MTB Downhill makes its debut at the 13th South Asian Games 2019 – Nepal

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By: Vinay Menon

13th South Asian Games rolled off in Kathmandu, Nepal from the 1st of December through 10th December 2019. Cross Country and Downhill Mountain biking made their first ever appearance at a South Asian Games. For the inaugural show, what could’ve been better than Nepal’s world class trails!

The race track was created in Gokarna Sahid Smarak Park, Gokarna. Downhill course measured close to 1 km and the Cross-country trail came up to 4 km/lap. The downhill track was a short course of about a kilometer, but the features added to the fun! The track included rock gardens, drops, double jumps, tight switchbacks, off cambered sections, loose steeps and a finish line jump for the excited spectators!

Nepal’s Rajesh Magar #RJRipper showed his might by clocking the fastest time of the day and taking the big win in Men’s category. Followed by Nepal’s Nirav Shrestha in 2nd and Prachit Thapa Magar in 3rd. India’s National DH Champion, Slade Gomes landed a 4th place finish and local lad Deepak Jimi in 5th.

13th South Asian Games 2019 – Mountain Bike Downhill Podium

In Women’s category Nepal’s fastest woman downhill racer, Nishma Shrestha took the gold, followed by Nepal’s Jamuna Thapa in 2nd and India’s Cross Country team member – Yashodhara Sherkar in 3rd. Taking the 4th place finish was India’s Pranita Soman and 5th – Gethuraj N from India..

Freeridermag caught up with Nepal’s Nirav Shrestha (2nd – Elite Men) after the race to know more.

FRMTB: How was it winning the podium spot at the inaugural Downhill race at 13th SAG 2019?
Nirav Shrestha: Being on the podium, representing my country, I felt like I was on a new level of life! Very happy and proud of the achievement.

FRMTB: How was the downhill race course?
Nirav Shrestha: The track was pretty good. Thanks to Umang Shrestha and the team for building it. It’s wasn’t the fastest or the longest course, but was an intense one. You needed your 100% on each section of the trail. With huge rock gardens and several off-camber sections, it was one of the sweetest tracks I’ve raced on.

2nd place finisher, Nirav Shrestha coming in hot. \\ Photo: Sunil C. Sharma

FRMTB: What more can the cycling federation do to improve DH racing in Nepal?
Nirav Shrestha: To be honest, I do have a small complaint against the federation, as they enrolled me in the National team only two weeks before the race day. This was a very short period for proper preparation! But the coaches helped me a lot in those 2 weeks. I think our federation should include more upcoming riders in training camps and provide them with proper facilities and equipment.

FRMTB: What’s next for you, Asian Champs on the card?
Nirav Shrestha: Talking about my future races, it’s all up to our national federation. Because without them, I can’t represent my country at the Asian champs. I’d love to compete with Asia’s finest downhill racers.

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Here’s what Prachit Magar (3rd – Elite Men) had to say,

FRMTB: How was it winning the podium spot at the inaugural Downhill race at 13th SAG 2019?
Prachit Magar: It was an awesome experience standing on the podium, as it was my first time competing in an international event, representing my country. The race was so tight. I had slim expectations of a podium as I had suffered a bad crash two days before this race. I’m stoked to win a bronze medal for my country!

FRMTB: How was the downhill race course?
Prachit MagarThe track was short but had all the features a downhill race track should have. There was no place to rest, even a bit. Was a short and sweet course.

Nepal’s Pracit Magar nosing in at high speeds straight onto a 3rd spot finish. \\ Photo: Sunil C. Sharma.

FRMTB: What more can the cycling federation do to improve DH racing in Nepal?
Prachit MagarWhat I think the NCA (Nepal Cycling Association) can do is, it can host more DH races and send more riders for international downhill/enduro competitions. We’ve got an abundance of talents!

FRMTB: What’s next for you, Asian Champs on the card?
Prachit MagarI’ve raced a few rounds of the Asian Enduro Series before but look forward to racing more Downhill events too.

