Team Inspire India cyclists, Lt-Col. Bharat Pannu and Darshan Dubey, successfully completed the prestigious Race Around Austria (RAA) in under 100 hours recently, while the cutoff was 108 hours. The two Indian cyclists were supported by a seven-member crew that included three Puneites — Chaitanya Velhal (team coach), Divya Tate (crew chief) and Monish Deshmukh.
The race strategy and logistics were managed by Tate and Velhal. The other crew members were Sanjay Mokal, Vamseedhar Bezawada, Rutwik Mulay and Daniel Schneider. While Lt-Col. Pannu is from Haryana, Dubey is from Bangalore. Interestingly, to prepare for the race, Lt-Col. Pannu and Dubey did two simulation rides from Pune. The training routes designed by Tate covered Lavasa, Khandala and Mahabaleshwar.
RAA is a 2,200-km race in the Alps, going up to almost 27,000 metres of elevation. It flagged off on August 9 and Team Inspire India team finished on August 13 with a timing of 4 days, 3 hours and 53 minutes. RAA is regarded to be the toughest endurance bike race in Europe. It came into inception in August 2008. The race has also become the qualifying race for Race Across America (RAAM) since 2010. The race starts from St Georgen in Attergau from an elevation of 1,400 feet and covers nine major peaks in the Alps mountain range, the highest being the Grossglockner at a height of 13,800 feet.
The two cyclists were accompanied by the crew in two vehicles. The crew managed everything, from logistics and navigation to cooking, cleaning and feeding the racers — and all this is done without much sleep and on the move. The racers did relays (took turns riding) of 40 minutes each, except at night when each rode for 2 hours to allow the other to sleep during that time.
“Inspire India was founded with an aim to inspire more and more Indians to take to cycling and experience a transformation of themselves, the environment and society through cycling and this event has been a great success. I’m certain we will see a lot more Indians take to cycling in India and succeed in events abroad,” Tate said.
“The success of my trainees is a prime example of how the right kind of training and commitment to a goal can help athletes achieve the impossible. I’m very proud of having been a part of this successful race,” Velhal said.
Members said the first two days were very hot, but with storms accompanied by hail, severe winds, lightning and thunder on the first two nights. On one occasion, the weather conditions were so bad Bharat just could not continue and had to stop for almost 30 minutes for the storm to weaken. Mountain climbs included the famous Grossglockner mountain pass, the highest motorable pass in Austria at 2,500 metres. The cyclists climbed it on the third evening, in cold and tough conditions with ice on the sides of the road. The duo was, however, excited to be riding in picture perfect Alpine terrain. Having successfully completed the race, Dubey said, “We have had a very enriching experience at RAA. We received so much hospitality and encouragement from people here. The best part of reaching the finish line was to see huge support for India.”