‘RAAM should be treated as Olympics’
Says Pune-based athlete Chaitanya Velhal, who is aiming to become first Indian solo rider in this ultra cycling event
Pune-based professional cyclist Chaitanya Velhal recently completed the Ironman event in Zurich, Switzerland. Though, he wasn’t satisfied with his performance, it was a learning experience for him, ahead of his preparation for RAAM, the world’s toughest ultra cycling event.
Chaitanya had planned to finish the Ironman triathlon in eight hours, but some rookie mistakes and miscalculations affected his performance and it took him ten hours to cross the finish line.
“It was my first event and right from hot weather and rolling terrain I faced several obstacles. Firstly, I wasn’t aware of the latex swimsuit and thus took more time to finish the swimming segment. Then in a hurry I forgot to carry my energy gel and I had to wait for the next feeding point, which was 30km away. Cycling being my prime event, I tried to cover the gap and I feel I pushed too hard, and it eventually affected my running. Overall, pressure kept mounting but I somehow managed to finish it,” he said.
Chaitanya, who is a full time athlete sponsored by MultiFit Gym in Pune, has been preparing for RAAM for the last two years. He feels that participating in the Ironman was part of his preparation, as cross training will help him get fitter and stronger.
“When I qualified for RAAM in 2014, I was eager to try out RAAM immediately. But I realised that RAAM must not be taken lightly. It should be treated like an Olympic event. It requires years of hard work, training, preparation and planning. I will participate in RAAM when I will be hundred per cent sure about my performance. Otherwise it’s just a waste of money and effort,” he says.
To get the feel of this elite event, Chaitanya went as a crew member for Joan Deitchman, a Canada-based pro cyclist three times.
“Joan’s attention to detail was amazing as her plan seemed foolproof, covering every minute detail. This was good learning experience for me, as I got to know what this race is all about. I scanned the road, the weather, the elevation and it will surely come handy when I will be riding on the same next year,” says Chaitanya.
In this year’s edition, Nashik’s pro-cyclist Srinivas Gokulnath attempted for solo category but unfortunately he couldn’t finish the race. Interestingly he is a good friend of Chaitanya, and when asked what he has he learnt from this incident, he said, “Like I said, preparation plays a crucial role. It may be harsh to say this, but he was not prepared to take on this mighty task. It was kind of a hurried decision to take part. However, he gave some good tips about what should be avoided.”
Born in a middle class family, raised and educated in Pune, Chaitanya was an average kid in school and college. He tried his hand at a range of sports but never really excelled in any to make it a profession. After graduation he did a Master’s course in Biotechnology in Australia. This was the place where he fell in love with cycling.
Coming back to India, he started working as an assistant professor in Agriculture College of Pune. But to pursue his dream of being a pro-cyclist, he quit his job.
“That was one of the hardest things I ever did. My family and friends had doubts over this decision. There was no other income source. However my cycling continued. I soon got an opportunity to join a gym named Multifit. I found like-minded and passionate people at Multifit and they supported my cycling,” Chaitanya said.
Originally published on The Golden Sparrow