9th National Mountain Bike Championship – Pune (25th – 29th July 2012)
By: Vineet Sharma
Also featured in Issue #11 | Sept 2012
Pune, the eight largest metropolis in India witnessed the 9th National Mountain Bike Championship organized by Maharashtra cycling association and Cycling Federation of India. The riders from various Indian states team got an opportunity to compete in a National level mountain bike race as it happened after many years. Teams from Jammu & Kashmir, Punjab, Chandigarh, Haryana, Uttarakhand, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Maharashtra, Karnataka, Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Indian Railways and the Indian Army were present at this event. The women category was also filled with female riders from all these states. The track was located in the beautiful and lethal Dighi Hill, which is controlled by the India Army. One can spot a tank popping out of nowhere; hear machine gun rounds firing, grenades bombing and also the local downhill riders ripping on local trails at the same time. However the Indian Army allowed the race to happen without any issues.
We were present there; managing the Chandigarh cycling team and also covering the event exclusively. This is the first time that any Cycling Federation of India event was being covered by a dedicated mountain bike magazine.
We started the journey from Chandigarh with the Chandigarh team. The journey to Pune was not pleasant as the train we were travelling had no confirmed tickets for us. The team had hard time to place the bikes in the same bogey and had to manage the 2 day journey without sleeping and roaming around in train. We were also accompanied by the Haryana cycling team. Most of the riders from their team had confirm tickets, but travelling in a sleeper class which had majority of people with non confirmed or waiting list tickets made no difference if one had a confirmed ticket or not as all had to share the same seat. One can see 5 to 6 people stacked on one seat or berth. The humid weather made it even worse.
We were relieved on reaching Pune. The team quickly pulled out their bike bags and got in the trucks that were waiting for us. It was a surprising view, how the national players from various states travelled and how they were being transported to their rooms which were located in a dharamshala (a charitable guest house supported by donations) in Alandi. Luckily the place was not in bad condition and each room was shared by a minimum of 6 riders. The logistics and the way the athletes are treated in India is way too different compared to western countries.
On the positive and surprising side was the lovely weather in Pune. Ever since we got down from the trail, the weather was super pleasant and I was not expecting it. I had imagined Pune to be hot and sweaty. It used to rain in between and nice wind made it even better. We drove to the Dighi hill to check out the track that was decided by the Maharashtra Cycling Association and the Cycling Federation of India. The race track was a 4.94 KM loop around the Dighi Hill. The place has many nice trails and riding options, but the selected track for the race was a very simple and almost plain with no obstacles and was a very big advantage for the road bikers and the riders who are good at technical riding were not happy checking out the track and had clear disappointment on their face.
During the year of 2000, when 1st Mountain Bike Championships were held in Chandigarh, the hot topic was the non availability of proper mountain bikes and other equipments for the riders. Things started changing back in 2005, and have improved a lot without any doubt. More and more bike brands are approaching and introducing their bikes in the Indian market. Majority of riders at this event were using entry level mountain bikes, not to mention some really cool old school mountain bikes that were still being used by the riders. The Indian Railways team was spotted with some unknown commuter bikes from India and they were determined to perform and win. The strangest debate during the race was: If the riders using clip less pedals should be allowed to race or not. Not to mention the riders from road racing background and were ready to race with road bike shoes and pedals installed on their mountain bikes. At the end of every topic: ‘It’s the rider – Not the bike’ implies. However, few riders had also brought hybrid bikes and decided to race on them after looking at the track. No one was aware that hybrid bikes will be rolling faster until the race day started. Another thing we have been observing at all National or State cycling events that few riders don’t bring their own bikes but share the bikes of other riders or borrow from other teams to race.
The super pleasant weather of Pune was a big advantage and a plus point for the whole week. The training day was welcomed with heavy rain. The outskirts of the track ‘which could have been chosen as the track to race’ became extremely slushy and had no option but to cross it to reach the race venue. The bikes saw some real dirt sticking to them. Shoes filled with slush, disc rotors jamming, treads making no difference was the sight and few participants were really having a ball. Coming to the chose race track, which had become even smoother after the rain was a shock for few riders. All the teams were allowed to practice the loops for the day. The riders and the military tank on the race course was a funny scene and even the soldiers could not resist to slow down the beast and to check what’s going on.
During the evening, the riders were given their jersey numbers and were being registered for the event. The CFI Officials did their job pretty good considering the number of riders who had surrounded them with many queries. The day finished with dinner and the riders were ready to hit the sack in no time.
