Venkateswara Rao Navanasi or Bikey Venky as he is popularly known talks about his journey from cyclist to blogger to mentor with Deepthi Velkur.
Venkateswara Rao Navanasi’s giant leaps in the cycling world are more than just being inspirational. They are an adventure that he has been conquering the miles along with his demons makes for a story that you must read.
Cycling has become an integral part of your life, but it was never always the case. How did it all happen?
For starters, I wasn’t the most healthy person out there. I was 20 kilos overweight and suffered from frequent asthma and bronchitis attacks.
In February 2008, months before I was due to become a father, I realized my unhealthy lifestyle could be a bad example for my child. That thought triggered an immediate action and my unborn child served as the motivation for me to live a healthier lifestyle.
Over the next 8 months, I lost 16 kilos by doing 2 things –eating healthier and working out for an hour every day. In October 2008 with the idea of including a workout routine into my daily commute, I picked up a cycle. I commuted 14KM a day and that slowly transformed into longer rides over the weekend. The spirit of freedom had me hooked and without even knowing it, cycling changed my life.
From being a recreational cyclist, you transitioned to road racing. That’s a big leap – what drove you to it?
It’s a funny story – I never imagined racing and always thought it was for professionals.
In December 2010, having just moved to Bangalore, I went to watch a BBCh (Bangalore Bicycling Championships) ITT race in Sarjapur and sat there in wide-eyed wonder as I watched the fancy bikes zoom past. 9 months later, while watching another BBCh race, this time it was the Team Time Trial (TTT), the organizers announced that those who had no teams but were interested in racing could take part in the Individual Time Trials (ITT). I pedalled up to the start line with my fixed gear bike and completed the 20KM race averaging a speed of 33KMPH. Later that evening I was surprised when a friend of mine (Brijesh Nair) called me and said that I had won the race and he collected my medal. It was my first ever medal in life! Later in 2011, when I took part in the Tour of Nilgiris (TFN), I got hooked to racing and the endorphin rush I experience is what brings me back.
You look forward to the Tour of Nilgiris (TFN) every year? Why is it so close to your heart?
TFN came into existence around the same time I started cycling. The TFN started off as a fun ride but turned into an organized race in December 2008.
In 2008, while researching for a new bike on an online forum (Bikeszone), I happened to stumble upon TFN and was fascinated to read about the experiences of the riders. I followed the tour closely and during a TFN after-party, I caught up with a few riders and listening to their stories first hand solidified my resolve to take part in it one day. When my registration for the 2011 event was accepted I was both elated and scared at the same time. The scale of what I was about to attempt dawned on me and I used the nervousness inside of me to inspire me to do well.
To prepare, apart from my daily commute, I started riding for 50KM twice during the week and even longer on weekends. In the 6 months leading up to TFN, I did about 10,000KM and lost 12 kilos.
In my first TFN race, I secured the 11th position out of 90 riders from across the world. I was ecstatic and believed that I was cut out from something more than just being a recreational cyclist. The high it gave me changed my life as a cyclist forever. During the TFN, I had the opportunity to meet people from different walks of life and the camaraderie shared lives with me till today. To me, TFN is special because it challenges me as a rider and of course the views are to die for.
Having raced in multiple events – which race format do you find the most challenging?
My favorite disciple is the ITT and I do share a love-hate relationship with it. It is a race that is called the “race of truth” and rightfully so – it’s just you and your bike going head-on with the elements and the clock.
The ITT is challenging because when you are in the flow, you feel ecstatic but when your mind starts playing up, it is rather an agonizing experience. This year in March, I clocked my personal best average speed of 43kmph for the 33.5km course and the ITT format really helps you gauge your progress.
You seem to love writing as much as you like cycling. What does your blog (www.bvcoaching.in/blog) focus on mainly?
Well, I love riding, writing out my ride reports and sharing them through Bikeszone and my own blog. I always try and share them on race day itself as it’s all fresh in my mind. My blog mainly covers race reports for now, but I intend to publish posts on training and nutrition that could help others in the riding community.
How did the initiative of starting your own racing calendar called BAR (Bangalore Amateur Racing) come about? How many races does it feature in a year?
I have participated in all BBCH races since 2012. It’s a great platform to keep riders motivated, train and stay in shape through the year. The BBCH organizes road and MTB races during alternate months which meant that for us road racers, we had to wait for 2 months between races. Definitely not ideal and we figured we needed more races and that’s how a few of us at Spectrum came up with an idea of starting a new series.
