Could the alliance between an Indian designer trained in the Netherlands, a former India National Cycling squad manager and Aussie ex-pro cyclist result in the country’s first globetrotting road cycling team? It’s an intriguing possibility. Cycling iQ chats with Vivek Radhakrishnan, co-creator of Bangalore-based KYNKYNY Wheelsports cycling team.
In part one of this two-part interview, we explore the people behind the team and the philosophy that drives it. Part two will offer a glimpse into the burgeoning cycling scene in India.
In the corporate world, mergers take place to take advantage of (that great buzzword of the hedonistic 1990’s) synergies. Distilling the strengths of competing enterprises into one can yield greater returns than operating solo. This strategy has similarly pervaded professional cycling over the years; but most recently due to headline corporate sponsors dropping out – leaving abandoned teams no choice but to converge. It’s tough at the top, when millions of Euros are at stake.
At the base of the Union Cycliste International (UCI) global cycling teams pyramid lies 128 ‘Continental’ teams, with far more modest budgets than their ‘Professional Continental’ or ‘ProTeam’ peers. According to UCI regulations, a UCI continental team or women’s team is “a team of road riders recognised and certified by the national federation of the nationality of the majority of its riders to take part in road events on the international calendars, within the constraints imposed by article 2.1.005 [Cycling iQ: meaning Continental teams are only allowed to participate in races up to a certain level (not the Tour de France, for example)], and registered with the UCI.”
According to a 2009 UCI Annual Report excerpt ‘Cycling on the different continents’; India is home to 1,700 registered cyclists, but not one professional cycling team with ‘UCI Continental’ or higher status.
According to Vivek, “KYNKYNY Wheelsports is the first privately run and sponsored Elite-level cycling team in the country; probably the only one with an international squad of riders – from Australia, India, England, USA and Switzerland. After three years of operating as an amateur, then semi-professional, team, in 2012 KYNKYNY Wheel Sports aims to become India’s first UCI continental cycling team, actively competing in the Asian road racing arena.”
Supporting Vivek in this objective are Venkatesh Shivarama and Darren Reid.
“Venkatesh has been a very important player in Indian cycling” says Vivek. “He carries a wealth of knowledge and experience in the sport and has been one of the very few people to take Indian cyclists abroad to race, returning with significant results. He has supported young cyclists across the country, and helped guide them to compete at higher levels. Venkatesh has played a crucial role in organizing many of the large-scale elite level races around the country, and for two years he was the manager of the Indian National Team.”
Since moving on from managing the national squad, Shivarama’s ‘Wheelsports’ business has become “one of the top retailers for high end cycling equipment” according to Vivek. “His network with manufacturers, teams, and the cycling community around Asia, will be of great importance for the future and growth of the KYNKYNY Wheel Sports team.”
Australian-born Reid is a former professional cyclist with 20 years of racing experience within teams such as Discovery Channel and TREK Marco Polo. Today, he acts as coach and mentor for KYNKYNY Wheelsports whilst still being an active rider on the team. He lives with his wife and children in India.
Vivek, an avid cyclist himself, entered the Indian competitive scene with his own team about three years ago, shortly after returning from stints in the Netherlands (studying design at the Design Academy Eindhoven) and New York, where he applied his education across furniture, visual merchandising and retail. His commercial acumen and self-professed passion for cycling, has helped “crystallize KYNKYNY Wheel Sports, creating the most organized and professionally run team the country has ever seen.”
This corporate-styled organisation brings us back to the merger that took place to form the team, as Vivek explains.
“The team under this title came into being early in 2011, when Venkatesh and I put together our respective teams and resources. KYNKYNY Wheelsport’s primary goal is to raise the level of cycling in India, and create and internationally competitive private team. Today, we are essentially a platform for the top riders across the country, taking Indian talent across borders to compete in and around Asia when sponsorship funds are available.”
The team supports up to 16 riders in total, sending riders to different events depending on logistics, funds and fitness levels. A core team of eight riders, training regularly together and competing in every Bangalore Bicycle Championship series race, is based in and around Bangalore.
When asked about the biggest challenge facing the team, a theme in professional cycling is evident. “Corporate sponsorship” states Vivek clearly. “Cycling is only an emerging sport and most corporates are either unaware or un-interested in cycling or sports. There is no lack of funds in this economy, but cricket consumes it all. Also, the majority of the population is yet to attach importance to other sports.”
According to Vivek, the team is “in discussions with a few interested parties” whilst also searching for equipment partners. So what exactly does KYNKYNY Wheelsports have to offer such sponsors?
“The team had a fantastic 2011 season, and the results show the perseverance and strong intention of the team and its management” states Vivek, before volunteering a handful of results to qualify this statement. “Lokesh Narsimachar, the team’s strongest and most talented Indian rider, won Bronze at the National Road Championships in April, and the team has won seven of nine races in the Bangalore Bicycle Championships series to date, crowding the podium on three occasions already. In May, a team of five went to Thailand for the “Tour of Friendship”. It is a grueling five day stage race, and Lokesh finished 12th on the mountain stage and 10th on the final stage – a huge achievement, given the high caliber of riders attending this event.”
“So far this year, in India and abroad, KYNKYNY Wheelsports has attended 18 races, including Ironman South Africa, secured 16 podiums – seven 1st places, five 2nd places, four 3rd places, and 33 top-10 finishes.”
Not that the team is completely without support. Quite the opposite. “We are currently sponsored by various brands, most of them provide or support us with product and equipment as well as facilities” explains Vivek. “Gold’s Gym has been our fitness partner over the last two years, and the team has unlimited access to all their facilities at any time. KYNKYNY (Vivek’s business) has provided great logistical and financial support, EGO has designed and manufactured custom travel and equipment gear, Smart Nutrition provides us with sports nutrition and dietary supplements, Sonarome with funds, and Wheelsports has brought us a large array of top end equipment, racing know-how, team management and financial support.”
With sufficient funding for the year ahead, KYNKYNY Wheelsports intends to support riders with salaries, top-end equipment, accommodation, nutrition, organized scientific coaching, and all that is, according to Vivek “lacking for most Indian athletes today.”
But KYNKYNY Wheelsports is not only focused on near-term objectives. Underpinning the philosophy of developing cycling in India, Vivek concludes our interview with the tone of a proud parent:
“In September, we took two young Indian riders to compete in the Cyclone Race series in Singapore. The duo participated in the ITT as well as the mass start race. These young boys have never stepped out of the country and this was their first exposure to a well-organised and professionally conducted event. They secured 12th and 13th positions in the ITT, and were caught at 500 meters from the finish after breaking away at the mass start road race. There were no podiums here, but this demonstrates the potential that India has.”
Special thanks to Vivek for generously giving Cycling iQ his time and for providing the terrific images.