Indian cyclists back on CWG track after 32 years

By Bharat Sharma, IANS
Tuesday, September 21, 2010

(Attn Editors: This is the 10th preview discussing India’s chances in various disciplines at the Oct 3-14 Commonwealth Games. This piece is on Cycling)NEW DELHI - Bicycles might be ubiquitous on Indian roads but cycling is far from being a popular sport in the country. With the home team competing in the Commonwealth Games after a gap of 32 years, it could well initiate a turnaround.

The Indian riders have got a chance to participate in the Oct 3-14 Games as a host nation and the young 27-member squad is looking to make the most of the opportunity.

Cycling as a sport was introduced in the Commonwealth Games in 1934 and since then, India has been waiting for its first medal in the sport.

Yesteryears actor Janki Das was the first Indian cyclist to compete in the Games at the 1938 Sydney edition, while Avtar Singh Dogra was the last cyclist to don the tricolour in the 1978 edition at Edmonton.

Not much is expected from the team this time around in Delhi, but keeping the recent performances of a few cyclists in mind, India have the potential to win a medal or two.

O. Bikram Singh, the bronze medallist at the 2010 Asian Cup in Japan, will spearhead the men’s team hopes while Mahita Mohan is India’s best bet in the women’s cycling event.

The preparation of the Indian team in the run up to the Games has not been ideal, with the riders getting their new imported cycles only a couple of days ago. But with less than two weeks to go for the Games, the riders say they are putting in extra hours to adjust to the faster and sophisticated bikes.

“It would have been better had we got the bikes at least a month before the competition. They are a lot faster than those we were using. We need to adjust to the handle and the aerodynamics of the bikes. But we are happy that we have them finally,” 22-year old Mahita told IANS.

“My best chance to win a medal is in the 500m time trial category.”

Mahita won the gold medal in the women’s 10km scratch race during the Commonwealth test event at the brand new Velodrome at the Indira Gandhi Sports Complex in July.

The team is currently at a training camp in Patiala after some of the members comprising Bikram, veteran Rameshwari Devi and Helen contracted dengue during their stay in Delhi. Hence, the team management decided to shift to National Institute of Sports (NIS) in Patiala.

Sombir, who won the bronze in 4000m individual pursuit category during the test event, said barring the delayed arrival of the bikes, the preparation for the Games has been good.

“We went to Australia for training in March and it was a great learning experience for the entire squad. We got to train and compete with the Australian cyclists, who are among the best in the world,” said Sombir.

On the difference between the new and the old bikes, he said: “The new cycles are a lot lighter. The gear shift is a lot smoother. We should be able to perform better now.”

The government support ahead of the Games has certainly lifted the standard of Indian cycling in the last three years but the country still does not have a world class cyclist to boast of.

Some team members feel they can raise their performance graph if they regularly race in international events.

“When we went to Australia, we found out that there are races every weekend. Malaysian cyclists train and race abroad for stiffer competition and exposure, whereas we get to compete in one or two races in a calendar year,” said veteran cyclist Rameshawari Devi.

A strong Australian outfit would be pedalling in Delhi alongside South Africa, England, New Zealand and Canada, and most likely share the 48 medals at stake.

A heap of cycling stars will be seen in action during the Games.

The Australian squad consists of reigning Commonwealth Games champion Anna Meares, defending road race champion Mathew Hay, world junior 3000m record holder Dale Parker and world champions in team sprint race Ashlee Ankudinoff and Kaarle McCulloch.

The English will be coming to Delhi with the likes of Olympic medallist Emma Pooley, Lizzie Armitstead, Alex Dowsett and Ben Swift, apart from experienced riders Jeremy Hunt and Russell Downing.

India’s coach Chayan Chowdhury admits that it will be tough to have a podium finish but feels the team is prepared for creating an upset or two.

“I will be realistic. With the current lot, I am expecting at least two medals. It will be a herculean task but some riders have it in them to be among the top three,” said Chowdhury.

The Games will feature 14 track and two road events Oct 5-13.

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