Mumbai-Pune cycling race: Veterans rue pedalling power losing track

Former cyclists feel the race needs better management to gain more exposure and find place in international calendar
Dasharth Pawar, the winner of 1973 Mumbai-Pune cycle race.(HT File Photo)
Dasharth Pawar, the winner of 1973 Mumbai-Pune cycle race.(HT File Photo)
Updated on Mar 24, 2018 11:45 PM IST
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Hindustan Times, Pune | ByAshish Phadnis

Veteran cyclists feel lack of proper organisation and exposure has reduced the Mumbai-Pune cycle race, one of the main attractions for cyclists from across the country, to just a bunch of competitive cyclists. Cyclists from Maharashtra are rarely found in leading positions and the 153-km race is mostly dominated by participants from the Railways and services, they added.

In the past, some of the top cyclists from Mumbai and Pune used to dominate the race. Shiv Chhatrapati and Dadoji Konddev awardee Kamlakar Zhende who won the race three times in-a-row; national champion (2000) and Shiv Chhatrapati awardee (2005) Pankaj Marlesha who won in 2003; two-time winners Abhay Joshi and Kerman Framna are some of the big names associated with the race. 

However, the scenario now is different, feel veteran cyclists.

“Cyclists from the Army and the Railways get better coaching and training facilities than our cyclists. Use of advanced science in every sport clearly gives them an upper hand,” said national cyclist Sanjay Satpute who finished the Mumbai-Pune cycle race third in 1985. He also admitted that the cyclists lack training and hard work. 

“Cyclists, these days, get advanced techniques and lightweight aerodynamic carbon cycles which naturally increases the speed, but these cyclists lack hard training. We used to ride heavy steel bikes for several months and three months before the event we would ride 80-90 kms every day. That time, the sport was quite physically demanding, as the raw power of legs was required to finish the gruelling race.” 

Race can attract foreign cyclists

Ashok Captain, 57, state champion of 1979 and two-time winner of the Mumbai-Pune race, said the race had the potential to attract foreign cyclists, but for that there should be some drastic changes. Captain was among the first cyclists to represent India in the World Professional Cycling Championship at Italy in 1985.

“First, the organisers should move the dates to winter months. Hosting a cycle race in March is not a good idea. Secondly, there should be one fixed date and it should get in the Union Cycliste Internationale (UCI) calender, so that the top athletes can plan their training,” he said.

Captain also criticised the organisers for having the finishing point on a busy Jungli Maharaj road, located in the heart of the city.

“If traffic could be stopped for Pune marathon, then why can it not be done for the cycle race. Puneites should be proud of the race and give their support, instead of choking the road with their vehicles,” he said.

When asked about the changes he has observed in the race in the last few decades, he said, “During our time, the route was different. As there were no bridges or bypasses, we used to take a longer route. And it was a continuous race from Mumbai to Pune. It was more challenging than this two-stage race. I feel the stage segment is rubbish, it reduces the challenge.” 

For the record, before 1971, the track was 200 kilometres, and was later reduced. After the Vashi bridge came into being, the route got shortened further. 

Sharing similar views, national cyclist Sanjay Satpute said, “The cyclists get half an hour break between the two stage and it breaks the momentum. A cyclist who is good at climbing the ghat looses his advantage on the flat terrain, as everyone gets a fresh start. The earlier continuous race was an ultimate test of endurance.” 

He also suggested that the race should have a different segment for women cyclists. As per rules, the race is restricted to men aged between 18 and 35 years and women and girls are not eligible for the event. “It would give our women cyclists a good experience and exposure for road cycling races,” he added.

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