The eddying mountain breeze and the dizzying heights did not dither their enthusiasm and courage. In fact they were the accentuated factors in the salubrious terrains they were cycling — yes, cycling, not traipsing. But victory never comes on a platter. You have to puff, huff and struggle to achieve it — and make history, too, in the bargain.
We are talking about the recently-held mountain bike racing, a first in India and only the third one of its kind in the whole universe. The Hercules MTB Himachal championship was a mountain cycling adventure and an endurance race where 23 amateur and professional Indian and international riders employed all their verve, zest and skills over the mind-blowing landscape of the Himalayan backcountry of Himachal Pradesh. They bounced, grunted and pedalled through 480 kms of wilderness trails.
This was a perfect test of physical endurance and mental determination for mountain cycling enthusiasts. It should be. For, mountain biking experts Cara Coolbaugh from the US and Cass Gilbert from the UK spent over three months designing the track — and they are difficult taskmasters.
The starting point of the eight-day event was the Historic Peterhoff Grounds in Shimla and the end point on the first day was the Sports Authority of India training centre in Shilaroo. The route then followed the famous apple orchards of Kotgarh — crossed the mighty Sutlej at Dutt Nagar and camped alongside the river at Bayal.
The third to the eighth day took the riders to the picturesque villages in the interior parts of Shimla, Mandi and Kullu districts of the essential Himalayan backcountry. The event passed through the venue of the celebrations of the famous Kullu Dusshera on the last day. The event rode trails, single tracks, dirt roads, and rivulets of the Hill State spanning these three districts. After the final stage, times were calculated to determine the champion.
Riders, including three women, were from the US, Belgium, Hungary, South Africa, Denmark, Singapore, the UK, and India. Norbert Szenthihlosi from Hungary won the championship title after beating the 22 other spirited challengers. The runner-up was Franc Nel from South Africa, followed by Per Nilesen from Denmark.
Says Mohit Sood, the president of the Himalayan Adventure Sports and Tourism Promotion Association, which conceptualised and organised the event: “We are working towards promoting Himachal as the best adventure tourism destination in the world and through this event we want to present to the world the potential of the Himalayas and how it can be nurtured by way of promoting the ecologically and environmentally friendly sport of mountain biking which has tremendous potential to grow in this part of the Himalayas.”
In fact, the championship was organised as a wilderness mountain bike race, where participants slept in tent villages that were set up prior to their arrival and broken down immediately after the start each morning. During these eight days, enthusiasts endured the climate and physical challenges of the Himachal Himalayas. Stages included breakfast, a pre-designated lunch area, beverages along the route, dinner and an awards ceremony each night where the winners were awarded Leader Jerseys.
Ashok Thakur, the tourism secretary of Himachal Pradesh, was confident that the event will surely boost cycle tourism in the country. “And I am sure this event will set new trends in cycling and spark off many more such challenging and exciting events for biking.”
And glimpsing this spectacular extravaganza which gave an idea of the beautiful, punishing but enjoyable trail one tends to believe so.
— Sunil K Poolani