Indian cycling has come a long way from being an absolute non-entity over many decades now. The resurgence of Indian cycling has been nothing short of sensational, and one youngster who has played his part in the sport grabbing all the positive buzz in the last couple of years is cyclist Esow Alben. The 18-year-old cyclist from the Andaman & Nicobar Islands catapulted Indian cycling into the international spotlight when he had bagged a silver medal in the men’s keirin event at the 2018 UCI Junior Track Cycling World Championship held at Switzerland – it was the country’s first-ever medal won in a World Championship.
Esow came out with even more robust performance at the 2019 UCI Junior Track Cycling World Championship held at Germany, helping India win a historic gold medal in the men’s team sprint event alongside Ronaldo Laitonjam, Jemsh Singh and Rojit Singh as well as sewing up silver and bronze medals in men’s sprint and men’s keirin events.
The experience of four World Championship medals has surely stood Esow in good stead for the bigger battles ahead. The soft-spoken sprightly cyclist, who is now focussing on transitioning from the junior ranks to the senior level, says:
Esow has featured in the senior level in as many as four tournaments – he won a gold in men’ keirin event as well as a bronze in the Track Asia Cup held at New Delhi this year. “Senior-level cycling is a different kettle of fish and much different from junior-level cycling. The skill sets of cyclists at the senior level are different and they have far more experience than probably I have. I have to work on my strength, endurance to match the senior-level cyclists. My beginning at the senior level has been good so far and I hope to build on that,” says the youngster, whose first love was not actually cycling.
“I remember how I used to cycle to do my rowing sessions in Port Blair. It was during my rowing practice sessions back in 2014 that I got excited seeing some of the friends do cycling and the sheer feeling of overtaking another cyclist got me excited to take up cycling.” Esow had also played other sports such as football and athletics before seriously pursuing cycling.
The youngster shares an interesting anecdote about his mom took him to the SAI trials. “My father who works as a fireman in the fire department heard from somebody that trials are happening at the SAI Centre in Andaman. He subsequently apprised my mom who told me to go for the trials and I remember my school was closed owing to a holiday period. Initially, I was told at the centre that the trials were over but the second time when I went to the SAI Centre along with my mother I was allowed to take the trials and there has been no looking back since then,” says Esow, who first shot into prominence at the 2015 Senior National Cycling Championship at Trivandrum, where he won two junior silver medals – one in scratch race and one in team trial. The exciting talents of Esow caught the eye of the selectors and he was inducted into the National Cycling Academy.
Esow’s father was a cyclist himself and his mother is a national-level kabaddi player – so sports run in his family. The cyclist, who is busy preparing for the upcoming Berlin Six Day race to be held in Germany later this month, is aware that he doesn’t stand a realistic chance of qualifying for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics as he hasn’t managed adequate points to be in contention as his initiation to the senior ranks is only recent. He is now focussing on making a mark in big-ticket events beyond 2020 Tokyo Olympics. “I feel I belong to the senior level and I really want to make the country proud at the 2022 Asian Games and 2024 Olympics Games,” says Esow, who loves watching Bollywood movies in his spare time. “I love watching movies of Akshay Kumar and Aamir Khan and it helps me unwind when I’m off-training,” says the cyclist.
Clearly, Esow’s success on the cycling track can be an inspiration for many youngsters to pursue this sport seriously.