Highly talented

VIJAY KUMAR PATIL

WILL the Indian cyclists outshine the dynamic Sri Lankans in the second SAARC Gold Cup cycling championship in New Delhi in June this year?

The Karnataka team which won the overall championship.-

This was one question everyone had at the end of the seventh National road cycling championship in Belgaum. The host Karnataka clinched the overall title, its second after the thrilling victory at the Bijapur meet in 1998. The SAARC meet, which was initially scheduled to be held in the first week of December 2001, was put off to a later date owing to security reasons in the wake of the Afghan situation.

"If our cyclists improve a little over their present pace, there is no doubt that the gold cup will be ours," K. Krishna, Additional General Secretary, Cycling Federation of India, said. In fact, India is eagerly looking forward to the championship. Colombo played host to the first SAARC Gold Cup cycling and won the overall title. Now, with the event to be held at home, the morale and confidence of the Indians is naturally high. Twentythree members have been selected for a three-month training camp to be held in Ludhiana, Punjab.

Internationals Premalata V. Sureban, Gangu G. Biradar, the up and coming Neelamma Malligwad, Savitha Anneppanavar and Anita Chougle (all from Karnataka), R. Seema, Bina Devi (both Kerala) and Rameshwori, who did not participate in Belgaum meet, but considered to be the best in the country, could make a formidable team in the women's section.

Paramjeet Singh (Railways), Rajinder Kumar Soni (Services), who have international experience, the promising Valappa Lamani of Karnataka, Sandeep Malik (Services) and C. H. Saikrishna of Andhra Pradesh, subject to their selection, could form a top class men's team.

The proceedings at the National championship, serving as a prelude to the coming international meet in the country's capital, threw some light on the prospects in general.

Ever since National level competitions in road cycling were started in 1995, it is the Railways outfit which had been a dominant force. To its credit the team had won four of the seven overall championships, in the second meet (Calcutta, Jan. 1997), third (Chennai, Oct. 1997), fifth (Bikaner, Dec. 1999) and sixth (Bhopal, Jan. 2001). Karnataka claimed the title when it hosted the event, the fourth, in Bijapur in July 1998. Punjab Police had the credit of winning the inaugural meet in Jabalpur in May 1995.

In the Belgaum meet, the women cyclists proved their worth with an excellent display. Had the top favourite Rameshwori of Manipur been in the fray, Karnataka would have certainly faced tough opposition. The potential of Premalata, Gangu, besides Anita, and fresh talent such as Savitha and Neelamma was unquestionable as they touched new heights in the country's cycling history.

Karnataka's Susheela won the gold in the 5-km individual time trial for under-14 girls.-

Services took the honours in the men's section, while Railways finished runner-up. But it was Valappa P. Lamani of Karnataka, who caught the eye. He raced to the gold in the 70-km mass start for boys' under-18 and led Karnataka to first place in the 50-km team trial for boys' under-18. But for a technical aberration, no fault of his though, he would have won the gold in the 25-km individual team trial for boys' under-18 and had to be content with silver.

He achieved all this with an ordinary Indian racing cycle as against imported cycles of international standards used by other challengers. "Give me a cycle like the other competitors have and I will do my best," Lamani said.

In the absence of any velodrome in the State, the Karnataka cyclists have no other option but to practise on roads, a majority of which are in bad shape. But they face difficulties while racing in track events. Last year at Bhopal, Karnataka was the overall runner-up but its cyclists won the women's championship.

Coming from a poor rural background, Chandrappa M. Kurni, a former Karnataka cycling star, had won the gold medal in the 200-km road race of the Indian cycle championship 1976-77 with a non-racing cycle (Hero bicycle) to the surprise of many. He had also participated in international races in Singapore and Italy. He has this to say: "The most urgent requirement to further improve the quality of cycling in Karnataka is to construct a velodrome, even as the trial track in Bijapur is ready. It is noteworthy that cyclists from Bijapur district have been dominating the State team. The Department of Youth Services, Government of Karnataka, has already identified the land to construct a velodrome with international standards but the process has to be expedited.

"Our cyclists fail to win in track races only because of the non-availability of a velodrome for practice. This apart, the Government needs to enhance funding to sporting activities and pay sufficient attention on calorie inputs for the sportspersons. As far as cycling is concerned, it is one sport which requires a very high degree of stamina. Many of the cyclists come from economically poor families with an ultimate objective of getting a job either in Railways or in some other organisation."

Both Krishna and Kurni pointed out that there is no sponsorship for the sport, not even from the cycle manufacturers, even though it is highly popular and promising. With insufficient funds from government agencies, a number of talented cyclists across the country are unable to practise well and are forced to race with ordinary racing cycles. Even though they manage to compete in races within the country, it is difficult for them to make a mark in international competitions challenging those who get the best of cycles, training and nutrition.

HE may be poor, but his ambitions are rich. Sadashiv Basinge, born to poor parents in Athani, one of the most backward and neglected taluks in the Belgaum district of Karnataka, is fast developing into a cyclist with great potential.

Because of poverty, Sadashiv could not continue his education but aims for greater goals as a cyclist. A strong will power and ambition keep him moving.

To the surprise of everyone associated with Indian cycling, Sadashiv raced to the 10th position on an ordinary cycle in the 120-km mass start race at the seventh National championship in Belgaum. The organisers said they had never heard of any cyclist performing such a rare feat in any National level event.

It is only two years since he took to cycling and has already participated in many State level events. He was selected for a National level meet last year but could not compete owing to ill-health.

All that he needs are two sprint wheels to fly high. But who will come forward?

For all such talented cyclists, the local government, the semi-government bodies and big business establishments should join hands and encourage, says the Additional General Secretary of CFI and veteran cyclist Chandrappa Kurni, also the coach of Karnataka.

Sponsorship, as in the case of cricket, is most welcome.

The results: Overall championship: 1. Karnataka 94 points; 2. Services 28 pts. Men's section: 1. Services 28 pts; 2. Railways 11 pts. Women's section: 1. Karnataka 33 pts; 2. Kerala 6 pts. Boys' under-18: 1. Karnataka 8 pts; 2. Rajasthan 16 pts. Girls' under-18: 1. Karnataka 8 pts; 2. Kerala 5 pts. Boys' under-16: 1. Karnataka 9 pts; 2. Tamil Nadu 5 pts. Girls' under-16: 1. Karnataka 10 pts; 2. Maharashtra 6 pts. Boys' under-14: 1. Karnataka 5 pts; 2. Rajasthan 3 pts. Girls' under-14: 1. Karnataka 5 pts; 2. Manipur 4 pts.