I was 11 when I rode across town to my first bike race. By my second or third start I had won my first race, but to me a win on handicap was not the real thing.
Felix is 13 and got to start his cycling career in Italy. Three seasons later he has one win to his palmares.
Racing in Italy, he will never understand the tactics of riding as a scratch rider in a handicap race on a bleak and wind swept Wellington day. Instead he will understand the dynamic of riding in the group with 60 to 100 other 13 year olds. Felix will have a baptism by fire in comparison. He will not thumb through magazines to get a glimpse of the sport at its pinnacle and lie in bed at night dreaming of the greatest bike races on earth.
At 13 I dreamed of the Classic's, the Grand Tours and the stars. At 13 he has been fortunate enough to stand on top of the Poggio as the Milan San Remo passed, watch stages of the Giro d'Italia, see Cadel Evans snap the legs off the field and ride away to win the World Championships. Six day racing, World Cup Cyclo Cross, at 13 he's seen much I dreamed of.
He understands PRO, how to look on the start line. That his handle bar tape must be clean and color co ordinated with his bike, that his sock height must be just right, and that greasy chain ring marks on his calves are definitely not PRO. He understands that there are bike riders and then there are bike riders, its more than just pedaling, it's how you pedal.
On Sundays he climbs into his team van at the front gate and goes one way, and I the other way to my own race. I hope that he has a great day, snaps some legs and comes home satisfied. I hope his satisfaction will evolve into a love for the bike race, a love born from the purity of the sport, the highs and the lows, the days of good legs and bad legs, of great races and great moments, that he experiences and sees it through his own eyes, and not through the eyes of his father.
Seeing him start to look PRO in his own adolescent way makes me green with envy. He knows Zipps from Lightweights, Schleck from Contador and can spot PRO at a glance. Maybe like many young riders he will find the commitment cycling requires too hard and decide to chase girls instead. After all, who would blame him for that, especially growing up around Italian girls? Or perhaps he will go somewhere with the sport.
Nevertheless I wish my start came with the opportunities that he considers to be the norm, and at 13 I understood PRO.