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We also spoke in depth with India’s Slade Gomes (4th – Elite Men) to get his take on the 13th SAG 2019 experience.

Slade Gomes from India suffered food poisoning before the race weekend. A 4th place finish in the final rounds for India’s National DH Champion.

My overall experience at SAG 2019 was amazing. The downhill race was competitive and challenging. Not because the track was tough or anything, but the competition, your own reflexes and on the spot decisions mattered a lot!

From the federation’s side I felt that the national team selections were conducted at the last moment, that wasn’t the best for a first timer like me to prepare. But that was all OK once I boarded the flight. The federation (CFI) took good care of our Indian team. Our logistics & boarding were quality throughout the visit. We even received a suitcase full of goodies! Included in the kit was our national team apparel (formals/casuals), shoes, badges, etc. Great feeling wearing the Indian team suit! Our national MTB team coach Mr.Shishir Karki sir was amazing too. 

Since we’d arrived late we only had two days to get used to the track Unfortunately I got sick due to food poisoning, so I kept throwing up! My first run was tiring and I threw up a couple of times. Second run was all conservative, I was trying not to throw up while riding! I was terribly sick but the track was exciting. The course had some horrible zig-zag sections, they were flat and flow breakers but they definitely made me put my stamina to the test. The last part was literally a freeride section with bigger drops and steep descents. Overall I was amazed with the amount of terrain variations we got to rip in about two minutes! 

One had to finish under two minutes to be anywhere close to the blazing timings of the Nepal team racers! If you pedaled the whole course you’d get dead tired. But if you didn’t pedal, you were definitely not making the podium! With a 3rd place finish in seeding, Nepal was feeling the heat, as they had assumed the’d win the top four positions! I was hoping to shake their podium sweep plans with a solid run in Finals. This made me even more nervous for my final run. Come finals, I was having a good run until I hit a tree, which may have cost me a fraction somewhere. End of the day, a fourth place finish is what I had to settle with, for this time. I’m confident I can do better with more race experience and training.

This was one of the most competitive international races I’ve ever raced! – Slade Gomes

India’s DH contingent before the race. (L to R) Gautam Taode (DH), Pranita Soman (XC), Geethuraj N (XC), Yashodhara Sherkar (XC) and Slade Gomes (DH).

The Men’s Elite Champion, Nepal’s Rajesh Magar (RJ Ripper) was thrilled with his victory. Here’s what he had to say –

Fastest man down the mountain at the 13th South Asian Games 2019 – RJ Ripper – Rajesh Magar \\ Photo: Sunil C. Sharma

FRMTB: How was it winning the top spot at the inaugural Downhill race at 13th SAG 2019?
RJ: It was a really proud moment for me to win a gold for my country and myself. A dream come true, to represent my country and win a gold for Nepal at such a big event!

 

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FRMTB: How was the downhill course for you?
RJ: Track was really good. A mix of everything, but a bit short. The course was great fun to ride even with its shorter distance. It was really difficult to stay on full charge from top to bottom!

FRMTB: What more can the cycling federation do to improve DH racing in Nepal?
RJ: I feel that our cycling federation should conduct several downhill races regularly to improve our riders and their riding quality. It’ll help in growing downhill mountain biking in Nepal.

Is speed your friend? Sure is RJ’s! En-route to the top spot on the podium in Elite Men, Rajesh Magar \\ Photo: Sunl C. Sharma

FRMTB: What’s next for you, Asian DH Championships, Asian Enduro Series?
RJ: I don’t exactly know about my plans yet for 2020. But I’d love to race all the Enduro series rounds in Asia.

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The Women’s Champion, Nepal’s Nishma Shrestha shares her South Asian Games experience.

13th South Asian Games 2019 – Mountain Bike Downhill – Elite Women Podium.

FRMTB: How was it winning the top spot at the inaugural Downhill race at 13th SAG 2019?
Nishma Shrestha: Winning a gold at the South Asian Games 2019 was like a dream come true for me! I’ve been riding mountain bikes for five years now, this is surely one of my biggest achievements so far! It was a proud moment for me, representing my country, leading the victory standings at the SAG 2019. I’m grateful to my coaches and all the officials of Nepal Cycling Association, without them it wouldn’t have been possible to achieve this. .

