Come 2 December, and anywhere between 5,000 and 10,000 cyclists, including 80 professionals, are expected to hit Mumbai’s roads as India’s first multi-city cycling event, the Godrej Eon Tour de India, gets under way. It’s modelled on the great European tradition of cycling races such as Le Tour de France and the Giro d’Italia; registration is still on and the figure on participants is an estimate of the organizers, ID Sports Pvt. Ltd.
After 160km within the city, the cyclists will travel to Srinagar on 4 December. After a 136km stretch there, they will head to the Buddh International Circuit, the Formula One track, in Greater Noida, Uttar Pradesh, for the final lap.
Unlike the 21-day Tour de France, on which the Tour de India is largely formatted, the competitive race will be staggered as a three-day event stretched across eight days, interspersed with non-cycling events like hiking, etc., for participants as Indian cities are not able to accommodate large crowds of cyclists during the week, says Akil Khan, chairman and managing director of ID Sports. Khan, who has been instrumental in organizing four cyclothons—cycling marathons—in major Indian metros since 2010 and whose organization ran the test run for the Commonwealth Games leg of the sport on Delhi roads, has spent a long time trying to sensitize Indian civic bodies to the needs of cyclists. He says: “Cycling is essentially a European sport, and our challenges here have been to alert the civic bodies to its potential to change the Indian connect to cycles as a mode of transport. While it is popular among those who view it for its environment-friendly benefits, it needs more rigour if it is to take off professionally.”
The state of Indian roads hasn’t made it easy. Concerns for civic bodies and participants alike have ranged from potholes to the fear of pedestrians or dogs and indeed, cattle, colliding with cyclists. Nevertheless, says Khan, the Bandra-Kurla Complex in Mumbai became among the first to dedicate a cycling track in a city, however inadequate its structural set-up may be.
The Tour de India is being supported by Maharashtra Tourism and the governments of Uttar Pradesh and Jammu and Kashmir, along with the Union sports ministry. “There is increasing awareness and participation. Surprisingly, in Srinagar, around the Dal Lake, the view is spectacular and the roads are among the best in the country. So that’s a brilliant stretch. In Mumbai, finding the golden mile has been a huge challenge, with only the Reclamation-Bandra-Worli Sea Link stretch being viable, so it’s been a learning curve but it’s getting there,” Khan says.
The Tour de India is thus more of an Indian introduction to large-scale competitive cycling. Only the professional contingent—which includes teams from Kazakhstan, Thailand, the United Arab Emirates, Uzbekistan and India—will participate in all three legs of the race. The aim is to allow non-professional cyclists to be involved in order to build awareness till the sport can become a full-scale, 21-day-long Tour de India in years to come.
Registrations for Mumbai are open till 8pm on 1 December, and for New Delhi till 8pm on 8 December. To register and for details, visit www.tourdeindia.asia