Mountain Biking brings to mind images of someone two-wheeling through thick green trails up on the hills, with a thin layer of fog surrounding the rider while he/she takes in the fresh mountain air and breathtaking views.
But the need for adrenaline which has made us humans do several extreme things has turned this seemingly relaxing activity into an extreme sport. Although the mountain biking has existed for a very long time in the West, India is a very new entrant in this sport, which is now even a part of the Olympic games.
The Trans France Challenge, for instance, happens to be one of the oldest mountain races in the world and the biggest in Europe. India will be participating in this race for the first time this year, thanks to Shiven Sharma and Divendra Thakur, who are mentored by professional trainers of the Himalayan Adventure Sports and Tourism Promotion Agency (HASTPA) and sponsored by Hero Cycles.
Guardian 20 spoke to the two participants and the organisation that made it all possible. Call it destiny, hard work, or being at the right place at the right time — what matters is that the two bikers, Shiven and Divendra, were finally chosen for this race and that this has been the fullfilment of a long-held dream for the duo. Both hail from the remotest parts of the Himalayan region, and both are driven by a passion for mountain biking.
Shiven Sharma, 18, a resident of Himachal Pradesh, says, “Mountain biking is something that just happened to me, as I never thought that I would do this professionally. I started in 2012 and by 2014 I had a sponsorship to be part of a team. Then it became a new life.”
Shiven is a student of NIT Kurukshetra and is finding it quite a task to manage his studies along with his biking sessions. “It was very difficult to manage the two together as at times I would either miss practice sessions or important classes. But thankfully this event came at the right time. We have been training really hard for the last three months and I had my vacations which reduced the distractions,” he says.
But Divendra, 24, has been a part of MTB circles for five years now. “I started cycling in 2010 as a fitness exercise. But after MTB Shimla 2013 it became more mainstream as I started doing it full time,” he says.
The Himalayan Adventure Sports and Tourism Promotion Agency (HASTPA) is an NGO based out of Shimla that started operations in 2004 to promote the eco-friendly sport of Mountain Biking in the region. The NGO has two premier events called the MTB Himalaya and the MTB Shimla, which are being organised for the last 11 years, this year being the 12th. The events have seen some of the biggest mountain bikers from around the world participate.
Mohit Sharma from HASTPA explained the entire process of training Shiven and Divendra for the main event in Europe. “These boys have been with us since the inception of the team in 2014 but for this event they have been training rigorously for the last three months, with specific training schedules, rides and also a controlled diet regime, under the guidance of our technical team which will be going along with the boys for the event.”
The team departed for France, to attend the event, on Tuesday and will be cycling full-tilt across the Alps by the time you read this article. The Trans France Challenge, which is the oldest mountain biking race in the world, will have the boys vying against top riders representing more than 40 countries. It’s considered to be the toughest challenge for pro cyclists, with the riders having to cover some 650km in seven days in a region where the terrain at some points reaches altitudes of over 17,000 metre.
“They will be competing against the best in the world which will give them good exposure and understanding of the sport. And these lessons will further help them come back and train harder for better performance,” Mohit adds.
As per Divendra, “It’s our first event out of the country so we feel honoured and overwhelmed as we are representing India. The fact that we are the first to do so does make it a bit scary but we are full of excitement and have practiced enough to have confidence in ourselves.”
HASTPA also considers this to be a historical moment for the country as it for the first time there is an India team in an international mountain biking challenge.
“It was always our dream and vision to have our own team that could take on the best in the world. So in 2014 with the support of Hero cycles, India’s first Professional mountain biking team was set up, called the Hero Ascent. From there on we selected six boys who showed potential and were below the age of 26. So we could train them in a professional manner which would enable them to go out and represent the country in this sport,” explains Mohit.
The Hero Action Team which is sponsoring the Indian mountain biking team was conceptualised by HASTPA and Hero Cycles in 2014 with an objective to provide a platform and ecosystem for budding biking talent in the country.