Shimla, July 24 (IANS) Down, but not yet out! That’s how Indian bikers spoke of their future prospects on Sunday after surviving the gruelling Bike Transalp event — one of the toughest mountain bike races in the world.
The four bikers, representing the country in two squads in the men’s category, in their maiden participation captured the main ridge of the Alps by finishing successfully the 519-km race that concluded in Italy on Saturday.
They were competing in the 19th edition of the Bike Transalp 2016 that saw 400 men and women’s teams of two and which concluded at Italy’s largest lake Garda on Saturday after traversing 519 km, across Austria, Switzerland and Italy, with 17,736 metres of climbing.
“Shiven and Devender Thakur of the Hero Action Team by HASTPA finished well with an overall standing of 61st in the men’s category,” team manager Mohit Sood told IANS over phone from Arco in Italy.
He said it was a good beginning and a lot of lessons were learnt from the first international exposure by the bikers, three of whom belong to Himachal Pradesh.
Sood is president of the Himalayan Adventure Sports and Tourism Promotion Association (HASTPA), a mountain biking (MTB) club based in Shimla.
Another HASTPA squad, the MTB Himalaya, with riders Ashish Sood, also from Shimla, and Heinrich Fuchs, a German currently based in India, also successfully finished the seven-stage race that began from Imst in Austria on July 17.
The overall ranking of the MTB Himalaya squad was 111st in the men’s category.
The rally that passed through Nauders in Austria, Scoul in Switzerland and Italy’s Livigno, Bormio, Mezzana and Trento before ending in Arco saw most racers from Germany, Italy, Belgium, Holland, Switzerland and Austria.
Both the Indian squads were backed by HASTPA in collaboration with Hero Cycles.
After completing the rally, an elated Devender Thakur said: “It was our luck and bikes that supported us a lot. I and Shiven both really enjoyed the race that saw multi-stage amateur event pedalling with world champions.
“Of course, it was an opportunity to learn a lot for our future races,” the 22-year-old added.
Thakur, who is aiming to race at the Olympics, was riding a UT HT PRO1 bike.
He belongs to the remote Pangi village in Chamba district and is three-time champion of MTB Shimla, which is organised annually by HASTPA that also organises the MTB Himalaya, considered one of the toughest mountain bike races in the world.
“I can’t even believe that it’s done. Just rode a mountain bike across the Alps. It’s been an unbelievable experience,” said MTB Himalaya rider Ashish Sood.
Still not able to believe that he had successfully finished the race, Sood said: “I and my teammate Heinrich rode together for days and learnt a lot about courage, grit, determination, skill, passion and about camaraderie.”
“But the biggest one has been the fact that you never conquer the mountains, you survive them. Some do it faster than others. Thank you Alps, you were fantastic,” he tweeted.
An optimistic Sood said the Bike Transalp race was a good beginning.
“Our aim to come here was to give our riders an exposure and to show how events are organised in Europe. We will definitely come back next time with faster and higher ranking,” he said.
According to event orgnisers, it was the second time in history that a team from India has competed at the Bike Transalp.
After a disappointing opening stage with technical defects and a lot of lost time, the painstaking efforts by Shiven and Thakur on the Nauders-Scuol section paid off.
“We knew that we are stronger than our first day result. Our plan was to go for the SCOTT Attack Jersey. We took it easy in the first climb and attacked in the second one,” a post on Bike Transalp quoting the 19-year-old Shiven said.
As both caught a fast group thereafter they were able to make up position-by-position and finally overhauled more than 50 spots in the overall ranking being also rewarded with the Red Jersey of the most combative team, it said.
Austrian riders Hermann Pernsteiner and Daniel Geismayr of Team Centurion Vaude 2 won the men’s overall category.
Karl Platt and Urs Huber of Team Bull 1 and Johnny Cattaneo and Tony Longo of Wilier Force 1 were ranked second and third, respectively.
(Vishal Gulati can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)