India's first international cycling race
How often is a hardworking Mumbaikar willing to let go of his Sunday morning sleep? Not many times, you'd say.
But on Sunday, most citizens, from tiny tots to youngsters, corporates and even dabbawalas, were willing to make that little sacrifice to celebrate the joy of cycling.
The India Cyclothon Mumbai 2010, also known as the Tour-de-Mumbai, India's first international cycling race, was flagged off from Bandra Reclamation.
Apart from the professional Elite international riders category, there were as many as eight categories of riders at the event.
Text and Photos: Norma Godinho
Image: Participants enter the venue before the start of the race
'It's good to know we are contributing towards charity'
The day started off with the 12km Green ride, which started almost ten minutes late. The delay in flagging off the race prompted no heckles from the cyclists, they just decided to ring their bells. The cyclists were there to support lowering of air pollution levels, but their cycle bells did nothing to lower noise pollution limits!
And their patience paid off; the cheer and smiles returned as the gates were opened to the enthusiastic crowd.
Rohit Jain (20) and Harsh Jain (16) travelled all the way from Mazagoan to Bandra just to enjoy the experience.
"We had applied for the amateur race but we were told that all the forms were sold out, so we opted for the Green race," said Rohit, an engineering student.
"Also, it's a good feeling to know that the money we give as registration fee (Rs 350) goes towards charity," he added.
Image: Impatient Green race participants wait for the flagging off
'Dabbawalas' make their presence felt
The Elite cyclists were obviously the big draw at the event, but the highlight of the morning was the dabbawalas. They were flagged off just before the Green ride.
The men, who are known for their flawlessness work of delivering lunch tiffins, enjoyed every bit of the ride as they shouted Banjrang Bali Ki Jai just as they crossed the finish line.
There was also a 24km race for corporates, an amateur race (24 kms), the kids ride for youngsters between the ages of 8 and 13 spanning 2 Kms and a very special category for the wheelchair-bound.
A carnival like atmostphere, people came with banners and placards, spreading the message to 'Save the Tiger' and 'Saying Yes to Life'
Image: Dabawallas at the starting grid
Amandeep, Harpreet make India proud
It was a proud moment for Indian cyclists, who competed mostly at the amateur and championship level, They took up the challenge and participated in the Elite Men's Internatonal race with pro cyclists.
15 Indian cylists took up the challenge of competing with the best in the world and while 13 cyclists lapped and gave up mid-way, Amandeep Singh and Harpreet Singh were the only two Indians who completed the race, an achievement in itself.
The Elite Men National winners were, Dayala Ram Sharma, Shishpal Jatc R and Sarpreet Singh.
"Our cyclists don't get many opportunities to compete with professional cyclists. This competition has helped them understand their strategies, the mind games they play. Our cyclists go in full throttle right from the outset, so by the time they are in the middle laps they are already fagged out. This, unlike professional cyclists, who start off very slowly, like a warm up ride. When they gage their opponents for a few laps that is when they hit top gear. This is what our cyclists need to learn," said Anup Nair, assistant coach of the Indian team.
Image: Amateur cyclists take off
'We have been training rigorously since the last 7 months'
The Indian cycling team achieved a three gold medal-winning feat at the recently-concluded South Asian Games in Dhaka. Nair credits it to the regular training put in with the Commonwealth Games in mind.
"We have been training very rigorously since the last seven months under chief coach Australian Graham Seers. We are currently having a training camp in Patiala.
"But all this training is not of much help to our wards as our cycles and equipments are not as superior as our European counterparts. Our version of bikes are 15 years older. And that is what makes me proud, despite all these shortcomings, our cyclists took up this challenge and 2 completed it. It gives me goosebumps," Nair elaborated.
Image: MLA Baba Siddiqui (left), Salman Khan (centre) and PWD Minister Chhagan Bhujbal flag off the Elite International race
International cyclists face gruelling schedules
Professional cyclists, who mainly hail from Europe, have the best cycles (ranging from Rs 5 lakh Rs 20 lakh), modern equipment and new tactics with each race.
But they also have a very demanding season as compared to Indian cyclists who don't train or participate in too many tournaments. The season for professional cycling starts in February with the Tour Down Under and goes on right through to November.
The main event, spanning 32 laps (98 kms), had reputed international cyclists like Stuart O'Grady and Baden Cooke in the fray.
Image: The Elite International cyclists in action
Argentinian Jose Juan Haedo wins top honour
But the surprise winner was Saxo Bank's Jose Juan Haedo, who finished in 2 hrs and 15 mins.
Following him in second place was Dirk Muller (Team Nutrixxion) and crossing the finish line in third spot was Tobias Erler (Tabriz Petrochemical).
"The race was good. The track was fairly simply, it was a flat course, no wind, so it was not challenging at all. As we kept going we got used to the track. What was challenging was the weather. The humidity was a lot, but more that the humidity, it was the pollution. It was getting hard to breath. But I'm glad that I won this and I hope to come back again next time," said Haedo.
Image: Jose Juan Haedo (centre), Dirk Muller (right) and Tobias Erler at the presentation ceremony