Despite all the pressures of finances and the lack of equipment, the Indian cycling team did the nation proud with a haul of 12 medals at the invitational cycling event that concluded on Sunday.
There was tough competition in both the men's and women's sections, with riders from Chinese Taipei, Australia and Malaysia fielding strong teams. Ting-Ying Huang of Chinese Taipei bagged the award for best female rider, while Stephen Hall of Australia lifted the men's individual honour. Both riders bagged two gold, and Hall helped his lift the overall trophy with a dramatic win in the Men's 20km scratch race, the last event of the day.
Two Indian riders stood out during the test event for the Commonwealth Games that are now just about two months away. The first was a shy, unassuming 22-year-old from Kerala, who was clearly not used to media attention. But Mahitha Mohan couldn't keep away from the spotlight after her showing at the newly opened Yamuna Velodrome.
Mahitha and her coach, Amandeep of Punjab Police, painted what was as good a poster for unity in diversity as any Doordarshan has ever produced. While she barely speaks any English or Hindi, she had no problems with her mentor's rapid-fire Punjabi. But, Mohan didn't need to say much; because she let her pedals do the talking. On the opening day, she bagged India's only gold, beating her fancied Aussie opponent in the process. And her smile after the race, said more than a thousand words.
O Bikram Singh used to play football, till his family told him to forget about team sports and pick an individual discipline to pursue. That was how he took to cycling back in 1999. On Sunday, he came back from one heat down to win the best of three sprint for bronze in the Men's Elite Sprint; his second medal in the Capital.
Interestingly, male cyclists wax their legs, just like their woman counterparts, in an effort to reduce resistance while riding. "The first time I had to get rid of the hair I waxed. I have had a lot more respect for women since that day. It was really painful. Now I use a razor," says the happy rider. He hopes to go one better when the Games come to town.
Despite the talent, the problems faced by the riders are the same. Bikram joined BSNL in 2008, and promptly won them two gold and a silver at the nationals. Though he has a job, the company doesn't finance his equipment. Despite medals at the Asian level, and repeated requests from his coach Zile Singh, he hasn't been promoted by the telecom giant. This means older and heavier bike, leading to slower times.