Updated: November 18, 2015 9:31:05 am
The next time you spot a peloton en route to the Wagah Border, don’t mistake it for being a bunch of enthusiastic tourists on an adventure trip. Instead, the riders in the pack are the country’s premier road race cyclists, trying to pick up pieces of a sport that drifted into oblivion following the death of coach Ruma Chatopadhyay in an accident two years ago.
Indian road cyclists are keen to follow the path of the counterparts in track events and make a mark continentally.
However, they don’t have the roads to train. In their quest to find safe roads to train for the cyclists, the Cycling Federation of India (CFI) could zero down on just two locations across the country. At present, the Indian contingent is training on a stretch on the Amritsar-Wagah Border road. When the winter settles in, they will move to Shillong where they will train on the route earmarked for next year’s South Asian Federation Games.
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The cyclists earlier trained on the Noida Expressway. However, following the incident involving Ruma, the federation decided to move to a safer location even as most cyclists were mulling to discontinue the sport owing to the risks they faced.
On a balmy morning in June 2013, Ruma was following a bunch of cyclists on a motorbike during their morning training on the Noida-Greater Noida expressway. They stopped for water and the 50-year-old coach, riding pillion, was hit by a car and died on the spot. The incident, although stray, brought to fore the risks of road racing.
“Parents of several cyclists said they weren’t keen to continue. It was with great difficulty that we brought them back,” said CFI president Onkar Singh, on the eve of the Asia Cup (track) at the Indira Gandhi Sports Complex Velodrome.
For almost two years since, the sport went into hibernation until the federation decided to revive it again. They began by scouting for locations where traffic would be less and the road quality good, taking help of the state units. However, just two associations replied positively. “We could identify just two places. We had asked several states, including Kerala and others. But there were no suitable locations,” Onkar said. “Right now, the team is training on the road that leads to Pakistan via Amritsar, what is called the Sher Shah Suri Marg. But that place will be engulfed in fog once winter sets in, so we can’t train there. We will then move to Shillong. The quality of road is good there and traffic is less too.”
Onkar said most safety measures have always been in place but they’ve started to take extra precautions following the accident in 2013 that shocked the fraternity. “We have two motorcycles in the front, two at the sides and one car trailing the peloton. Wherever they train, we have around 4-5 bikes with them,” Onkar said. “We are better in track events — in sprints and short distances. But have started preparing seriously again for road cycling.”
Meanwhile, South Korea will start as favourites for the three-day Track Asia Cup that will get underway on Thursday.
The event, graded class 1 by International Cycling Union (UCI), is a part of Olympic qualification whereby the points attained by a cyclist will add to the ranking of the individual and thus make it more competitive and interesting.
The first edition of the event, hosted in India last year, had seen the participation of four countries. This year the participation is set to go up to 10. The event will see participation of 13 teams from 10 countries including one continental team — Team ASTANA. The 10 countries are Kazakhstan, Hong Kong, Korea, Uzbekistan, Bangladesh, Thailand, Iran, UAE, Nepal and India.
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