Drew Roberts is a first year Pro rider here in Ontario. For the past three years in particular, he has been one of the very top amateursin the country. If you went to a regional, a provincial or National event, you would find Drewnear or at the front of the pack. He won many awards along the way, and is, generally speaking, a great kid. In 2012, Drew is in his first full season as a Pro motocrosser. It is daunting jump, often a very lonely one. The Pro class is where the best always end up, and more often than not, first year pro riders are left to chase the pack. The majority of regional events that rookies in Canada cut their teeth at are races with 10-15 Pro riders. Most riders are seasoned guys with seasons of experience at the Pro level and a heavy list of accomplishments at the amateur level. For riders like Drew and other young men in Canada, making the jump to Pro is much more difficult than perhaps anywhere in the world.
It is sink or swim.
In Canada, there are only nine National rounds. For a first year Pro, to be able to contest those events is usually not within their budget, plus they’re often intimidating. This means big event experience, which is so important, is often reduced to five or six events in a year. The regional events riders compete in are sprints of sorts, and for kids like Drew lining up against some of the very best Pros in Canada is intimidating at times. It is also hard to learn to measure success at the Pro level. As an amateur it is easy. Winning is success. A charge from last to third should be considered a success. However, it is misleading, year after year, the faster kids move forward, and until they reach the Pro class, riders face much of the same competition. At the Pro level, it becomes harder to measure when battling for a top five position at a regional event because a small mistake means the pack is gone. It is a hard road in the first years however it is a path each Pro must go down.
Take three of the key Pro riders at regional events today, starting with the top dog in Ontario, Kyle Keast. Keast, as I have written before, was not an amateur star. In fact, few would have ever pegged him to be where he is today, one of Canada’s elite riders. Looking back at his amateur or even early Pro career, his results were unspectacular. What Keast brought to the table was dogged determination throughout those early years. In his first years as a Pro rider, he could be found battling within the top 10 of the Eastern MX2 Nationals or just outside the top 5 at Provincials. There isn’t a lot of glory and there isn’t a lot of money in those positions, but it is where it starts for everyone. Success, measured by gut checks and effort, was where it all started for National #4 – in tiny increments of improvement until he emerged as one of the best in Canada.
The two faces consistently showing up behind Keast is that of sophomore Pro racers Richard Grey and Nathan Bles. It was a humbling year for the two speedsters in 2011. Both had very successful amateur careers. Grey was a Bronze Boot winner at Walton and was consistently considered to be the very best in his age bracket throughout his amateur career. Bles emerged in his Junior year as an elite amateur and was a frontrunner at each level he competed at as well. Both kids showed enormous potential when as Intermediate riders finished inside the top 10 in MX2 Pro Nationals. However, last season the two rookie Pros’ trajectory leveled off, and although they were riding faster than ever before, their results on paper didn’t come easy or perhaps as anticipated.
In 2012, both have grown and are on their move forward again. Both have more confidence, more experience and now have the ability to understand when they are riding strong or not. Watching them race and line up in 2012, they look much different. There is confidence in their racing and understanding now that wins will come again with hard work. The first year of Pro is very hard mentally, it is the year that makes or breaks a rider.
I watched Drew in his motos this past weekend. He charged, fell back and charged again. The speed is there, and like many rookies (including Richard and Nathan last year) you can see it is now about believing he has the ability to catch the pack he is chasing. It is a hard first year, one that often feels like it isn’t going forward at all; an uphill challenge, perhaps the hardest in a racer’s career. What advice do I leave to Drew or any young Pro racers that have made it to Pro? Earning your plates means you have the skill and talent to race with the best. Now it is about work, determination and believing you will lead the pack again. It is there, now go get it.