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World Cycling Centre in India – the UCI WCC’s newest satellite gains momentum

India's Deborah Herold competing at the 2016 UCI Track Cycling World Championships

“This is a turning point for Indian cycling.”

That was the prediction of Onkar Singh, Secretary General of the Cycling Federation of India, just a few short months after the opening of the UCI World Cycling Centre’s (WCC) latest satellite centre in New Delhi, India.

Last month, a little more than three months after the satellite centre’s inauguration, India sent a young woman to the UCI Track Cycling World Championships for the first time ever. At 20 years old, Deborah Herold made headlines at the end of last year when she climbed up to fourth place in the UCI Eligibility Rankings of the 500m time trial. She then made history by qualifying for the 2016 UCI Track Cycling World Championships where she improved her time for the time trial.

Deborah may be India’s first woman track cyclist to confront the world’s best at the UCI’s leading track event of the year, but the UCI WCC satellite in New Delhi means to change that: the aim is to develop a world class national track team capable of winning medals at the 2019 UCI World Championships and the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games.

It’s a big ask for a country that, until now, has had trouble even qualifying for such events.

The project is the result of a long-term vision shared by the Cycling Federation of India and the Sports Authority of India (SAI). Built for the 2010 Commonwealth Games in the Indian capital, the velodrome officially became the SAI National Cycling Academy in March 2014. Even then, the intention was to develop the centre into one of the UCI WCC satellite centres. Last November that intention became reality with the official inauguration of the World Cycling Centre in India. Work in earnest has begun, starting with talent detection.

Talent detection

“We held trials across the country, on the same day, for children aged 14 to 17,” explains Onkar Singh. “We chose an initial 120 candidates, and of those, 40 have been inducted into the centre for training.”

This newest generation of Indian track cyclists is benefitting from opportunities hitherto unheard of in this country of 1.25 billion people, most of whom use bikes at least for transport or leisure riding.

The youngsters currently based at the UCI WCC satellite in New Delhi receive all their sporting equipment and clothing for free. They rub shoulders with the National Track Cycling Team of India and, as well as training, continue their academic studies thanks to teachers brought in to the centre to ensure their schooling is not neglected.

UCI World Cycling Centre satellite in New Delhi, India

As well as the velodrome, the satellite centre includes two fully-equipped gyms, a staffed workshop, hostel accommodation, medical centre, classrooms and a restaurant preparing food with the input of qualified dieticians.

“Basically, this is the nursery for all the talented young hopefuls who will provide the bench strength of the Indian team,” says Mr Singh. “This has been launched with the vision of the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games.”

Coaching back-up

Aware that behind every successful athlete is an experienced coach, the New Delhi UCI WCC satellite has a comprehensive coaching programme in place. Later this month, more than 30 national coaches will undergo a three-day training course. Following this course the WCC will hold a UCI Level 1 course at the New Delhi centre. Ultimately, it is planned to send some coaches to the UCI WCC in Aigle, Switzerland, to complete the UCI Coaching Diploma course, the highest coaching qualification.

The satellite’s current head coach, RK Sharma is a graduate of the UCI WCC Coach Diploma course, and has eight assistant coaches helping him in New Delhi. The centre boasts a further support staff of six, including two mechanics.  Still more staff are funded by the Sports Authority of India.

 “Three years ago, Indian cycling was nowhere on the map,” says Onkar Singh.

“The WCC Satellite in New Delhi was the dream of the Cycling Federation of India and has transformed the destiny of cycling in India."

“This is the only joint project in India between the SAI and a national sports federation. With the UCI coming in, it was the icing on the cake.”

Onkar Singh added that the satellite would further call on the UCI’s expertise for help with the scientific side of training.

 “This is a very prestigious project for India, and with the facilities being provided, this centre could become a medal winning machine for the country. A lot still has to be done. This is just the beginning and I hope to be able to do something for Asian cycling.”

The World Cycling Centre in India is one of five UCI World Cycling Centre satellites around the world along with South Africa (Pietermaritzburg) Korea (Yeongju city and Yang Yang county), Argentina (Mar del Plata) and Japan (Izu).

UCI World Cycling Centre Director Frédéric Magné said the latest satellite centre in India would provide a huge boost to the sport of cycling in India: “With a population of more than 1.25 billion, and a high use of bicycles in every-day life, India must be housing a great deal of untapped talent,” he said. “It is a pleasure for us to work with the Cycling Federation of India and the Sports Authority of India to establish and grow this magnificent facility that could well see India emerge onto the international scene in coming years.”