Haedo, O’Grady and Cooke lead charge in Indian event
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Saturday, February 20, 2010

Haedo, O’Grady and Cooke lead charge in Indian event

by Conal Andrews at 11:25 AM EST   comments
Categories: Pro Cycling
 

Morale on the up after a fine second place on the penultimate stage of the Tour of Oman, Juan Jose Haedo plus three Saxo Bank team-mates will lead the field in tomorrow’s inaugural Mumbai Cyclothon.

Also contesting the Indian event will be his brother Sebastian, former Tour de France Green Jersey Baden Cooke and 2007 Paris-Roubaix winner Stuart O’Grady.

Other well-known riders include multiple Tour de France stage winner Jaan Kirsipuu (CKT Champion Systems) and Leon Van Bon (Marco Polo). In all, eleven teams will compete.

The 1.2-ranked contest is the first major cycling race to be held in the country, but it is expected that it will be followed by more big events next season.

"Right now, we are focussing on Sunday. However we have already had talks about the future and after Sunday we will start progressing these,” race organiser David McQuaid said this week. “I will stay quite tight-lipped about it but I can say that there will be more UCI races in India from 2011 onwards.”

It is hoped that the race – and the presence of teams like Saxo Bank – will spark the imagination of the press and public, thus building the momentum to develop the sport there. With over one billion people, India is the second-most heavily populated country in the world, and one where vast numbers of people use bicycles for transport.

The organisers hope that staging the event will stimulate interest in the competitive and fitness sides of the sport, encouraging more to use their bikes for exercise and, ideally, to create a large racing scene.

“This is the only sport that achieves several [important] objectives,” said Dr. Akil Khan, one of the founders of the race. “The first is obviously the sport itself. Most importantly it allows healthy living by contributing towards cardiovascular fitness. Also, in a country like India, where pollution is a problem and a cleaner and greener environment is a need, cycling promotes it well.”

The race will be preceded by a number of other events, including group rides.

Eddy Merckx has been involved in backing in the project, and has given a similar input to that which was needed when the Tour of Qatar was first set up.

An exemption to normal UCI rules was granted, as x.2-ranked races are normally off-limits for ProTour teams.

McQuaid, who is the son of UCI President Pat McQuaid, said that there were certain logistical problems to be overcome. He explained that some of these issues could be relieved if some other races were held elsewhere.

"Our 2010 event is taking place in a city of 19 million people. Finding a suitable course was difficult,” he said. “India is a massive sub-continent and immediately after the Mumbai Cyclothon we will look and see what the other greater territories can provide us for future events."

It is rumoured that future plans include a national tour. Longer-term, hosting a ProTour race could well be one of the ultimate goals.

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