Bharat Namdeo Sonawane bought a bicycle four years ago, looking to speed up his commute. Every day he travelled from his village, near Nashik, to a cement plant five kilometres away, where he worked as a wage labourer. Now, Sonawane is a semi-professional cyclist for most of the year, competing in races with the backing of two coaches. In the off-season—through the summer and monsoon—he still works as a wage labourer.
I spoke with Sonawane on 25 March, right after he finished the Mumbai-Pune Cyclothon: a historic race that stretches across the old highway between the two cities. “Every time my wife asks me to get a job, I tell her that if I excel at a race like this, the job will come to me through cycling,” he said, lying, exhausted, on the ground past the finish line.
The Cyclothon draws all kinds of competitors, from amateurs to internationally seasoned professionals. According to Pratap Jadhav—who has competed in the Cyclothon five times, and been its director since 1993—the race was first organised in 1945 by an Anglo-Indian man named Sydney Chorder. An athlete himself, one who experienced competitive cycling on visits to England, Chorder won the first three editions of the race.