The post-Olympics hangover has given the landscape of Indian sports a huge boost. We have witnessed the rise of sports which were unheard of among the majority of sports fans in the country.
One such sport is track cycling which has seen a steady rise and growth over the past few years and is grabbing the eyeballs of sports lovers.
Multiple factors lie behind the sudden popularity of cycling – solid infrastructure, high-quality equipment, regular assessment and a strong coaching backbone, being a few of them, other than the general adrenaline-pumping nature of the sport.
SAI and the Cycling Federation of India (CFI) have put together a strong set-up at the Indira Gandhi (IG) Stadium, New Delhi which serves as the breeding ground for these upcoming cycling stars.
At the recently concluded Asian Track Cycling Championships, India bagged 20 medals across all categories, making it a first in the history of cycling in the country.
The Bridge sat down with Rahul Kumar- the coach overseeing the growth of names like Ronaldo Singh, Esow Alben, and Rojit Singh to decode what has gone behind this rise of Track Cycling in India.
What is the biggest reason behind the rise of India in track cycling?
We have been trying to develop a system for some time now. Our federation has equipped us with international-level equipment, high-class facilities and a proper coaching set-up. We have mechanics, physiotherapists and technicians to help us all the time.
The only thing that was missing was exposure and regular competition. India has only one national championship once a year and we just keep training for a year without any competition.
We have started going to Europe for our exposure trips. The competition and craze for cycling in Europe have helped our young athletes and players alike. They train there, rub shoulders with some of the best and beat them which gives them confidence.
India has an immense pool of talent, we just needed a push to test us in international waters and now when we are getting it, we will make full use of it.
What is the scouting and identifying process of talent in India?
Our talent scouting is a robust system. We have an elite panel of experts including BN Singh (Coach of long track cycling), and Maxwell Trevor (one of the best cyclists India has ever produced) who keep looking for talents.
The first step is identifying the talent. We organize talent hunts across the country and pick kids who look promising to us on the basis of their physical abilities. All the selected kids are called to New Delhi and tested on the track equipment.
After testing them, we assess them on physical abilities and distribute them across different categories based on their strengths.
All our top athletes Esow (Alben), Rojit (Singh), and Ronaldo (Singh) came through these processes and then we backed them throughout. After they are here in Delhi, we train them and assess them daily. That helps us keep track of where our athletes stand.
COVID-19 was a major roadblock in terms of the development of sports and athletes. How did you all tackle it?
During COVID-19 we suffered as cycling is not an indoor sport – you need to go out to practice and perform regularly. It is such a sport where if you lose 10 days that means you have lost 3-4 months of practice.
Most of our cyclists were at home and all of them couldn’t practice, some gained weight and some suffered from energy.
All credit goes to CFI as they requested SAI and Cycling had the first camp despite the ongoing pandemic. We started the recovery of our kids and eventually, all of them came back into shape.
What is the daily routine of practice here in IG Stadium?
We have a set routine here as all of the kids stay in the hostel. We have kids from every state and a diverse set here.
We have mornings reserved for training and evenings reserved for recovery or vice-versa. We train them and then put them to recovery to keep them balanced.
Our system has a daily assessment and a monthly competitive assessment. We keep giving the taste of competition to kids so they are competition ready at any point in time.
Ultimately, they are kids away from their families, we have to look at the mental side of the game as well. We need to keep them positive. A lot of kids go through breakdowns during competitions, but we have improved on that as we take care of their mental conditioning too.
What is the road ahead for Indian track cycling in the coming years?
I will be honest with you guys, we are looking at the Paris 2024 Olympics. Our cyclists are going to the Commonwealth Games, but it will be more of an exposure trip for our athletes as most of the competitors they will face at CWG, will be the same in Paris.
We have Asian Championships and World Championships coming later next year, it will be a huge chance for us to test ourselves and prove ourselves.
I see a bright future for Indian cycling as Ronaldo, Rojit, James, David, Mayuri, and Chayanika are young and they will get better from here if they keep performing at the highest level.
We will look forward to hosting more such events which give us more opportunities and put India on the cycling map.
He waves goodbye with a smile and certainly has hopes for Indian cycling in the near future.
We don’t yet know what this revolution of Indian cycling will result in and what will be the upper limit for these athletes, but one thing is sure and that is the current crop of cyclists in India are here to stay and fight for glory.