When Cycling iQ contacted India s Specialized Kynkyny Cycling Team last month for a follow-up article on the team, little did we know that a few of its riders were days away from boarding a Belgium-bound plane for a two-month stint of racing.
Fresh off the plane from Bangalore, Naveen John rides his first Belgian Kermesse | Image: Heidi Lannoo
Indian cyclist Naveen John needs no introduction but only if he s already introduced himself to you. Boom-tish. In all other cases, you ve likely never heard of the current Indian National ITT Champion a.k.a Watt Bombs . In the first of his diary entries for Cycling iQ, Naveen does remarkably well to contain his notorious verboseness and stay on message to talk about his first experience indeed, the first catalogued experience of any Indian road cyclist of racing in Belgium. Over to you, Naveen.
Words and (most) images: Naveen John
I found the bicycle quite late, while moseying through college back in 2008, somewhere in a dimly lit basement hallway, making my way between my Probabilistic Methods and Digital Systems Design class. Prior to the bicycle, you wouldn t have been able to pick Bibendum and I apart from each other in a line-up! So I made the decision to resign from my post as computer geek and plus-sized model and found myself riding down the tan-lined road of shaved legs and strange things like cream you would NOT want to spread on your toast! Pretty quickly, I was introduced to USA Cycling s Collegiate racing scene through my collegiate club the Purdue University Cycling Club [CiQ: backgrounder here].
In 2012, after wrapping up my Bachelors in Electrical Engineering and weighing my options between a full-time job back home in India or an extended hideaway in academia, I picked a third option. It was actually a Cycling iQ piece about a small team, in a big Indian city, with even bigger dreams (and very sentient naivety about it all), that lured me in. Now I ride for that team and I m doing a column on here; so meta!
Fast forward to the end of 2014, and I took the Indian National ITT title [Strava] and backed that up with a gold in the ITT [Strava] at the Indian National Games (also referred to as the Indian Olympics, but it s a little different from the real McCoy since Indians win all the medals here by proxy!).
On the way to National ITT gold in 2014 | Image: Vivek Radhakrishnan
My goal is to keep progressing in my sport, to bank new experiences, share what I learn along the way, coach the few athletes I currently work with to their goals, and eventually work with Indian talent to start getting them to the level they are capable of riding and beyond.
After a pretty good run at Nationals, I was looking for some new training stimulus for a pool with a deep end (and that s funny because I can t swim all that well!). What better than planting myself in Belgium the heart of single-day racing to race and train (recover) for a two-month block?!
I left Bangalore for Belgium in early June and plan on spending 60-odd days here before returning home 06 August. Joining me are two Specialized Kynkyny Cycling Team (SKCT) teammates Lokesh Narasimhachar and Sarvesh Sangarya. We re the first Indian team that ll be racing and training in Europe for an extended block, thanks to a group of amazing sponsors back home.
While in Belgium, I ll be racing for the Kingsnorth International Wheelers. The first thing you notice about us is that our kits haven t seen a redesign since the early 90 s, but that didn t stop team alumni and legend Jack Bauer from spring-boarding to a pro contract back in 2009 and an epic almost-stage-win in stage 15 of last year s Tour.
Staf Boone s Farm: Kingsnorth International Wheelers home base in Ghent that s set up with access to everything a full-time cyclist would need.
Our adopted team is put up in a renovated 19th century house called Staf Boone s Farm named after the guy who setup and runs this program in a quiet suburb in the Northwest of Ghent. The setup, and Belgium, has pretty much everything a full-time cyclist would need:
- Quantity and quality racing: the entire Indian road race calendar has about three top-level races in a year, while the summer Belgian road race calendar has about three races a day! Each race is about 200% harder than the Indian National Road Championships. Definitely deep-end.
- Great training: we ve got access to great country roads and great cycling infrastructure to get to them safely
- Solid training partners: there is a constant flux of riders through the Farm a ragtag bunch, from as far as Un Zud and Straya, to Ukrania and Mother Russia; all with very differently calibrated sarcasm-sensors, but all sharing the same aspirations.
- Cheap food: we ve got a kitchen, BOGO pasta, good bread, bargain produce from a myriad of middle-eastern markets (thanks to the cosmopolitan flavor of Ghent and Belgium in general), and Speculoos (a kind of ground-up biscuit, that s apparently more Euro than Nutella?!) to keep those glycogen serves topped-up!
- So much daylight: in fact, more daylight than your circadian rhythm can handle; 17 hours of it!
- Headwinds: Gale-force, always in your face, and probably the reason cyclists started needing to shave, because these winds would put hair on a 11-year-old s chest.
- And most importantly, a high-speed internet connection!
The KIW kit in all its retro glory!
Races are often close enough (10-20km) to ride to but, just in case, this 20-year-old diesel-breathing VW with only 250,000kms on it gets us to races that are >30km away.
Speculoos, rice cake and a caf : recommended pre-race, post-race, or anytime nutrition. Best accompanied by lots of riding!
A recovery ride on the Ghent-Brugge Canal no cow-, car-, truck-, rickshaw-, bus- or people-dodging here, unlike back home!
In my first week here, I ve done three races. The winds, the technical courses, the whiplash out of corners, and the relentless pace, are every bit as true as I ve been foretold. I ve been grasping to match pace with guys who are close to their top shape, while I m just starting to build on the base I laid down back home. But there s plenty of training and racing yet to come, and I ve done my homework, so I ll take it day by day.
In the next installment (if this gets enough eyeballs), I ll talk a little bit about the culture of cycling and racing in Belgium, from my perspective. I ll also give you a recap of my racing so far and some of the training rides I ve done while in Ghent. If you ve got this far into my prose and you re still trying to put my writing and funny in a box, then let me assist. My etching is kind of like a Seinfeld episode: the re-run is on TV for the 11th time, but you still can t help but watch again.
You know you re the first cyclists from your country to race in Belgium when your flag icon is missing in the results database.