Rahul Chandawarkar, TNN, Aug 26, 2002, 10.10pm IST
Did you know that Homi Bhathena of Jazz Garden and Ashok Captain, wild life photographer, were ace cyclists once upon a time? Not just ace cyclists, but arguably, the best Indian cyclists in the 1980s. Over mugs of steaming coffee at Ashok’s home a few days ago, the former champions recounted their golden days. Says Homi, “I remember the two of us speeding down Baker’s Hill at b re a k -neck speed on our roadster cycles.”
Later, at Bishop’s school, where the two were classmates, Homi and Ashok joined another cycling aficionado Framroze ‘Vip’ Kalyanvala, to discuss everything there was to cycling. These meetings, as can be imagined, were in the bicycle stand! “Just as kids today discuss motorsports and Schumacher, we discussed gears, cycles and champions,” recalls Ashok. In the ’70s, the Mumbai-Pune cycle race was a very prestigious event and Homi remembers how champions like Dhashrath Pawar, Rueben Solomon and Anand Waghmare were legends.
It was a time when the Pune district cycling club (PDCC) was active and even local races like the Moledina road (now Dr Ambedkar road) circuit race attracted talent from outside. Therefore, when Ashok, then just 18, won the Moledina race in August 1978 and Homi (17), won the Pune-Shivapur race in the same year, they announced their arrival on the scene with a bang. And there was no looking back.
The duo recorded wins regularly in many national events, which included the Mumbai-Pune cycle races. They even represented the country in the World Cycling Championships in Italy in 1985. Homi exemplified grit when he raced in the team pursuit event of the 1982 Asian Games with a fractured wrist.
In many ways however, the world championships proved to be the turning point for the champions. They remember being outclassed at the event. Says Ashok, “We realised that in order to win we needed to train and race in Europe.” Homi decided to rest his cycle immediately, while Ashok persisted. For four years Ashok did nothing but cycle. “I wanted to be world champion. However, I realised in 1989 that while I was mentally ready, physically I was no match for the Europeans. This was when I retired,” Ashok says.
The duo have no regrets. Says Ashok, “We gave it our best.”