Rider Diary: Frank Spiteri’s Leap from Beginner to Elite
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It is amazing how fast things can change. It was in 2007 that I realized my life wasn’t headed in the direction I wanted it to. I was an inactive out-of-shape college student tipping the scales at a whopping 240 pounds. In an effort to help get me on the right path, a friend of mine gave me an old steel Diamondback road bike to ride the short two-mile commute to school. My two-mile commutes eventually morphed into 10-mile exploration rides. In 2008, my final year of college, I was already down to 190 pounds, and was finally able to enjoy doing things like riding a mountain bike. I traded in that old Diamondback for a more up-to-date Felt, and that changed everything.
At the start of 2009 I had moved back home from college and joined Peninsula Velo bicycle club. At the time, I didn’t even know amateur road racing existed. After my first-ever group ride in March of 2009, a few of the guys convinced me to do my first race – the Santa Cruz Classic Criterium. I entered the Cat 5 race and was promptly dropped off the back, throwing up in the bushes. By September, I had won the overall Cat 3 omnium at Folsom Cyclebration.
Some of my new friends had mentioned cyclocross to me and I decided to get a bike and dabble. After my first race, I was hooked. After doing a few local races, some teammates mentioned they were going to Portland for the USGP and Bend, Oregon, for Nationals and invited me to come along.
One year ago, in my first year of bike racing, I made the trip up to USGP Stanley Cup in Portland with a few teammates. In just my fourth cyclo-cross race, I lined up on the back row of the 94-rider Cat 2/3 race, ready to face the Portland mud. I was pretty nervous, having never raced in the mud before. After getting through all the first lap mayhem, I started moving up and eventually finished fourth! The next day, with a front row start, I was able to pull off the win.
Now, a year after my first trip to Portland, I just finished my second time racing at USGP Stanley Cup – only this time in the UCI Elite race. After a few rough laps on Day 1, I was finally able to find a rhythm. Thanks to decent legs and finding a few good lines, I was able to pick off a few riders per lap. I eventually moved up from near 60th place coming through the pits on lap 1 to finishing the race on the leader’s lap in 28th place, just behind Nick Weighall but ahead of Chris Horner and Carl Decker. It wasn’t exactly the result I was hoping for – but any time you finish a bike race ahead of Horner and Decker, you’ve gotta be happy!
Day 2 didn’t go as smoothly. Starting again from the back row, I got stuck behind a few crashes on the first two laps, and by the time I was able to start passing, huge gaps had already formed. My legs never really responded, and I was having trouble finding the right line through the corners. After hearing from the hecklers (who, thanks to my extended Movember Mustache, were calling me Mario) that fan-favorite Cody Kaiser had ridden the run-up, I decided to give it a go and was met with success. It was a bummer to get pulled with 1 lap to go; but on the bright side, it enabled me to see Powers and Johnson go over the barriers and head to the finish line to win the race.
One of the most difficult things about my first full cyclocross season has been adapting to the different course conditions. I’ve experienced new and unfamiliar conditions at almost every race I’ve competed in this year. Thankfully, the cyclocross community is filled with riders that are very open and welcoming to a newbie like me, frequently offering tips on tire pressure, tread choices and riding techniques.
It’s been a huge change moving up to the UCI Elite ranks from Cat 2/3. I feel lucky that I was able to experience Portland both ways, and I can’t wait to experience it again next year.
Watch out for Spiteri in Sunday’s Elite race in Bend – we’ll be out there rooting for him!
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