For Sam Spokes, the most distressing aspect of the sudden, premature end of his professional cycling career is the knowledge he had so much more to give.
Left in limbo at the end of last year when he was unable to secure a contract following his then team Drapac’s merger with Cannondale, the 25-year-old has accepted that his pro cycling career is over – albeit with much pathos.
The Tamworthian was married to Katelyn about 18 months ago and they have an 11-month-old son, Finley.
After a desperate search to find a new team ended in failure, he is now devoted to providing for his family off a bike – a projectile that had been integral to who he was as a person for most of his life and which had served as the vehicle of his dreams.
So now instead of racing across picturesque landscapes in Europe, where he had been based, and Australia, he now works as a landscaper.
“No one worked harder than my dad to try and sort out a contract back in Europe. We were still trying months ago,” he said.
“Unfortunately, we could not find anything with the right financial stability to take care of my family back in Europe.”
He added: “That’s probably the hardest thing, knowing I had the ability to keep racing over there.
“It came down to there not being enough support for riders – riders flooded the markets.
“It’s been a really bad time to see guys I was competitive against racing over there (Europe) and still being competitive. That’s the hardest thing, knowing I haven’t reached my full potential.
“I haven’t retired on my own terms, having done the best I can. I know myself I had more to get out of it.”
On Sunday, Spokes will have his first competitive ride since his all-or-nothing tilt at the national titles in Ballarat in early January. He did not perform well at the event and obviously failed to land a new contract.
Since then, he has hardly been on a bike as he made the often fraught transition from professional athlete to John Q. Citizen.
The annual Gunnedah to Tamworth, a Cycling NSW-sanctioned graded scratch race, has attracted a host of A grade riders.
After having caged his competitive animal the past five months, Spokes is set to unleash him on Sunday.
“I’ve probably had 10 rides the past five months,” he said.
“I’m doing this race as a local race and see how it goes.
“I’ve got no big ambitions but I still think I can give the guys in A grade a run for their money.”
Helping soothe the pain of having his cycling career end has been a switch to coaching.
Since getting his Cycling Australia coaching licence in March, the former Tamworth Cycle Club president has assembled a small team of senior and junior riders under Spokes Performance Coaching.
“As I said before, I don’t think I’ll ever go away from cycling,” he said. “It’s always going to be in my blood.
“This is definitely another way to give my knowledge back to other people and see cyclists driving to be their best.”
“He’s a really, really good coach,” one of his students said.