12-18 September 2014 #724

Master of two wheels

Meet Nepal’s first professional bike racer

THE BIKER: Bikram Thapa with Japanese racers at the Twin Ring racing circuit in Motegi, Japan.
When Bikram Thapa first got his motorcycle licence at 18, the lifelong biking enthusiast was elated. By August this year, Bikram found himself at the Twin Ring racing circuit in Motegi, Japan competing alongside the best bikers in the world at the Asian Championship. The 20-year-old is the first Nepali to take part in an international racing tournament.

Although he didn’t qualify for the second round, Bikram says the exposure he got in Japan has given him the self-belief to go after his dreams of becoming a professional racer. “I frequently fell down from my bike because I lacked the experience of racing on an actual track,” says the native of Lalitpur. “Despite the falls, I came 20th out of 24 racers. With more practice and resources, there is no reason why I cannot improve my timings.”

Bikram first started off his career just practicing bike stunts. With the arrival of Racemandu, an annual biking championship organised by Nepal Automobile Association in 2012, he began racing professionally. Bikram won the first and second editions of Racemandu but had to settle for the fifth position after colliding with another biker in the third edition. The top five got to compete in a championship in Chennai. “Wearing a biking suit and racing on a track was unforgettable,” he recalls.

When Bikram heard about the Motegi championship at this year’s Racemandu, he knew he had to participate. Immediately, he sent an email to the organisers and applied for a visa. After landing, however, he found out that he had missed the deadline for entry submission. Fortunately, the organisers who thought he was a professional racer had saved a copy of his email. That was just the first of many speed bumps on Bikram’s way to the racetrack.

To prove he was a professional racer, Bikram was asked to show a licence, his experience in track racing, race suit, air bag, and other biking essentials. Bikram only had his driving licence. After providing the organisers with his participation certificates in bike races in Nepal and India, Bikram was given an eight-hour training and finally permitted to take part in the event.

“Representing Nepal in a sport that is not very popular in the country is very difficult,” explains Bikram who had to pay for everything out of his pocket. He spent Rs 800,000 to participate in the championship and wishes the sports authority at home were more helpful. “Even having a single race track in Kathmandu would go a long way in boosting our confidence and morale.”

Tufan Neupane

The record breaker

He made it to the top of Mt Kilimanjaro in six hours, 13 minutes, spent six minutes, three seconds without a shirt on top of Mt Elbrus in Russia, and climbed Island Peak in less than two days. Ultra marathon runner Sanjay Pandit is on a mission to set and break as many records as possible as soon as he can.

“In Kathmandu I saw the winners of the South Asian Games being paraded on carriages and immediately wanted to be one of them,” says Sanjay who moved to the capital in 2004 after completing his SLC from his home district Pyuthan. At first Sanjay chose to play volleyball and even signed up for training. When he heard how much it cost every month, he had to drop out.

“Then I began to look for a sport that I knew about, training for which would cost me nothing,” explains Sanjay. Having run throughout his childhood from home to school 60km away, he chose to pursue it as a sport.

Training included going around the entire Ring Road, and sometimes he ran as far as Dakshinkali, Godavari, and Nagarkot. In 2007, Sanjay participated in the first Kathmandu Open Marathon where he met acclaimed athlete Baikuntha Manandhar. Manandhar was so impressed by the 25-year-old that he challenged him to break a record set by the athlete in 1988 of running from Kathmandu to Khasa in 14 hours.

A year later, Sanjay broke Manandhar’s record by two hours, 40 minutes. This was his first record and he convinced Manandhar to become his coach.

Climbing Everest was another of his life-long dream. Fellow Pyuthanis raised Rs 2.7 million for his Everest expedition, but his first attempt didn’t turn out as expected and Sanjay had to return without reaching the summit.

“I was embarrassed to face my villagers who had done everything they could to pay for my expedition,” he says. After successfully summiting Everest in May 2013, he feels more at peace.

On his list of goals now is to climb all the seven highest summits of the seven continents, three of which he has already summitted. He wants to climb the remaining four in the next eight months, and set another world record.

“Once that record is set, I want to climb all the 8000m mountains in the world,” says Sanjay, who besides tackling icefalls and overhangs for fun is also doing his MBA.

Dambar Krishna Shrestha 

23 January 2009 

Ran the 390km Kathmandu - Khasa marathon in 11 hours, 20 minutes breaking a previous record set by Baikuntha Manadhar

13 December 2011

Made it to the top of Island Peak in one and half days. On average it takes climbers nine days to reach the summit

20 May 2012

Failed Everest attempt

29 September 2012 Summitted Mt Manaslu

31 March 2014

Climbed Mt Kilimanjaro in 6 hours, 13 minutes

20 July 2014

Spent 6 minutes, 3 seconds shirtless on top of Mt Elbrus in minus 60 degrees C

Top gear

One of the few Nepali athletes to bring home international trophies

At 26, weighing less than 50 kg and barely 5 ft tall, Ajay Pandit Chhetri doesn’t even look like a cyclist, yet he has achieved incredible wins. Unlike many Nepali sportspersons for whom mere participation in international arena is considered success, Ajay brings home trophy after trophy.

Just last week Ajay became the first foreigner to win Bhutan’s acclaimed Tour of the Dragon, a 268-kilometer mountain bike race – his winning time of 10 hours and 42 minutes broke the course record by over 30 minutes.

Ajay started biking only nine years ago while working as a mechanic in a mountain bike shop in Jyatha. During weekends Ajay would ride for as long as ten hours on his rudimentary bike, travelling to places like Trisuli and Melamchi with friends Narayan Gopal, Raj Kumar, and Padam.

Today, he is a well-travelled four-time National Champion, four-time Yak Attack winner, and victor of several races in the UK, where he spent two summers racing as a guest rider for the Torq Professional Mountain Bike team.

victorious: Ajay Pandit Chhetri lifts his trophy after winning Tour of the Dragon last week in Bhutan.
Ajay has competed in mountain bike events in Europe, North America, and South, completing some of the hardest and most famous races in the world. He has multiple wins in the UK to his credit and recently was 53rd in the UCI Marathon World Championships out of nearly 100 entrants, defeating many professional racers.

He had his share of challenges too. In 2012 his Europe trip was cut short by a knee injury that saw his dominance back home suffer. He lost his Yak Attack title to Narayan Gopal in 2013. However, after a successful summer in the UK, he came back stronger the following year, and reclaimed the crown in 2014 leaving behind both Narayan and Yuki Ikeda, a professional from Japan.

Ajay doesn’t have the prototypical mountain biker build, but a combination of a dedicated training routine, a meticulous approach to race preparation, and knowledge obtained from 10 years of racing has allowed him to achieve great heights. Still young by cycling standards where the best racers are between the age of 29 and 35, sometimes even 40, Ajay has a great future ahead of him.

Ajay has also started a performance tour and coaching company, MTB Nepal, to coach local cycling enthusiasts and up-and-coming racers, and also establish Nepal as a training destination for elite cyclists.

Tyler McMahon 

Read also:

Make way for Nepal’s mountain bike champs, Tyler Mcmahon

They climbed another mountain, Matt Miller

Seven Women, Seven Summits, Candice Neo

Race to the top, Tyler Mcmahon

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