"I expect something more fascinating beyond every road bend and this expectation keeps me going"
- Bharat Pannu

The World’s Toughest Bicycle Race!

RAAM Start - 16 June, 2020


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My Story

I, Lt Col Bharat Kumar, an aeronautical engineer who hails from Rohtak, India. I am employed with Indian Army since June 2005 and I maintain the helicopters of the Indian Army. I was inclined towards cycling since childhood, but took the hobby seriously in December 2015.

“I keep challenging myself to venture into the territory unexplored.”

My move to Nashik in September 2016 was the start point to set the wheels spinning and pedals rolling. The weather here was conducive for any sports activity and the Nashik Cyclists family was ever encouraging to everyone to pursue cycling as a leisure activity or as a sport. It all started with leisure rides and soon it escalated to higher level. I had set my goal to get the Super Randonneur title and become a RAAM Qualified Cyclist during my 2 years of Nashik tenure. I started Randonneuring from November 2016 and completed two titles of Super Randonneur within a short span of 05 months. Randonneuring (also known as Audax in the UK, Australia and Brazil) is a long-distance cycling sport in which, the riders attempt courses of 200 km or more (upto 1200 km), passing through predetermined checkpoints.

During this journey, I made a good friend Darshan Dubey who encouraged me to participate in the 500 km race in the 1st edition of The Ultra Spice Race organised by INSPIRE INDIA. At that point of time, the longest distance I had covered was 300 km and I decided to participate in 1000 km category as it was a RAAM Qualifier. Although I had confidence to do 1000 km all of a sudden without much practice, I knew it was more or less a gamble. And with the wonderful support of my novice crew members Darshan Dubey and Sqn Ldr Santosh Dubey, This was my first success in the arena of Ultra Cycling was in January 2017, when I become the first Indian to successfully complete any Ultra race in India of a distance longer than 400 miles. By successfully completing the Ultra Spice Race, I has also qualified for prestigious Race Across America (RAAM), which is regarded as the world`s toughest cycling challenge.

“We need to break self-created mental barriers which hamper our progress. We should think big and have untiring attitude to achieve the target despite all odds. Everyone is gifted; we just need to open the package.”

While I was enjoying the glory of Ultra Spice success, I didn’t want to stop there and thought of participating in Race Around Austria (RAA) - August 2017. It took us 15 days to come to a decision that we will participate in the event. It was already 29th March when self and Darshan registered for 2200 km race in 2-Person Team category. At that stage, we didn’t have any idea how we will be planning for the logistics, support crew, language barrier, accommodation, vehicles and training for the event. We got mixed response to this; many people guided and motivated us to prepare well but we also encountered criticism that we are going to foreign land with no experience and very less time to prepare for a tough race such as RAA. To our relief, we got the dynamic Divya Tate as crew chief and charismatic Chaitanya Velhal as coach. Both of them had put in their expertise in shaping up the team which was ready to shine at Austria. Their words of wisdom, priceless tips and intimate guidance bestowed us the much needed motivation. The coach Chaitanya Velhal said – “The success of my trainees is a prime example of how the right kind of training and commitment to a goal can help athletes achieve the impossible. I am very proud of having been a part of this successful race.”

“Any ultra-cycling race is a tough one depending upon the number of variables which affect your race. You need the right kind of mindset, strong logistics, understanding crew, regular training and apt strategy.”

A chain is as strong as its weakest link, and the same applies to our body as well. I also had my share of problems which severely hampered my progress but I am happy that I didn’t give up. I had serious balancing issues while using aero-bars and I had to do my 1000 km Ultra Spice without using one. I became comfortable with them over a period of time. The pain in my left knee was a sore point for me since I started using cleats in December 2016. It is hard to believe that it became comfortable to use cleats only after June 2018 when I found the solution to it while crewing at RAAM 2018. I had done all my races except Deccan Cliffhanger 2018 wearing sports shoe instead of cycling shoes to avoid knee pain. At present, I am facing pain in my low back and I am confident of overcoming this with proper care and physiotherapy sessions.

Pain is an indication to introspect and correction. It is never a reason to shy away from the target. This quote by Mark Frost had a lasting impression on my thought process “Life is not a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving safely in a pretty and well-preserved body. But rather, to skid in broadside, thoroughly used up, totally worn out, and loudly proclaiming... WOW… What a ride!!!”

I am participating in solo category in Race Across America (RAAM) as TEAM INSPIRE INDIA which is scheduled in June next year. I am training hard to bring home the ARMED FORCES CUP from RAAM. Correct training is the tool which can do wonders to the rider`s performance. I am presently training with Tracy Mckay, Alabama, US. He happens to be the crew chief as well for the Team at RAAM 2020. I will be using SCOTT aero and endurance bikes depending on the terrain at RAAM. My nutrition is mainly based on liquid diet which is a combination on carbohydrates, protein and electrolytes. I utilise my training rides to get accustomed to this diet structure and the simulation rides are the opportunities for testing all the strategies and diet plan. Also, knowing the race you have to attempt is also part of training. I was fortunate to crew for TEAM SEA TO SEE as navigator / driver of follow van in RAAM 2018. TEAM SEA TO SEE is the first blind/VI team to complete RAAM. The training of rider is important but without a good team of crew members he will not be able to perform to his potential. I am blessed to have good team who stands by me in all situations and is my biggest strength. The selfless attitude of each person is worth appreciation and that’s where is my source of motivation comes from.

“A good team is like a well-oiled machine where every component is aware of its task and desired results are produced without any friction. The most important thing which keeps me moving is my support crew. I as a rider can`t dare to give up in front of my team who takes so much of hardships / sacrifices to make me achieve the target .”


Promotional Video

Gautam Gambhir supports me for RAAM 2020


Testimonials

It is gratifying to see how riders like Bharat have evolved though the system of international ultra-races to put himself to the test at Race Across America in 2019. Having started at Inspire India's longest event, the Ultra Spice in Jan 2017, he has quickly built a strong resume of performing well at ultra-races, including Race Around Austria, to be ready for the challenge ahead!.
- Divya Tate (Director - Inspire India)
For years, Lt Col Bharat Pannu lived a bland life. Then he discovered cycling, enjoying in particular the challenge of cycling long distances. A 2016 transfer to Nashik fueled the passion further. His progression in the sport has been rapid. In 2019, he will attempt Race Across America (RAAM).
- Shyam G Menon (Blogger)
If we are talking about ultra-cyclists in India, it will be difficult to miss out Lt Col Bharat Pannu who made his mark in this field by winning the 1000 km category in the 1st edition of the Ultra Spice Race 2017. He is on the spin since then and now is on the mark for the ultimate challenge in the world of ultra-cycling - RAAM. He is a SCOTT athlete.
- Meera Velankar (Editor, Crank with ProCycle)




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Blog written by Shyam G Menon on my cycling journey:

For years, Lt Col Bharat Pannu lived a bland life. Then he discovered cycling, enjoying in particular the challenge of cycling long distances. A 2016 transfer to Nashik fueled the passion further. His progression in the sport has been rapid. In 2019, he will attempt Race Across America (RAAM). Read More...