Sam Spokes is currently one of almost 100 professional cyclists still searching for a 2017 contract and holding out for a ride to continue his career. The 24-year-old Australian spent the 2015 and 2016 seasons with Drapac at the Pro-Continental level but was unable to secure a contract for next year following the announcement of the team merger with Cannondale.
After a promising start to the season racing in Australia, Qatar and Oman, Spokes had by his own admission a year in which "results haven’t been in my favour" but remains hopeful he is an attractive signing for next season.
"I have a few irons in the fire but no definite rides at the moment," Spokes told Cyclingnews of his current situation. "It is sort of that year when the results haven't been in my favour after March really and that is coming back to bite me trying to get contracts and a lot of teams are waiting till the death to see which riders from the WorldTour are available. It's really a market season in which the teams have the upper hand. I am hoping I can get that ride back in Europe and get another go and try and prove to people and to myself that with the right amount of racing, that I can be competitive over there. Personally, I think I can be but at this stage, it's just getting that opportunity again and to give it another crack back in Europe."
The announcement that Cannondale and Drapac would be merging came on the eve of the Tour de France but internally, it was no surprise. Spokes explained that he holds nothing against the team and was given the opportunity to prove himself and earn a 2017 contract in the WorldTour.
"We knew quite early that it was happening and we all got fair warning and the opportunity to put our best foot forward and put the runs on the board to get the opportunity to step up with Cannondale-Drapac for next year," he said. "I don't think anyone was left in the dark or anything like that. Al the guys are good guys and got on with the job and I am sure to the last race at Hainan that they would have done their best. Some guys are probably more disappointed than others not to get the jump up, but for me personally, that last trip I had been told that I needed to step up and get a result and I didn't have the legs to do that. When I didn't get the nod to step up, it was understandable. It was still disappointing but I had no one else to blame but myself."
The birth of his first son Fin with wife Katelyn also came mid-season when Spokes was back in Australia but he was quickly back off racing and trying to secure a contract.
"There were a few times where it was quite hard mentally this year when I was thinking 'I can be competitive but I am struggling a lot' and there were other things back at home," he said. "There was the birth of our first son Fin this year so that also playing on my mind at times. A few of the trips just before when it was getting quite close the one after when you have a month old baby at home you've just met and you go off to Europe for a month was one of the hardest times. It got to a stage where I wasn't mentally in the race and sort of the back foot from the start. That was something I would never change, it just was what it was."
As a rider who prefers to race rather than to train, Spokes explained that missing the valuable racing miles also put on him on the back foot.
"I struggled a few times with coming back to Australia and missing racing every weekend, which I had before coming to Drapac. I have always been someone who responds better to racing rather than a long block of training," he said.
Complicating his need to put in a good showing to earn the Cannondale-Drapac contract was that he would be coming off a training block while needing to make an instant mark back in Europe,
"The races I had to do, which was Tour du Limousin and Tour de Fjords, were high-quality races and getting to the pointy end with Worlds I knew it would be a hard job to get a result in those races," he said of the task at hand. "There were the likes of Kristoff and Colbrelli and all these guys who are the best in the world so to get a result after not racing for two months, I knew it was always going to be hard. But it didn't think it was impossible because then there is no chance. I went in there being optimistic but I could tell after a few days in Tour du Limousin that it was going to be a tall order."
Tour de Fjords was Spokes' last race in the red colours of Drapac but he is hoping that in the future he can again link up with team owner Michael Drapac.
"It was bittersweet. The end of the season is always nice when you've done nine-ten months flat out training and racing but to know it was the last time in Drapac colours for that year . I've enjoyed my two years there and I also have hopes that it is possible in the future that if I can get another ride in Europe in a year or two that I could return with Michael and the team. I have a lot of respect for Michael and I've known him for a long time before I came to Drapac and I think he's done great things for the sport. If I did get the choice to ride in the WorldTour down the track in his team it would be an honour and it would be nice to reunite with some of the riders and staff I have worked with previously."
While there is no immediate deadline for Spokes to secure a 2017 contract, with a young family to consider he is hoping that he can put pen to paper sooner rather than later and continue to career. However, having ridden at Continental level with the Etixx-QuickStep feeder team, Spokes added that Pro-Continental is the lowest level he can go.
"It's not just purely cycling, I have to support my family so it would have to be Pro-Continental to get back to Europe," said Spokes who is aiming to base himself in the Italian city of Lucca with his family once he signs a contract.
"It's definitely always worrying if you don't have a contract. You put a lot of effort into a career of cycling and I've done it since I was four years old. If it didn't happen, and I end up not having a contract it would be a big step to another step in my path but I have to be positive that something will happen. I still have the motivation and want to be competitive in Europe and I think I still have something o offer to the sport. Hopefully, it all goes well and I can be back in the peloton next year. I'll keep doing what I need to do on the bike and hope it all turns out for best."