India celebrates cycling with second Tour du Mumbai
The International Cycling Union's efforts to globalise cycling events took another step forward with the second running of the Tour du Mumbai in India last weekend.
Spectators were treated to the spectacle of ProTeam stars, including RadioShack's Robbie McEwen and Robert Hunter, and Elia Viviani (Liquigas-Cannondale) competing in a pair of races in India's most populated city.
Hunter ensured RadioShack would leave India with a sprint victory on a shortened 79km seaside course on Sunday. Two days earlier Viviani edged out McEwen in the first race. Significantly, it was Hunter's first win for his new team and, like Viviani, will go down in history as his team's first ever win on Indian soil.
However, the importance of the event went far beyond the racing. India's enormous population and growing economic status makes it a key to the growth of cycling as a sport around the world. The dramatic backdrop of Mumbai and the introduction of the sport to locals playing an important role both internationally and locally.
The Tour du Mumbai also showcased India's growing experience as host of cycling events. Last October, New Delhi played host to the men's and women's road racing programme at the Commonwealth Games. Despite initial concerns over organisation and safety, the success of the road and time trial events proved that India could hold its own in terms of International cycling events.
While the Mumbai event has had input from the UCI and international advisors, the organising committee is made up largely of local authorities.
The exposure of cycling to India's approximately 1.2 billion inhabitants is also an important benefit of events like the one in Mumbai. The event also included a series of mass participation rides dubbed the Mumbai Cyclothon. Last month Belgian cycling legend Eddy Merckx gave his endorsement to India as a future cycling powerhouse.
“India is a big country. Here people are talented, they are motivated. If they train properly, I see no reason why India won’t produce world class cyclists in 10 years,” Merckx told reporters on a visit to India to endorse the Mumbai event in January.
“But they will have to train a lot and the country will have to organise a lot of races. This event is a good step in the right direction.”
View a gallery of images from the second Tour du Mumbai here.