BROOKLYN, NY, MARCH 4 - Racing motorcycles is Ben Spies' job; racing bicycles is his passion.On his last free weekend at home before flying to Qatar to start his career as a Yamaha factory rider, Spies is going to "spit blood" in what he laughs will be the hardest race of his life.The Texan will lead the 11-rider Elbowz Racing Elite Cycling Team into a pair of races - La Primavera at Lago Vista - that are some of the biggest dates on the Texas bicycle racing calendar. When I called him earlier this week to talk about his recent test in Sepang, he talked for seven minutes about Sepang and the next 15 about his bicycle team."You can just see him light up when he talks about it," crew chief Tom Houseworth says.Spies joined the pack of motorcycle racers who use bicycles as training a few years back, and his involvement has steadily increased. He formed his own team the second half of last year and it's grown into a professional, well-sponsored team that he hopes will be a dominant force, not only in Texas, but wherever they race. Spies, himself, rides with the team whenever he can, but, given the MotoGP racer's peripatetic lifestyle, it's difficult once the season starts."It's quite tough for me, because...at the end of the day I train to be a motorcycle racer," Spies said. "There's no doubt about it. I could do stuff to be better on a bicycle. I'm able to put blocks into training where I am good on the bicycle. I just took nine days off of everything to go to Malaysia, which is my job. And then I go to this race this weekend, and it's 90-mile races Saturday and Sunday, and it's tough."But they're the two biggest races that I'm going to go to for the team and basically spit blood and I'll be a bullet for the team at least and help them out."It's one of those things, when I have a chance to race with the team I do. They look after me a little bit. Not to try to get me to win; I lack a little bit of that. But they try to keep me safe for races and have fun. It's just good to go with the guys and the cycling community likes it when I come out because they know I've got a job to do and I'm coming out to have fun. And it's good. It's a way to kinda get away from motorcycle racing, but also stay competitive on two wheels. Cycling is something I got into a few years ago, not so much for the fitness part of it - I definitely cycle, I think, more than I need to to be a motorcycle racer. But it doesn't obviously hurt me. It helps me in every way. It's a great community, a great bunch of guys and that's what I kinda picked up on a few years ago. And made a lot of great friends and it's really cool."The races this weekend - there's one each on Saturday and Sunday outside of Austin - won't be fun at the time, "but it'll be fun at dinner after the race. I mean, going to dinner with the guys after an epic race, it's awesome. The most famous words in cycling are, I don't know how many times I've said it is, ‘That was the hardest race ever.' Even the good guys, even the guys that I know are pretty much better than me on my team. We're sitting at dinner and everybody's like, ‘Crap, that was the hardest race ever.' You say that basically every time you race."Spies has a habit of downplaying his skills on a road racer and on a bicycle it's no different, though he was proud of one of his earlier finishes. Spies came 13th in the Pro division and only 25 secs. off his teammate and team leader, New Zealander Heath Blackgrove."He's a phenomenal cyclist, which pretty much all of the guys on the teams are," he said. "Most of them are younger. He's 30 and he's kind of the team leader, but in saying that he won that race." Added Spies, "and to finish less than a minute off of him after a four-hour race, I was, needless to say, pretty hungry in that stuff."The team is a mixture of younger riders and more experienced pros, some with considerable international experience and success. "We've have four or five small Texas races," Spies said. "I think we've won four of them."The first year out the team needs publicity, which is where Spies comes in. "We've got great sponsors with Yamaha and Alpinestars and Monster, and Kevin Schwantz is a sponsor, Colin Edwards is a sponsor and we have Kicker and Oakley [as well as Specialized bicycles, which has allowed the team to design custom paint schemes for the frames]. And all my guys have been real supportive of it. And it's good. It's a good image. It's been fun. I think it's going to turn into something really big here in a couple years."Our goal is in the next year or two years to start with the junior kids in the Dallas area and move them into the elite team and have something for them to go to. It's a cool deal, because within the industry - obviously the cycling one's hurting too, just like motorcycling with the economy - and to have a lot my sponsors being able to step up and bring out of the industry sponsors to cycling is awesome. And it's something they like to be in because it's a good image and also cycling, all the people I know in the Texas area are just pumped to have other people getting involved. It's not normal to show up and have Yamaha and Monster and all these different kind of cool sponsors they're not used to having."Spies is so intent on winning that he isn't above bringing in a ringer. Later this year retired Italian champion Gilberto Simoni, a two-time Giro d'Italia winner, will guest ride with the team."In his day he was the best Italian cyclist," Spies, who lives on Lake Como, outside of Milan, Italy during the European season, said. "He's a big fan of motorsports racing. He's a fan of what I'm doing with cycling, trying to build it in a positive way. He's going to come guest ride. He's definitely not going to be in his prime like he once was, but he's definitely a superior cyclist and he's going to come and race and try to win for the team, but also help with the publicity and just work together and I think it's pretty cool that I'm able to work with people and people are interested in working with this program to promote it."Fans who want to keep up with Spies' cycling career can follow it on facebook at Elbowz Racing Elite Cycling Team.

 

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Henny Ray Abrams | Contributing Editor

Abrams is the longest-serving contributor at Cycle News. Over the course of his 35-some years of writing and shooting photos, he’s covered events from MotoGP to the Motocross World Championship - and everything in between.

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