Indian tour postponed until March

New route headed to Kashmir

Surprise elections across India and the arrival of key government backing have prompted organizers to postpone three one-day races scheduled for later this month across India until new dates in late March and early April.

Race organizer David McQuaid advised teams last week that races scheduled for January 22, 26 and 29 in Delhi, Nashik and Mumbai will be rescheduled until late March.

While the races will be pushed back into the heart of the spring classics in Europe, the arrival of key Indian government backing via the nation’s tourism arm — Incredible India — gives the nascent race a stronger foothold in what will be its third edition.

“‘Incredible India’ wants to use the race to promote Indian tourism and they will give us important government support,” McQuaid told VeloNews on Tuesday. “In countries like India, it’s hard to do anything like road closures or fly a TV helicopter without having the government on board. So having the Indian government support the race is very important.”

The UCI road commission met Tuesday to approve date changes for what officials are hoping will eventually develop into a multi-day stage race across the breadth of India, considered cycling’s final frontier.

The first race, now set for March 25, will be partially held on the Formula 1 race course in Delhi. The final day, scheduled for April 1, will be held once again in Mumbai on a similar urban route used in last year’s edition.

The biggest change with the arrival of Incredible India is government insistence to take the race into the troubled region of Kashmir along the Indian-Pakistan border.

The idea is to fly the peloton on charter flights from Delhi into the lush valley of Srinigar for a one-day race, set for either March 27 or March 28. The entourage would stay in Kashmir for a few days of racing and training before flying to Mumbai for the final race.

Those new dates will put the race in conflict with the European racing schedule already deep into the spring classics, but McQuaid said he’s hopeful that teams will still be able to attend the rescheduled dates.

“We had a great field set for the January dates. We had Lotto and Liqugas, with Sky and GreenEdge both considering to come. We also had five pro-continental teams and a good mix of national and regional teams,” McQuaid said. “Now with the new slot, it will be right in the middle of the spring classics, but the teams were really understanding and said they are trying to see if they can come.”

McQuaid said that “Incredible India” has committed to three years to the race with an option for more involvement in the future.

Improved TV coverage for 2012 also gives race organizers confidence that India could see a five-day stage race within the next few years. Future editions could take the race into Rajasthan.

“The government is really backing it. That’s important, like we saw in places like Malaysia or Beijing,” he said. “They’re hoping to expose the country through cycling.”

Late last month, officials had to pull the plug on the January dates.

An unnamed title sponsor pulled out December 14 while Indian officials also said that regional elections had been called from January until early March. A letter from the Indian cycling federation said that road closures necessary for the cycling events are not allowed during election season.