Indian cycling is going places as more young talent takes up the sport. Previously, India saw only the army, air force and railways cycling teams compete in the National Championship, alongside some states where cycling was popular – like Karnataka, Haryana and Punjab.
Back then, for these riders, the main motivation to compete and win the National Championship was to get promoted (in the defence services) or land a government job (state team riders). They rarely, if ever, dreamed of winning international races.
This was the scene for decades until recently young urban lads took up the sport to challenge the dominance.
Today we have Kiran Kumar Raju from Bangalore, an MTech degree-holder who quit his high-paying job to pursue his passion and won the National Mountain Biking Championship (individual time trial) in 2015 and 2016.
Naveen John, also from Bangalore, was a road racing champion (individual time trial) in 2015 and 2016. He graduated from the US and returned to India to join a local cycling team and won the National Championship.
Neither is interested in government jobs because they want to represent India at the highest level and win medals for the country. They are now training in Belgium alongside two young riders, not just racing but also imparting their own learning to young riders.
Downhill mountain biking is fairly unknown in India, even in the leisure cycling circuit. Not many races in this category are held in the country, but a few daredevil youngsters have taken up the sport seriously and are known in other Asian countries for their talent and skill.
Pune’s Piyush Chavan has been racing the Asian circuit for the past three years, and last month finished in the Top 10 which is an incredible feat for an Indian. Vinay Menon and Rugved Thite, also from Pune, travel to race in the most epic downhill race in China, considered the next Utah Gravity Series.
Train hard and race smart!
National Mountain Biking Championship, Pune
To participate, you will have to contact your state cycling association for the selection dates as the Cycling Federation of India only permits riders from state associations. Private teams or riders are not allowed to race.
The national championship features a jeep track without any technical sections. To succeed in this race, you will have to train like a road racer and race like a road biker. Your mountain biking skills will come in little use.
The categories include – for men and women – Under 16, Under 18 and Elite.
Himalayan Mountain Bike Festival, Manali
If you are a fun-loving mountain biker who finds the National Mountain Biking course boring and too flat, then this race is for you. The festival has three different sports cycling genres – downhill, BMX and cross-country. All three feature very technical tracks with obstacles you can hope to find in international races.
This is a premium eight-day, eight-stage endurance MTB race that begins in Shimla and ends at Dharmashala. You will race anywhere between 60-90kms on hilly terrain.
MTB Himalaya has grown phenomenally and now attracts some of the world’s best riders. For Indian endurance MTB riders, this is the best platform to showcase skills and strength.
Many strong young riders had their beginnings in this race, including Devender Singh (brown medal, 2015 National MTB Championship) and Shiven (under-18 gold medalist, 2015 National MTB Championship).