Mission LA 2028: India’s cycling hopes to ride on French coach Sireau and talented youngsters

New Delhi: For the first time in the history of Indian sports, the Cycling Federation of India (CFI) is banking on a foreign coach, a two-time Olympic Games medallist, and a few talented youngsters to participate in the Los Angeles Olympic Games in 2028. The first target for them will be the World Championship to be held later this year.

India’s hopes of competing in the cycling programme at the Los Angeles Olympics centre around Frenchman Kevin Sireau and a clutch of talented young men who have already established their credentials on the Asian and world junior circuits. Supported by the Union Sports Ministry, overseas coaches have had a role to play in almost every Olympic sport where India have excelled globally. This is the first time the Cycling Federation of India is riding on two-time Olympic medallist Kevin Sireau of France to fully exploit the potential of the national cycling ecosystem.

The 37-year-old Sireau, a professional racing cyclist, joined CFI in January and in four months, is already sniffing the eagerness among India’s best cyclists to excel internationally. India are not only the Asian champions but has been the junior world champions in the sprint category.

The Indian quartet of Esow Alben, L. Ronaldo Singh, Y. Rojit Singh and Jemsh Singh had won a historic men’s team sprint gold at the 2019 World Junior Track Cycling Championship in Frankfurt. Three years later at the Asian Track Cycling Championship in Delhi, Ronaldo became the first Indian to win an individual silver medal in the men’s sprint race.

India did well as hosts in the Asian Track Cycling Championship for both able-bodied and special cyclists in February this year. India finished with a total of nine gold, six silver, and three bronze medals and created numerous national records on the way. The Asian meet was also a qualifying event for the Paris Olympics, but no Indian made the cut.

Having won silver medals at the 2008 Beijing Olympics and the 2012 London Games, Kevin Sireau certainly knows what it takes to win an Olympic medal. A matter of a few seconds can make a huge difference.

“In a big country like India, I believe we have many future talents. Right now, I train only sprint riders. I oversee the progress of riders like Ronaldo, Rojit and David (Beckham). These guys have just started by winning the junior worlds. Now they are in the senior category and if they have to finish on the Olympic podium, a very high level has to be achieved.

“But I am confident that they have the skills and talent to finish on the podium. Extra hard work is required. We also have some good juniors like Sarita Kumari and Wattaba Meitei, who are Indian cycling’s future stars,” Sireau was quoted as saying by SAI Media.

It will be a tough grind for the Indian team comprising Esow, Rojit, Ronaldo and David but they are showing signs of improvement. The quartet clocked its personal best of 44.451 seconds at the Asian Track Cycling Championship sprint race this February. This was after a time of 45. 692 at the UCI World Track Cycling Championships last year where India finished 17th.

India may not be anywhere close to the Olympic record and gold standard timing of 41.369 clocked at the Izu Velodrome by the Dutch team of Jeffrey Hoogland, Harrie Lavreysen and Roy van den Berg at Tokyo 2020, but they are not far from Australia’s 44.013 seconds, the fourth-best time in Tokyo.

“This year our target is the world championships in October. We are driving all energies in that direction. I have discussed the roadmap for LA 2028 with CFI and doing things step by step. In the next three to four years you will see a big difference, I promise,” said Sireau.

Asian Cycling Confederation (ACC) secretary general Onkar Singh, who was part of the national federation since 2011-12, is confident that the on-boarding of the French coach has been a good move. “From 149th rank to Category 1 in juniors in four years, speaks for itself. We won all four sprinting events in junior class in Asia, a record that won’t be broken anytime soon… We are lucky to have a person like Kevin. It took some time to convince him but please remember these coaches monitor all countries before they say yes. He is 200 per cent sure that the Indian team is capable of doing it,” said Singh.

Cyclist Rojit, who is supported by the government’s Target Olympic Podium Scheme, said Kevin Sireau has been a great addition. “There has been a lot of difference since Kevin sir joined the team. He has changed how we train, what we eat and how we plan recovery. He has brought a new discipline and I am very happy to be able to learn from him,” Rojit said.

Only top-20 teams qualify for the Olympic Games with seven quotas allocated to each National Olympic Committee (NOC) as per the UCI Track Olympic Ranking 2022-2024. The counting events for the final rankings are – the last two editions of the respective Continental Championships, the best two results in the UCI Track Nations Cup in consecutive editions and the result in the previous UCI Track World Championships. The NOC which qualifies in team sprint also gets slots to compete in both individual sprint and keirin races.

For India and Sireau, the long haul to LA 2028 has truly begun.


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