FRMTB: How was the downhill race course?
Nishma ShresthaThe track was good. Was flowy, with a few features like drops, jumps and switchbacks. But I wish it was a bit longer and had even more features on it. This being the first time for mountain biking at South Asian Games, I hope in the future, tracks would be even more challenging and fun!

Nishma Shrestha is a podium regular in Nepal’s women elite DH races. Here’s Nishma racing for the big win on home turf at the 13th South Asian Games 2019. \\ Photo: Santosh Rai.

FRMTB: What more can the cycling federation do to improve DH racing in Nepal?
Nishma Shrestha: National Cycling Federation should organize more downhill races. It would be awesome to compete in Asian level races, but having no sponsors makes it extremely difficult for me to attend international races as a privateer. I hope our federation considers our financial hurdles and supports us in some way.

FRMTB: What’s next for you, Asian Champs on the card?
Nishma Shrestha: I plan to participate in more races across South East Asia, building my confidence level up and gaining more race experience. Looking forward to race at the Asian champs as well!

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Yashodhara Sherkar from Maharashtra, India shares her experience after winning her first international medal.

FRMTB: How was it pulling a podium position at the inaugural Downhill race at 13th SAG 2019?
Yashodhara Sherkar: Winning a podium spot at the SAG 2019 was a pay off for all my efforts I’ve put into cycling so far. Having the Indian flag on my shoulders was one of the most enchanting moments for me. Winning India’s first medal in the South Asian Games MTB downhill, was a cherry on cake! I did miss the national anthem on the podium, but I’m sure we may hear it next time for winning the gold. It was an overwhelming experience  for me, my family, teachers, coaches and all my friends. 

Originally selected for the “MTB Cross Country” team, Yashodhara grabbed a rental downhill bike and decked up to fight it for India in the “MTB Downhill” race! (*Due to the absence of Indian women downhill racers attending the national team qualifiers in Pune, sadly CFI could not officially select women racers for the “MTB Downhill” team!)

FRMTB: What did you think about the downhill course?
Yashodhara Sherkar: The DH course was one of the most challenging tracks I’ve ever ridden on my bike! With sharp turns, steep sections I had to go beyond my comfort zone. I was willing to take any risk required to win a podium spot!

Cross Country racer, Maharashtra’s Yashodhara Sherkar surprised every one with her podium performance in Elite MTB Downhill. \\ Photo: Sunil C. Sharma.

FRMTB: What more should the cycling federation do to improve DH racing in India?
Yashodhara Sherkar: Cycling federation of India is mainly focused on track events. I feel Cycling Federation of India could share updated information about up coming UCI sanctioned downhill races, promptly conduct national team selections for international competitions, conduct regular DH nationals. Due to lack of communication regarding national team selection dates, many good racers cannot make it to these selections and miss the opportunity of racing in international events.

 FRMTB: What’s next for you, Asian Champs on the list?
Yashodhara Sherkar: Since winning a podium position in an exciting DH race, I’ll be focusing more on mountain biking henceforth. Yes, I would love to represent India at more international events, not just the Asian championships but other UCI events too!

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RESULTS

The inclusion of mountain biking in the South Asian Games is a positive development for our sport, for downhill in particular. Breaking into the main stream sports line up will open more doors for the sport, the athletes, involved brands, along with offering more opportunities for several countries to win prestigious medals!

Due to little, to no interest towards downhill mountain biking from Cycling Federation of India (CFI), the sport has remained low key in India for ages. Only because of dedicated private event organizers, sponsoring brands and enthusiastic athletes, the sport of downhill mountain biking in India has spread across the remotest parts of the country. With top six place finishes in men’s and women’s categories at the South Asian Games 2019, a 3rd, 4th and 5th (women) and a 4th and 6th (Men), Cycling Federation of India might hopefully look at Downhill mountain biking as a medal prospect and create some training programs for the budding Indian athletes.

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