MUMBAI, India (VN) – Pros left India after a promising weekend that saw India’s first-ever elite international road stage and opened the door for future expansion of the sport in what’s considered one of cycling’s final frontiers.
Races in Nashik and Mumbai planted the seeds for future development of a possible stage race in India as well as further expansion of cycling in one of the world’s largest populations.
Race director David McQuaid said organizers hope to add an additional day of racing next year, possibly with a race near Pune, to create a three-race event with the eye on slowly building the event into India’s first international-level stage race.
“We look to Malaysia as an example of where we are coming from and where we can go,” McQuaid said. “They started from scratch 10-15 years ago. They grew steadily over the years and now it’s become a well-organized race. That’s where we want to go with this race.”
Officials are taking the slow-go approach to help nurture India’s budding cycling scene that will give organizers a chance to learn what it takes to put on an international-level stage race. Local organizers will take away important lessons from last weekend about how to organize road closures, transportation and other logistical details that are critical for success at the elite level.
Other Indian races have typically been held on closed circuit courses, but Friday’s Nashik race saw India’s first-ever rolling closure on an open road in what was an important test for Indian organizers and police.
Despite a few minor glitches, things went off reasonably well and officials are optimistic about landing a major Indian sponsor for the 2012 edition that will give the race a platform to grow steadily over the next few years.
“Cycling in India is viewed as a poor man’s transport, it’s a real stigma,” McQuaid said. “We’d like to see four or five top ProTeams here next year. It was huge for us to have RadioShack and Liquigas, so we hope to get more top teams next year. We want to grow the race slowly and have a real stage race in four-five year’s time.”
Most professionals asked by VeloNews expressed enthusiasm that India could live up to its promise. Here’s a sampling of their views:
Robbie McEwen (RadioShack): “It was very interesting; they did a great job to set up a good course to keep it open, free of hazards and safe. Everybody’s biggest concern was would the race be totally closed and would we be competing with cars, people and cows, but no, it was very good, I was impressed. I saw a few cows next to the road that looked like they might venture out on the road, but they stayed put on the side, it was good. I didn’t have to come, I chose to come here. India is a place I’ve always wanted to visit. This is my first time here. I thought it would be a very interesting trip and a fascinating place to visit, and it has been so far.”
Jaan Kirsipuu (Champion Systems): “India, it’s really something. For cycling, it’s a wild place, but you can see here, maybe in a few years it’s getting better here. It was OK training in India, I’ve seen worse. The roads were OK, not the best roads in the world, but if you’re experienced and aware that the road can have surprises, it’s OK. People are very friendly here, but the impression is that they really don’t care about cycling. As I remember from last year in Mumbai, I get the impression that there’s only one sport in India and that’s cricket. It’s hard to say what the future holds for India and cycling. It has a potential because the population is so big, so there is a place for another sport in India. To practice cycling in India is not so easy because the roads are very busy with traffic and it’s hard to organize a race here probably.”
Joe Eldridge (Team Type 1): “India has a huge talent pool, it’s just a matter of tapping into it. If they’re willing to put the resources behind it to develop a national team, it will take a little bit of time. A country like Malaysia did it with the Tour of Langkawi, now they’re winning stages, whereas before they couldn’t stay in the bunch. It will be interesting to see what happens here the next few years.”
Robbie Hunter (RadioShack) – winner of Sunday’s race and one of a few riders who’ve raced before in India: “This event is a lot different than the Commonwealth Games (held in October, 2010). There, we were chaperoned around by the Army and you really didn’t get to see anything. Being able to see a part of India as a country, it makes it a really special event. Maybe one or two logistical problems, but in the end, the riders enjoyed the racing. There were no major problems in Nashik, the control was reasonably good. I think we’ve enjoyed our time here. It’s been interesting, for sure. People need to realize if you come to a place like India, China or even South Africa, where I am from, it’s not like riding in Switzerland. You cannot compare any country in the world to India. Just keep an open mind, India is what it is. From what I’ve seen, it’s a good place.”
Tyler Day (Bonitas) – third Friday in the Nashik race: “The people are good spectators, they worked well with the riders, they liked us, they kept us motivated. The first piece out of town was a bit hectic, but the rest of the race was wonderful, open roads, no traffic, just perfect. We didn’t have any cows on the road, so we were pleasantly surprised. If they do it like they did this weekend, then they can say they have a future. We have no complaints at all. The organizers did a perfect job.”