All the charged up teams reported at the race venue early and did another practice lap. We were not surprised to see the smooth route packed up and hardened after the rain. This was sure going to be a fast day. The Chief Guest, being Brigadier from Bombay Sappers from the Indian Army arrived on time and flagged off the race. There were several categories: Mens, Junior under 19, Junior under 17, Junior under 15 and same with Women category. The good part was; all the categories had good number of participation from all the team. During the race I interacted with Sibasis Dholey, A rider from West Bengal who had serious concerns about the sport. Sibasis has been inspired by Hans Rey and has been training hard on trails and technical riding but was disappointed when he saw the track chose by the officials. It was his 1st National level race; however he has participated in other private races like MTB Himachal which is now known as MTB Himalaya. Sibasis had been training 50 to 60 Km everyday for the race and was expecting more during the National level mountain bike race. Another rider from Chandigarh ‘Harman’ who has got into the racing scene recently but has been doing dirt jumps and BMX was not at all satisfied with the food and had to visit a nearby restaurant. According to Harman, private mountain bike races are much organized and want the state cycling associations and Cycling Federation of India to adopt the same quality. Similar disappointment was seen on couple of more riders from various teams. The team coaches also had similar opinions but they decided not to comment much as they were more concerned to get medals for their state.
The race continued and the remaining two days saw more action, more speed and rain. Mens mass start race was the most awaited event. Even the local audience had come specially to check the event. Most of them saw the daily exclusive updates that were shared through our Facebook fan page (www.facebook.com/freeridermtbmag ).
Confusions started rising when someone mentioned that riders with clipless pedals are not allowed in the mass start! Riders with cleats stepped aside from the group and wanted to confirm about it. The event carried on with more rain and wind. However few riders were stopped in between the race and disqualified as they were riding with cleats. Sandip Jhadav, a very fit local rider who was representing Chandigarh team was not all happy about it and was helpless at the same time.
During the race we also met the Pune mountain bike clan. Dighi Hill is their backyard and that’s where they practice their downhill and trail riding and have fun in group. Piyush Chavan, Ajay Padval were also racing and were not expecting the smooth trail to be the part of the event. The boys were still satisfied as a National Mountain Bike race was taking place in their hometown. The Pune clan also got their DH rigs which were new object to many people present at the venue. Soon, the boys were surrounded with people and curiosity.
We also met ‘Abdul Rehman’ and 20 years old lad from Bhopal (Madhya Pradesh) who is also a Guinness World Record holder for ‘Longest High Chair Nose Manual’ which he created in 2011 on a regular commuter bicycle. Abdul has been riding ever since he was 8 years old and loves it till date. He was BMX on TV when he was very young and got inspired. Ever since he has been practicing on his own and his dedication has enabled him to get the World Record. Abdul is being supported by Green Planet Bicycle Riders Association from Bhopal. The association realized the importance of his skills and decided to support him by giving him a bike and cover all the expenses required by him to perform in various locations in India. Abdul Rehman was also representing his state team in the National championship as he loves to race and have also decided to race professionally after his 1st mountain bike race. A common story with most of us: Parents getting angry when you are totally into riding. Abdul had to face the same scenario but he is now happy as he gets full support from his parents too ever since he created the record and was featured on TV channels and newspapers.
All this support inspired him more and he now teaches more than 100 children on how to perform tricks on their bikes. The best part is, he teaches them for free. This super talented dude has also appeared in famous Indian Television programs like Entertainment Ke Liye Kuch Bhi Karega, and has recently got selected for Shabash India and India Got Talent. After watching him doing summer salt from his bike, we asked about his fitness schedule. “I have no fitness schedule. I just ride my bike.” he answers with a grin.
Abduls is a visionary and we could clearly see that. He plans to become a coach in this field and wants to share his riding skills, and would like to represent his team worldwide. He was recently invited to perform in China. Unfortunately he could not make it on time as he had no passport. Now ready for many coming adventures, Abdul also is getting into downhill racing. His association has sponsored him a GT Downhill mountain bike and he loves every minute he spends on it.
Coming back to the race and looking at the positive side, there was a National Mountain Bike Race after decades and the response was as good as any private mountain bike race in India. There were riders with a lot of hidden talent that was exposed too. Looking at the response we talked to the CFI officials out of which few also work with UCI races worldwide. The officials were all happy and were dedicated to their work. Cycling Federation of India announced that they will start organizing mountain bike races more often and also confirmed big level mountain bike races in at Kerala this year end which may also witness pro riders from different countries. Does this means UCI calendar races are coming in India? From the looks of it and the announcements, things do look more serious and full of action in coming years and we hope the level of National Mountain Bike Race also gets a world standard where the riders are happy and satisfied too while performing at the same time.