The end of our relaxing Saturday mornings…
16 October 2013
Paul Miller gives Youth Cycle Sport his account of being the father of a keen Under 10 rider, and he tells us what it’s like for a parent to enter the sport with no previous experience.
Neither my wife nor I had experience of cycle racing before our nine-year-old son Caelan got involved in the sport. I was a motorbike racing enthusiast and my wife had played netball at a high level, but we didn’t have any background in cycling.
An initial hurdle for any child entering the world of youth road racing is whether they are born into a family that is willing to support them. It’s a fact that cycling is a sport that needs quite a lot of commitment from parents – without that, any potential a child may have will probably not be realised.
We found this sport through Caelan himself, and the worry that he would hurt someone in the local park as he rode the wheels off his first single speedster once the stabilisers got ejected. I guess during his formative years watching his mother and myself screaming at the television during a MotoGP race and me heading off motorcycling with friends did not help matters. He just always wanted to go fast when on that bike in the park (which in his head was a circuit), though being a motorcyclist myself I really didn’t enjoy pedaling beyond a certain point of pain!
A chance trip to Redbridge Cycling Centre (“Hog Hill”) one Saturday morning changed our lives.
Lee Valley Youth Cycling Club holds its weekly training session at that time, and Caelen would have to become a member to ride that day, forcing me to gain membership (thanks Terry!).
For a short while life as a father of a boy cyclist was bliss as Caelan spent the second half of 2011 riding off-road while I sat in the canteen area using up the wi-fi. Most of the time he was just having a high-adrenalin blast, oblivious to the racers on the road circuit.
We would watch the little road racers with curiosity as they took it all just a little too seriously, while the mountain bikers had fun and honed their skills.
As a youth I rode skateboards and we built our own racers, so watching kids kitted out in their lycra get drilled on how to ride in a group was a novelty. Anyway, soon the off-road coaches were telling us that Caelan ought to hit the tarmac as they could see potential (thanks Gary and Paul) but, to be honest, no one warned us about the commitment that would follow – and the end of our relaxing Saturday mornings…
By January 2012, Caelan could just straddle an Islabikes Luath 24 which most kids were riding. We looked at other options such as the Moda Minor but were taken aback with the double crankset and 18 speed, as from the information I’d read on British Cycling’s website he would only need access to one chainring with a roll out distance of 5.1 metres in the Under 8’s category. This is checked by putting a bike in its biggest gear and rolling the bike backwards until you get one full revolution of the crank arm. I’d seen it done at the club so the Isla 24 was the way forward as it would be less confusing. To be honest we kept our intentions to ourselves and the club had no idea he was switching to road racing, as he’d done no training in that area. We learned that he’d need a racing licence from British Cycling to be sent to the club.
We pretty much got him on the line of his first Under 8 race at Hog Hill in his mountain bike helmet and shorts in case the adventure was short lived. Anyway, he took second place but, more importantly to him, he did not get lapped by a kid in a green shirt as he ate up the other kids like a Pac Man. Caelan then knew there was more to this than meets the eye, and watching those other kids arrive from different clubs had him in a spin.
No more was he interested in the various train stations on the Thomas the Tank Engine Island of Sodor. He now wanted to know where Welwyn and Hillingdon were as he struggled to spell the words on Google.
He was becoming very interested in youth road racing and I could see that this was no passing phase as it was all he talked about. Also, he now saw his name on the British Cycling website with two points so was enthusiastic to do more than Saturday morning training at the club. Unfortunately for me it was winter and he wanted to go to the circuit on Sundays to ride on that race bike which was the apple of his eye. Well Sundays now saw me at Hog Hill in a goose down parka watching him ride by himself or tagged on to the few old timers that braved the cold. This was no passing phase in those temperatures, but luckily for Caelan he has a mother who is an ex-England Senior netball player and understands structure and dedication to something you have a passion for, so we knew it was to be nurtured.
Well the passion was there and the dedication soon followed as he gave me a pinkie finger promise that he would train hard if we would support him, but what about structure….?
Now that is the part of the jigsaw that didn’t quite make sense to us. Caelan appeared to be an able racer and in a football team he would do as was the case with his brother: join the school football team hoping to represent his county and beyond at some point. In youth cycling, though, parents are left to decide where and how much their kids compete as they look for youth races on the British Cycling website in their region.
Yes, you represented a club and wore the shirt, but basically you are in charge of your child’s destiny. No league structure as such and you could race your little Johnny as little or as much as you cared for. Yep, the scope for parent abuse was as wide as a barn door in Texas.
We made the decision early on that Caelan would only enter “home” races at Hog Hill while an Under 8. Eventually, after 10 months we knew he would become an Under 10 shortly and he wanted to be competitive. So we sought out races at Hillingdon and Kent Cyclopark as he already knew from the British Cycling website where his local adversaries were racing. The website also soon made sense to filter his race category and region to find out what was on offer. We still don’t take too much notice of the rankings as running round the country for easy wins/points is a no-no. A quality field and an engagement to battle on the bell is more important to Caelan!
Yep, Team Miller was now on the road and we would now see how he’d fare against stiffer competition (within the M25). The target in his rookie Under 10 year was a top five position at local meets, and he put the work in training to achieve that by and large.
This was also the time he could hit certain races with Under 12s on the same tarmac, so when the final bell rang he would have a rival in his vicinity to engage in a “versus” as he calls it – unlike the Under 8 category races at Hog Hill where most of the time he would be on his own in a top three position so wouldn’t have to race with his head.
They say if you fail to plan, then you obviously plan to fail. The hard part for any parent (and the club) is to assess realistic targets for their child so they enjoy themselves, improve in the sport at a sensible rate, and not fall behind as they age and the pace increases (puberty withstanding).
When Caelan spoke to former National Champion Germain Burton, he relayed that those who trained hard could inflict pain on themselves when the pace ratcheted up, and could go with the moves or even attack. Those who did not train hard had pain inflicted upon them throughout the whole race, he guessed. Coping with pain was the life Caelan had chosen for himself, and hearing that from Germain did not even cause him to flinch, because he already knew it as a fact of the sport from our bed-time stories and his dreams for the future.
Soon the 2013 National Youth Circuit Series would arrive and the first race in the series was to be hosted by Lee Valley. Caelan wanted to do a few races in the series as a first year rookie looking for top ten places, and was pleased to achieve two 5th places and a 13th when under the weather. He also capped off the season at the European Junior Cycling Tour of Assen with a hard earned 8th placing.
The future? Who knows. He just wants to work hard and enjoy the sport that has given us so much in a short space of time. What more can I ask for when other kids are hooked on the gogglebox?
Yes, more of my time is taken up as he trains Thursdays and Saturdays (if not racing, which is most weekends – especially now as he has taken up cyclocross) plus we go for a Sunday ride together when we can. For that alone I get great pleasure as soon I will not be able to keep up… Mondays will soon bring winter turbo training and I’m told by the father of youth racers Theo and Louis Modell that it will only ratchet up as he gets older. I guess I’ve taken the place of my father-in-law who spent years doing as I am now until my wife got her driving licence at seventeen.
Lastly, many of these youth racers have dreams, but the biggest killers of childhood dreams of any nature are usually their own parents. Keep up the support… It’s hard but rewarding.
Things you become as the parent of a child racer: Nutritionist, Therapist, Researcher, Logistic Persons, Masseur, Driver, Sponsor, Mechanic and Caddy.