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Bike Transalp: Learn about the first Indian team to participate in the oldest mountain bike race of the world

Ashish Sood
1.19K   //    05 Jul 2016, 09:26 IST
First Three Indian Riders for a MTB Stage Race
The first three Indian Riders to participate in  a premier MTB Stage race( Ashish, Shiven, Devender – L to R)

122 - That’s the population of his native village in some of the remotest parts of Indian Himalaya!

Dreams, dreams no one else could see. We all have them, some get there some don't. The two young boys from Himachal Pradesh are all set to see their dreams come true in front of their eyes this month!

Call it destiny, hard work, stars, right place right time or a mix of all these things- it doesn’t matter. What matters is that for the first time India will be represented by a team in an elite MTB Marathon stage race. This is no ordinary race- This is the Oldest MTB stage race of the world and certainly the biggest in Europe - The Bike Transalp.

Setup in the Alps, the race is a physical as well a mental challenge with more than 1200 riders from across the world participating. I will talk about the toughness of the race later- What seem to be more interesting is the difficulty of the journey that these guys had to undertake to get there.

It isn’t all rainbows and butterflies if you pick up mountain biking as a career choice in India. Well, not yet. The challenges come in many forms - Financial, lack of quality mentorship, social support from family friends etc, Technical in terms of equipment, gear etc. The challenges are grave enough to sink the average. It requires unusual character to rise from such situations, it requires extraordinary determination, and it requires exceptional will power. Like they say champions aren’t made in gyms - They are made out of something deep inside of them: A vision, a desire!

It will be safe to assume that our two young boys have it! They have had their own battles- You might argue one more than the other but still.

The start of an incredible journey

It was 2013 MTB Shimla. I was working in Bangalore then and a boy had written to me on Facebook in broken English that he wants to race at the upcoming MTB Shimla race. I told him to go to the website - look up the details and complete registration but he insisted it in doing it in person. A few days later I was at our Shimla office and this typical boy with baggy cargo pants, a hat and big hiking boots walks in and says I want to ride.

Devender in his early days
Devender in his early days 

I asked him a few questions and then he said that he doesn’t have money or a bike. I don’t know what it was, but for some reason I took him in.

On the race day - This boy arrived without a helmet, wearing the same cargo pants, shoes and the hat! I gave him my own bike which I had just bought from a friend- a half decent Trek 6 series. This boy certainly did not have the best of starts to his riding career! He went off in a completely different direction and then called me half an hour later asking where were the rest of the riders?

Also read: Why mountain biking is a lot tougher than you think

I told him he has half an hour to reach the start point of the race before the competitive section of the race flags off. I still do not know how he rode that 15 km in 30 odd minutes.

The race commenced, and this boy in baggy pants was riding like a madman- He would crash every few meters, gather himself up and start peddling again. He finished 2nd in the students category, just after another young star! The boy in the baggy pants was Devender and he had finished 2nd behind Shiven! Both of them will be taking a flight to Germany for the mighty Bike Transalp.

Devender never looked back from that race. He got a taste of success and an addiction of winning! Next year at Hero MTB Shimla he took the challenge to the defending champion and knocked him over! It still however wasn’t easy to be competing in a sport which is called the new golf. Mountain Biking is an extremely expensive sport and very difficult to pursue just owing to the immense financial stress it can put on your pockets.

MTB events are not easy to participate in

We started trying to find whatever little support we could find for him. Every now and then a rider would chip in. The PedalYatri group from Delhi was instrumental in pooling money for him to be able to buy his first Garmin device. However, the real breakthrough came with Hero Cycles with the Launch of the Hero Action team. Hero Action team is India’s first fully sponsored team by HASTPA and Hero Cycles. The idea of this team was to identify young talent in India and provide them with the necessary equipment required to challenge the best. Hero Cycles has helped these riders unconditionally with whatever was needed, whenever was needed.

Hero action team has since then dominated the MTB scenario in India. With podiums in almost every race, the team is the bright spark in the sport in India.

Shiven, who had won the MTB Shimla student category on two occasions, went on to win the MTB Nationals in the U-19 Category. He was only 17 then! Shiven has since developed into one of the most promising riders on the Indian scene. At age 18, he will be the youngest Indian to participate in Transalp and I think it is going to stay like that for some time. Shiven got exposure to the sport much before Devender!

Shiven In his first race
Shiven in his first race in 2012. He was only 15 years of age here! His father in the background(with the camera) .

Also read: How a tribal boy became India's most successful mountain biker

He, however, did not let that go to waste- With his full dedication and desire, he has been able to make his way to the biggest race of the world. For me, his parents have played a critical role in his success. I have never seen him at a race without his parents- They are a role model for how every parent must support their child’s dream, even if it is not academically inclined. Shiven will be partnering Devender in this historic visit to Germany.

I, Ashish Sood (Team HASTPA and Manager Hero Action Team) and Hinrich Fuchs (Product Head UT Bikes) will be a part of the second team.

I have never participated in a stage race before this and to be attempting one of the most difficult in the world for my first race will be a challenge for me. I’m training hard and have the best possible teammate, Hinrich so I’m pretty confident, but this will be the biggest challenge of my life. I also want to ensure that I’m there for the team if they need me. That’s the reason that I decided to race. For me, the objective will be to finish the race. Three years ago I was working a full time corporate job in risk management and this year I’m racing the bike Transalp. It’s been a wonderful journey so far and this experience will be a key factor not just for me but for Mountain Biking in India. We hope to set a precedent that every young kid who picks up a bike can look up to!

Launch of Hero Action team 2014
The launch of Hero Action team in 2014. Chairman and MD Hero Cycles – Mr Pankaj Munjal with the team

Hero MTB Himalaya was modeled after Transalp, It was an inspiration when MTB Himalaya started 12 years ago, and it gives me so much satisfaction that both the logos are on the same post. We have surely come a long way since then. To be partnering with the oldest race of the world to promote mountain biking is indeed a very proud moment for all of us at HASTPA. Our team is travelling to learn from the best practices of the world and to ensure we provide the right exposure to these very talented boys. Mr Mohit Sood, our President will also be travelling with us as our support!

Never did the boy in baggy pants think he will be on the same start line as the world champion. For that one moment, before the gun goes off, we will all be equal. It’s our strength of mind and muscle that will define us thereon but that moment will stay with us forever. This is more than just a team participating in a race. It’s coming together of two worlds, it’s a landmark occasion in the sport but more than anything else it’s the realisation of a dream!

Oh, by the way, the race is one of the toughest in the world. 3 Countries; 650km; 17,000m of climbing across the European Alps!

Hero Action team dominating the podiums across India
Hero Action Team by HASTPA dominating the podiums across India! 
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Ashish Sood
Im a Director of Communications at HASTPA - The body behind Asia's oldest MTB Stage race - Hero MTB Himalaya. Love Mountains, Sports, travel, data analytics . Currently head over heels for with mountain biking, though hockey and football remain my favourites :-)
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