Ahmed Madan, Bahrain’s young cycling prodigy, is once again home to celebrate Ramadan with his family and friends…but this time as the Asian champion, writes Abu George.
Wearing Bahrain’s colours with pride in Tajikistan, he raced in the Union Cycliste Internationale (UCI) Asian U23 (Individual Time Trial) championship taking on 17 representatives from other countries over a 24km individual time trial.
Humbly, Madan, 21, admits that the course suited him, starting with a steady climb and an escalated incline towards the end, followed by a rolling downhill. A short-sharp climb was ‘very much to his liking’; considerably easier than the work he had been doing in Andorra and Spain. He thrived on the downhill finishing before the crowds in the capital Dushanbe.
Starting fourth on the ramp with riders released one minute apart, it was not long before Madan caught up with those ahead of him in the first climb. Though it is a race against the clock, he was soon leading from the front, quite literally.
With no more riders ahead of him, the Bahrain national champion was forced to focus on his own race and manage his outputs. It is testimony to his growing skills and maturity that he set a time that no one would get close to. He finished an incredible 37 seconds ahead of the clearly disgruntled pre-race favourite from Uzbekistan and one minute 40 seconds ahead of third place. Indeed, his time would have placed him second overall in the Elite category the following day.
Madan becomes the first Arab to be crowned Asian Champion since the inception of the race.
In the road race, a few days later, every time he tried to join a breakaway he was ‘marked’ by other teams that had a full complement of riders to work with. After several failed attempts to get away and a subsequent mechanical problem with his bike, he settled in the peloton for 11th place.
The upside is that he will be celebrating all year by being able to include the multi-coloured hoops as Asian Champion on his Team Bahrain Victorious vest. It also means more valuable points in his quest to qualify for the next Olympics.
Ironically, he was nearly unable to compete in his own kit. Normally, Madan would carry the essential components of shoes and helmet in his hand luggage, yet on this occasion he chose to pack them in the hold and travel lighter through airports. Unfortunately, his bags were delayed for two days forcing him to borrow a helmet from his coach, Axel Costa, and cleats from a generous Indonesian cyclist with similar-sized feet.
Recognising that even small inaccuracies in set-up can lead to injuries, he was only able to take on gentle preparation rides. His own gear arrived the day before the race and under remote guidance from the Team Bahrain Victorious coach, Aritz Arberas, he did a race-pace reconnaissance of the course. It clearly worked although Madan admits the whole experience has led to ‘lessons being learned’.
Training with the elite Team Bahrain Victorious has helped him raise his game.
In two pre-season training camps in Spain, he was cycling alongside the likes of World Champion Johan Price and Olympic Champion Jonathan Milan, learning from them, helping him push to new levels – although he is determined to continue to improve.
He was also delighted to share a room at the camp with winner of two Asian championship medals, Chun Kai Feng, who was happy to share his extensive knowledge that Madan found ‘super-motivating’!
This Ramadan is a good example. He admits that last year was largely ‘experimental’, learning about how much to train and eat and at what times. Now, he has increased his training from three hours a day to five, while his diet has also been adjusted to reflect the workload. Madan is allowed to enjoy traditional Ramadan meals although his nutritional adviser will tweak this based on past and future schedules.
After Ramadan, he will be training with the Bahrain team as national champion as they prepare for the Gulf Games. It will be held in Kuwait in May for the individual time trial on the 22nd, after which he will be joining Team Bahrain Victorious at the Tour of Hungary.
Stronger, fitter and faster than last year, he is hoping to be of even greater assistance to his teammates, particularly as the course has been toughened with some brutal climbs on several stages. Also, there are more world tour teams participating.
Beyond that, the only fixed dates in his diary are the Islamic Games in Turkey in August followed by the Asian Games in China in September.
While he hopes to continue visiting new countries, particularly representing Team Bahrain Victorious in new tours, he is also happy to be back in Bahrain, at home with his family.