‘I just wanted to show my country exists’ – Finding victory in last place

Not everyone comes to the World Championships to challenge for the rainbow bands.

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WOLLONGONG, Australia (CT) – On one side of the Worlds TT course, big names like Remco Evenepoel and Filippo Ganna were just starting their efforts. On the other side, Drabir Alam was just finishing his.

The 39-year-old Bangladeshi crossed the finish line on the Wollongong foreshore with a time more than 19 minutes slower than the roughly 40 minutes of eventual winner Tobias Foss. Average 34 km/h vs Foss’s 51 km/h, Alam had finished last in a field of 48 by more than seven minutes. But he didn’t care in the slightest.

“I’m exhausted and slow, but hey, I gave everything,” he told CyclingTips afterwards. “I’m happy. And I’m happy that I’m here.”

Alam didn’t come to Worlds to challenge “the big guys”; he had a much more modest goal. He’s the first rider from Bangladesh to ride a Worlds time trial, and his aim was simply to put his nation on the map.

So what does it mean to be a pioneer for his country?

“It means immensely much,” he said. “I actually have been prepping for this for a year. And all I wanted to do was just show that my country exists and there is cycling in my country. That’s it. That’s all I’m here for.”

Alam might have just finished the biggest bike race of his life, but he’s full of energy. Positive energy about the opportunity to race against the best in the world, about cycling more generally, about cycling in Bangladesh more specifically. Listening to him, it’s hard not to be inspired.

“In the global scheme of cycling, you have never heard of the word ‘Bangladesh,’” he said. “There are quite a lot of exciting youth there who’s actually picking up cycling and there is a wave of cycling coming in. So when we saw that the World Championship allows nations to come in and just represent their countries so that the world can see, we felt like this has to be somewhere where we can really put our name out there and now there are more people seeing us.

“We will have some more help. We will be able to train them better and maybe, maybe – just maybe – we can do something about it [a lack of attention for Bangladeshi cycling].”

Alam himself is new to the sport. He only started riding a few years ago, and has only had a time trial bike for four months.

“I actually started cycling when I was 35,” he says. “I had some health issues, I got into cycling, loved competitive cycling, eventually ended up [at] national races, won some medals there, and then I just wanted to promote cycling in my country.”

Racing at Worlds was the goal, but his lead-up was far from ideal. He broke his wrist just a month out from the time trial.

“I actually went for a training camp in the hills, there was a traffic up ahead, slipped, fell off, fractured my wrist, damaged something in my collarbone as well,” he said. “So all I could do was just get on the trainer, get on the aerobars and just practice like [nothing] else.”

His wrist was sore by the time he finished his effort on Sunday, but Alam clearly didn’t mind. He’d had the time of his life.

“Oh, my God, it was insane,” he said of his ride. “There were people who knew my name. I’d be out there and there would be complete silence and people would be like ‘Who is this guy?’ But they were actually cheering for me, for Bangladesh. It was amazing. It was so fantastic.”

So what’s next for Alam? Well, he’ll continue working on his own riding, and helping his fellow Bangladeshi cyclists.

“I’ll try to get onto the amateur [scene],” he said. “I turn 40 this year, so I want to do an Ironman as well. So I just want to see where it takes me. And in the meantime, we are training a few guys. They’ll be ready in a few years and hopefully there will be somebody there who can probably get into that top 20 or top 30 in the next four or five years.”

Alam isn’t racing the Worlds road race on Sunday – Bangladesh didn’t earn itself a place – but Alam won’t be far away.

“I’m a cycling lover at the end of the day,” he says. “I’ll be staying here on the weekends, cheering the guys on and absolutely loving it.”

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