With a Bachelor’s degree in industrial design from the Netherlands and years of work in the US, Vivek Radhakrishnan nevertheless invested as much of his time into his first love, cycling. “It is the ultimate combination of man and machine, a fusion of cutting-edge technology and the human body,” he enthuses. On his return from the US, Radhakrishnan began checking out the local racing scene in Bangalore, only to realise that, like most sports other than cricket, “the scene here was pretty miserable.”
But that did not stop the 34-year-old owner of interiors firm Kynkyny Home from setting up a racing team of his own. A couple of years later, he crossed paths with Australian professional cyclist Darren Reid, who has over two decades of racing experience around the world – from Germany, to the Carribean, to Japan and India. The Category 1 cyclist recognised Radhakrishnan’s efforts and offered to help develop the team and competitive cycling scene in general. “These guys have been struggling and pushing themselves against the odds for years and years,” says Reid, “because they loved the sport and because, deep down inside, they believed that one day they would be selected on a team and become professional cyclists. They’re hardened and strong, not only physically but mentally as well.”
Later, Radhakrishnan met Venkatesh Shivarama, and quickly realised that he was one of the few other people around who shared his passion for developing cycling in India. “Venkatesh had been very involved with supporting some of the best riders in the country over the years, and we realised that combining his network and knowledge with my vision and organisational skills could really amount to something sports in India had never seen,” says Radhakrishnan. They joined forces, and the following year saw amazing performances by the newly merged team: In 2011 alone, they participated in 27 races across five countries, and secured 23 podium finishes. This year, they have already won three of the five races they have competed in, with six podium finishes. They also competed in the Tour of Thailand this April, a five-day race with racing stages up to 195 km.
Their success caught the eye of Joe Wheadon, director of business development at Specialized, the world’s premier professional cycling company, on a tour through India in December 2011. “I could see that Kynkyny was a very professional team, like nothing I had yet seen in India. But the thing that really struck me was Vivek’s passion for the sport. His passion for the Kynkyny team, the potential of the cyclists on his team, and for the future of cycling in India was just uncontainable. You could see it,” says Wheadon, who has worked with Specialized for over eight years. The meeting resulted in a full sponsorship for the 12-member Kynkyny team, one of only two teams in Asia to be fully sponsored by Specialized, and the only one in India. Other teams sponsored by Specialized around the world include the top professional road-racing teams such as Omega Pharma/Quick Step, Astana and Saxo Bank, and the top professional mountain-bike teams. Brought up in a bike shop and having worked at a Specialized dealership during his youth, Wheadon says it is an inspiring place to work, a place where people work hard but also play hard. “Nearly everyone at Specialized rides on their lunch break; it’s a part of the culture,” shares Wheadon, who has been racing competitively on both road and mountain bikes for many years and sees a huge potential for cycling at all levels in India. “I also predict a very big opportunity for Indian athletes on the world tour.”
To get to that level in an endurance sport considered the ‘world’s toughest sport’, Kynkyny athletes train for typically six days in a week, riding about 110 km a day. This is accompanied by body conditioning at the gym, plenty of stretching and resting to recover properly, and carefully planned nutrition and supplements. “Road racing is a complete team effort: the team members need to think and act as one, and riders need to look out for each other like a family. It is these aspects of the sport that I find interesting, as well as the more technical ones,” says Radhakrishnan, who compares racing with his design business. “A group of like-minded people with a common goal always achieve greater results than a single individual,” he philosophises, citing the example of Lokesh Narasimhachar, an international-class cyclist competing at the elite level for 11 years. “He is a typical example of the talent we have in India, that has not received enough support,” says Radhakrishnan. “Lokesh has never owned a race bike of his own, as a professional bike has been beyond his means. His family has not seen reason to support his cycling, and he has only been able to get this far because of the support given to him by Venkatesh. Through the new sponsorship with Specialized, Lokesh has the best equipment available anywhere in the world, and we are hoping to see really great things from him in the near future.”
Equipment and technology has always been an integral part of professional cycling. “That’s one of my favourite things about cycling,” enthuses Reid, who is now Directeur Sportif for the team. “I am a total ‘tech-head’ and love all things cutting-edge. From the frames that we ride to the components, though to the tire and rubber compounds, to the clothing, helmets, shoes, sunglasses… the list goes on and on. The technology is so important for safety, comfort and performance that it really is everything! The technology used on professional riders trickles down to everyday commuters. Whether it’s products like rain gear, to clothing that will get you to the office dry and not soaking in sweat, to helmets that are light yet strong enough to save your life, to sunglasses with photochromic lenses, to tire compounds that are puncture proof, and carbon belt drives that don’t need oil – these are fantastic parts of cycling technology that help the way we ride and race and commute daily.”
The newly equipped Kynkyny team will now sport state-of-the-art carbon-fibre race bikes, and the best of Specialized’s top-end equipment, like shoes, helmets, gloves and tyres, with each rider on the team receiving equipment amounting to around USD 10,000. They also have Champion Systems clothing for the team worth about INR 10 lakhs besides other sponsors for footwear, gym sponsorships and technical support, says Radhakrishnan, adding that a globe-trotting team needs about INR 3 crore every year.
Radhakrishnan and Wheadon are now collaborating with Stephane Audry from Gateway to India to build a liaison between India and Europe that would allow Indian riders to get training and racing experience in Europe, and bring experienced European athletes here to mentor and guide the Indian riders. The aim is to have the first Indian cyclist participating in the Tour de France within the next three years. “Ready? Yes, we’re totally ready for the world stage,” ends Reid.
First published in Atelier magazine