At the start of 2017, I had a feeling that my riding needed to be more alive; that I wasn’t being challenged enough in my little environment. Though I was training harder with a new coach and a confirmed extension of my contract with Scott, I struggled to create an environment that pushed me and helped me grow.
So I decided on a trip to Indonesia from July to September to train, race and collect some UCI points.
I had a few good warm-up races and a big one at the Asian Continental Championships. I was looking forward to my trip ahead and then received news that Ajay Padwal – an old riding friend – had passed away.
Of course we were all shocked, and I did not understand how to deal with it because I literally grew up riding with him during my first few years on a bike. But I knew that I did not want to remember my friend like that, so I decided not to postpone my plan and flew out of the country as planned.
This trip was already getting a little wild with that shocking incident and whether I like to admit or not, it did have an effect on my first race.
My first two weeks in Indonesia before I headed to Sumatra were just plain busy, stocking up on bike parts, repairing old ones and a whole lot of riding in the Cikole Bike Park. This park has been built by riders with government support. You are charged INR 75 per entry with a full day shuttle costing a maximum of INR 500 if there are five people for each loading car.
Add in some great healthy local food just outside the track and you can return to the city happy for less than INR 1000 for a whole day. The Spartan Racing team from Indonesia helped me by sharing their knowledge and skills, and I really owe the good experience I had on my bike to them.
I was, surprisingly, not so excited to race in Lubuk Linggau (south Sumatra), but I was still looking forward to it. The entire race went like a fast-forward button where I enjoyed a few bits, but mostly just went through the motions. I tried making the most of it and learned quite a bit in terms of bike setup which would guide me for the next few races.
Post this race, things took an interesting turn. I was able to figure out why I was in that mindset and I decided to do my usual gym-ride-train-repeat routine for a week before I left for Malaysia.
During that week, I took a long XC ride to some waterfalls just outside the beautiful city of Bandung and that really bought the flow back for me. I had a feeling in the back of my head that Malaysia would be really good, and honestly it did not disappoint.
I was here for the Asia MTB Series in Tambunan, Sabah, and I was thrilled to meet my old friend Jr Barba who is one hell of a crazy rider and a bro to me.
We saw the track. It looked wide open and full throttle, with just two bad pedal sections, one big road gap and a few fun features. It wasn’t very exciting to me until I actually rode it a couple of times and realised that every run was better than the next!
My main issue before the race was attempting the 22-foot road gap. It was really scary and I had never jumped anything that big. Barba spoke to me on the uplift and his words strung well in my mind.
On the next run, I made a clean landing and found myself thinking once more that it was really me holding myself back. It was that simple – either you do it or you don’t. Ajay’s recent passing also made me literally pull my head out and realise that life is truly short and that I must make the most of any and every opportunity, just like he did.
On race day, we had seeding in the morning and the race in the afternoon. I seeded fifth, a podium spot for downhill. This got me excited and nervous at the same time. Unfortunately, it rained, and I struggled riding some sections confidently, losing some time to finish seventh.
I lost a chance to make the podium, but this was my first ever top 10 and I walked away with six UCI points. I know I could’ve done better, but this result has surely motivated me.