• Country

Chak Kawoosa, a roadside village on the scenic Srinagar-Gulmarg highway in the state of Kashmir, India, doesn’t strike a random passer-by as anything out of the ordinary, yet, because it might soon become the birthplace of an Indian cycling legend. Bilal Ahmad Dar just turned 18 on February 12, 2019, but already has eight medals under his belt – three silver and one bronze in the Asian championship and four consecutive golds in junior nationals.

The big story started to unravel some four years ago when he pleaded with his family to buy him a better bicycle. When that proved to be a problem, mostly because of financial reasons, he decided to go eight days without food. Worrying your momma with a hunger strike (don’t try this at home) is a rather unorthodox tactic to get your way but it worked for Dar, as you’ll see below.

“One lakh rupees was a hell lot of money for us. Villagers and relatives wondered what I was up to,” said Dar, who lost his father to an accident eight years back.

One lakh rupees (100,000), which is roughly 1,250 EUR, was a significant amount for a Kashmiri rural family, living hand to mouth by growing vegetables, fruits and tending to a paddy. But Dar was dead-certain there’s a path he needs to follow and fulfil – and it turns out he was right. In the end, his mum had to sell a piece of her land and some poplar trees to afford the ‘costly’ bike and Dar’s star has been rising ever since.

For the last three years, Dar has been training hard at the Indira Gandhi Stadium in Delhi, under the watchful eyes of the best coaches. But how did he get there from small local competitions? Lady Luck chimed in and he has been spotted at a race by a former cyclist and a talent hunter Amar Singh who then persuaded Dar to come with him to Delhi and the rest is history. Now he has access to world-class equipment, expert advice on technique and workout – and gruelling training schedules. The honest, hard work has paid off and he already won medals at national and international level in both pursuit and velodrome events. But he vowed to step up his game.

“I am 18 and will now be eligible to compete at a senior level. I am aiming not only to get a medal at the Asian games but in Olympics and Commonwealth too,” said Dar, adding that he knows that the following six years are going to be crucial for him and his career. The bike he rides now costs 10 lakh, ten times the price of the bike his mum got him in the beginning, and he has every intention to pay everything back in performance and medals.

There’s no shortcut to success. “Every morning I cycle between 80 to 120 km for around 4 to 5 hours. Sometimes in a stadium and sometimes I do road cycling. In the evening after school, I train for another three hours at the gym. This is a regimen I have been following since last three years,” Dar added.

The only obstacle he’s facing so far is funding. According to his head coach Amar Singh, the Jammu and Kashmir Sports Council that functions in Dar’s home state hasn’t spent a penny on helping him on his way to success, the Sports Authority of India (SAI) and Cyclist Federation of India (CFI) takes care of all his schooling, lodging, board, food, travel, and leisure. But Singh is optimistic that the tough times are over for Dar because he truly is a medal material and has everything to make India famous in the world of pro cycling.