My friend, Venkatachalam from Cleated Warriors team and I went about executing our idea and the first race we organized was a 24KM ITT on 21st July 2013. With the help of stop watches, laptops we ensured the results were released immediately on completion of the race. Our focus is to keep it simple, reduce overheads and organize races at regular intervals. On an average, we do about 10 races per year and charge INR 50 per race per participant.
How and when did your association with spectrum racing start?
In 2011 when I started watching races, I came across this energetic bunch of riders from a team called ‘Spectrum Racing’ and I have also seen them on my regular riding routes. They were a huge inspiration to me in the way that they rode together. Several times I did try keeping pace with them but couldn’t. After several months of riding, I eventually managed to keep up with them and rode most of the tour with them. They were quite impressed with me as I managed to complete the tour with a fixed gear bike and offered for me to join their team.
During this time, I was associated with another team ‘Veloscope’ so getting such an invite is tantamount to poaching in the corporate world. Nevertheless, I was excited at the opportunity, so I consulted my friend Brijesh Nair who set up Veloscope and he encouraged me to go for it. I joined Spectrum Racing in January 2012.
What lead you to start your own coaching site(www.bvcoaching.in)? How does this work?
I have always enjoyed reading, finding new ways to improve myself and sharing knowledge. I used to ride with and mentor a few youngsters and in the process, I shared regular feedback, helped them with race preparations and this became a learning ground for all of us. I enjoyed the process and it helped me develop as well.
Through my blog (www.bvcoaching.in/blog), I had quite a few people asking me questions about training for BBCH, TFN, etc. and I took the opportunity to help in any way I could. For some who wanted more specific advice, I devised training plans for them.
In 2016, I stumbled upon a tool that made training plans and interaction between coaches and trainees easier, but it was fairly expensive. I then decided to start charging for my services and my existing clients were happy with the arrangement and that’s how www.bvcoaching.in started on 1st May 2016.
All the training plans were customized and accessible via the app or website. The trainees could upload their workouts online where I would analyze progress and provide feedback. Communication was predominantly via the tool and emails, but the evaluation was done via phone and Skype. This model enables me to work with athletes from across the globe.
Tour de Friendship 2017 was your first race on the international Platform? How did it go?
My skipper at Spectrum Racing, Dr. Arvind Bhateja, signed me up for the race in 2017 and took care of all logistics as he wanted me to experience racing at a different level.
Unfortunately, I couldn’t do justice to the faith he had in me. I went into the race not being at the top of my game and with a tough cycling field and difficult route, it made for a disappointing race. On the bright side, that race opened my mind to newer challenges and I decided to compete in one international race every year.
With the experience you had at Tour De Friendship, how differently did you handle your next race – the Tour De Bintan?
I went into the Tour De Bintan in possibly the best shape I could be at that time. I trained with a coach for over 5 months leading up to the event. I was better prepared and gave a good account of myself. The race was a 3-day event with an ITT on the first day, a 140km road race on the second and a 100km road race on the 3rd day in the beautiful Indonesian Resort Island called Bintan. The races are well organized and the first two races act as qualifiers for UCI Grandfondo series finals in the age category.
You had to qualify in the top 20% in your age category (40-44) for the UCI Masters Grandfondo series World Championships? Did you manage to meet your target?
Although I was better prepared, I was still quite a way off the top 20% of the field. I finished just outside the top 20% but overall was a great experience. I came back knowing exactly what I needed to work on to do better the next time I’m there which will be in 2020.
What are the major differences you see racing in India vs overseas?
The level of racing overseas is so high that it can be disheartening as well as inspiring. Most of the riders in the age categories 40-44 and 50-54 have been riding all their life and are way faster than any of us. In India, most of us start quite late in life and it might take us several years to get there but I believe it is possible to be competitive by putting in a lot of work.
The races overseas are meticulously planned, organized well and the level of support received from local authorities is amazing. In India, I have seen such planning in events like the Tour of Glory and Tour of Nilgiris (TFN).
How would you rate your performance over the years?
Overall, fairly satisfying. I won the TFN in Masters category in 2015 and 2016 and this year has been very good. I participated in 10-12 races and won 4 of them.
What races have you planned for 2019?
For 2019, my big goal is Giro De Dolomitti (GDD) in the Italian Alps. It is quite similar to the TFN but on a larger scale. Apart from that, I plan to attend the Tour of Glory, 2Go Masters Championships, BBCH, BAR races and TFN.