by Jamie Mack

When the attendees of the latest Euro Cross Camp and the first list of riders nominated to the US Worlds team were announced there were, as should be expected, a lot of familiar names. From Compton to Van Gilder there were a lot of noted riders who would be representing US ‘cross in Europe. Looking through even the Junior ranks, there were some names familiar to the cyclocross community. Even at the still young racing ages of 17, racers like Yannick Eckmann and Chris Wallace had already made names for themselves as serious ‘cross contenders. But looking further, there were a few less familiar names, like Junior Matt Spinks.

While Spinks may not have the record or recognition that some of his US teammates possess, a quick look at his history over the last couple of seasons shows that he is certainly riding with the right crowd. Wins in his age group at the Mercer and Derby City USGPs in 2008 and a string of wins and podiums in 2009 road and ‘cross races, leading up to a top-ten finish this month in Bend, demonstrate that Spinks is certainly riding at the level needed to excel alongside his teammates.

Spinks began riding and racing road when he was 12 years old, with his father being his first influence in cycling. Riding with the well-respected northern New Jersey-based club Skylands Cycling, Spinks was quickly infected with the racing bug after a few Tuesday night training races. He has since used hard work and determination to move from those training races to the level of the best juniors in the US. Spinks still splits his seasons riding and racing ‘cross and on the road and isn’t sure which he prefers at this point, though he does relish the difference and the change each new season brings.

Spinks is approaching Euro Cross Camp as a learning experience as he prepares for his first Cyclocross World Championships in Tabor. “I think racing the World Cups will definitely help me for Worlds. I mean, they are essentially the same thing and are both very important international races,” said Spinks. “Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to finish the only World Cup I will be participating in this season.”

Zolder didn’t go quite as well as planned for Spinks, his first World Cup experience ending with a DNF after getting tangled with US teammate Jeff Bahnson. “I was following him down a super-steep, frozen downhill and … when he went down right in front of me, I really had no place to go but into his bike. I tried to avoid his front wheel, but as it turns out I went into his left crankarm. As I crashed directly into his crank, it put a large crack across my left fork [leg] and it also broke a spoke on my front wheel.” The young riders were able to untangle the bikes with Bahnson heading for the pits for a switch. With a broken spoke and damaged fork, Spinks was unable to continue since by the time he would have reached the pit, it’s likely the leaders would have already come by him. Fortunately both riders were uninjured and are both competing again. Spinks may have had a rough time in Zolder, but he will have plenty of other chances to shine this winter as he continues the learning process in Europe.

Despite the difficulties in Zolder, Spinks is enjoying the racing and experience and is proud to wear the US jersey when racing. “When I wear the jersey I just have to think that I am representing the USA. It’s just a great feeling that you can represent such a great country,” said Spinks. He’s finding the racing much more challenging than races in the US, with larger fields filled with riders that will fight for every position. Spinks was particularly impressed with the size of the junior fields, adding that “the junior races in the US are usually around 20-30 riders. Over here it’s more like 50-100 riders, even for regular weekday races.”

Spinks has a full schedule of races coming up as he takes advantage of being at this year’s EuroCrossCamp. The races will provide valuable experience and intensity as he works towards the World Championships in Tabor. As with the other riders toughing out the European races this December, it’s safe to say that on the back of Matt Spinks the colors of the US team are being well represented.