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Kiran Kumar Raju is India’s no. 1 in a cycling championship

Kiran Kumar Raju, who won the MTB Cycling Championships, speaks about his journey to the hurrahs

In early 2013, Kiran Kumar Raju was commuting to his Frisbee practice early in the morning, when he met with a terrible accident. “I crashed on the street when trying to avoid a dog and landed on my face, which left me with a broken jaw and 12 stitches,” he says. He had his first Bangalore Bicycle Championship (BBCh) MTB race — a community race — coming up and he wasn’t sure that he would recover in time for it.

But he went on to represent his team and win the race in style, leaving behind two experienced riders, he remembers. Kiran went on to win every possible MTB race that year. “It laid the foundation for my MTB dreams.” Recently, Kiran won the 15th edition of the MTB Cycling Championships, in Pune, putting him in the No 1 spot for the cross-country sport in India. He’s participated five times, won the bronze in 2015, the silver in 2016 and 2017. “I had a clean race with 0 falls, which helped me maintain my lead and kept me focussed,” says Kiran, who beat two men from the Indian army.

Work and play

His initiation into this world of pedals, grit and endorphins was a trifle more prosaic: he started cycling to work in late 2010, to beat Bengaluru traffic. Kiran, a civil engineer, who worked as a senior planning engineer at a top construction firm back then, says that since his job entailed working at distant site offices, he would commute close to 40 km daily.

Racing happened soon after. “I saw an ad about the Tour of Nilgiris in the papers and wanted to register for it, only to realise I couldn’t afford it but got an opportunity to volunteer for it, where I got a chance to meet like-minded people,” he says.

“Cycling is an expensive sport when it comes to the competitive level; the equipment along with the amount of wear and tear costs a lot and I couldn’t afford them,” he says. However, it did not stop him. He continued to borrow bikes and participate. Soon, he started taking part in a number of races, including Brevets, long-distance cycling events, becoming a super randonneur in 2011, by completing the various distances in one calendar year within the target time.

Challenges and victories

Sport has always been a vital part of his life. “Back in school, I used to play a lot of football and liked being a goalkeeper. During my pre-final year in engineering, while I was into running and playing TT, they were looking for a goalkeeper for the college hockey team,” he says. He fell in love with the sport, and went on to become the university hockey captain. Unfortunately, he didn’t get the time to pursue hockey, so quit.

This time round, “My girlfriend (now wife) motivated me to quit my job to pursue cycling full-time and told me that she would support me financially as much as possible until I got support from elsewhere. My parents also agreed to let me follow my passion, which came as a pleasant surprise,” says Kiran, adding that his first national victory in 2015 garnered plenty of support.

Funding has always been a challenge, especially since he went into it full-time, says Kiran. “I had to travel to races all over the country to participate and had to pay a fee for my coaching.” The wider cycling community helped, taking the initiative to collect funds so he could focus on training. He recently signed a two-year endorsement deal with Trek Bicycle, “my dream brand,” which supports him with the entire range of cycling products, along with a stipend.

Yesterday and today

He trains for 20 hours per week on his bike, in addition to a couple of strength and stability sessions at the gym. Dhatu Organics supports his nutrition needs.

His next goal is the Asian Cycling Championship for 2019 and “to show good results at the Asian championship for the next two years,” says Kiran, who dreams of qualifying for the Tokyo 2020 Olympics. “It’s a complicated and tough task ahead but I would like to give it a shot.”

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