over to America for a strong program with plenty of big races.”
Drapac looks strong for 2015 with Graeme Brown joins and big winner Wouter Wippert …
“I think we have a very strong team for 2015. That was definitely shown at the Nationals.
“The years of experience which Brownie brings to the team are invaluable.
“I’m sure there will be plenty of different Drapac riders on the top step this year.”
Do you see much of Michael Drapac?
“I’ve spent a bit of time with Michael Drapac when I was in Real Aussie Kids.
“He has spent some time with us over the past few weeks and was of course watching all his riders in the National Champs.
“His support is amazing and without him there just wouldn’t be a team.”
Does the Drapac property company use the team as a marketing tool?
“I think for sure having such a strong and growing team will help in promoting the Drapac business; especially in the USA where the business is really going strong.”
The team must be happy with your start to the season?
“I think the team is happy, yes.
“My form has been coming up great in the last month and although I’ve only had two races this season I think I’m where I need to be and the team is ready to support me in the coming races.”
Do those Swifts ride as good as they look?
“The Swift carbon bikes do look great and they ride even better then they look; they’re super stiff and responsive.”
Tell us about winning the 2014 Course de la Paix.
“Winning it was amazing; I think it showed me what I can do as a rider and where my strengths are.
“It’s a UCI 2.2 held in the Czech Republic over three days and I won two of the three stages.
“There was also the fact that it was very important to the team with us being Czech based – and to be able to get that result was very satisfying.”
And two nice U23 Classic results in Liege-Bastogne-Liege (6th) and the Ronde (14th).
“I really love racing in Belgium and to be at the pointy end of those two races was amazing.
“In Liege I felt I was so close to pulling of a bigger result but it has to be my favourite race.
“For Flanders it was just amazing to ride on the cobbles; I tried to help Caleb in the sprint but he was unlucky to crash in the sprint.”
The Worlds U23 Road Race – silver for Caleb; did you have to work hard for him?
“At the Worlds I think our Aussie team worked like we were 10 men; we controlled the race from start to finish.
“I did a lot of work in the final few laps to make sure no one went off the front.
“Caleb finished second but I think we rode the perfect race; it was just a better rider on the day that got the gold.”
Last year you rode 62 race days from the Aussie Nationals to the U23 Lombardy in October – that’s a long season.
“It was a lot of race days last year but it’s what I love doing; racing is my thing so the more the better.
“And I’ve had plenty of other seasons with similar numbers of race days so I think I’m getting use to it.”
Did you take much of a winter break?
“Yeah, I had three weeks off when I got back to Australia, which was great to be able catch up with friends and family.”
What was Etixx like; was the ethos Belgian or East European?
“Etixx had a nice mix between Belgium and Czech.
“The riders and all the staff around the team where very professional and gave us the best possible chance to get results.”
Did you think you’d done enough at Etixx to move up to the World Tour squad?
“I think I was close; however, the stars didn’t align.
“But I think with Drapac I will get more of an opportunity to show myself then I would have at QuickStep, riding for all the big names.”
What are you looking for from 2015?
“I would like to grow again in 2015.
“I’ll be riding even more races at a high level; obviously I want results.
“I think they will come if I keep putting the efforts into training and developing as a rider physically and mentally.”
Is your European adventure over – or might we see you back, one day?
“I would like to think my European adventure isn’t over.
“I still have dreams of riding the biggest races in the world and I think that can be with Drapac pro cycling in the future.”