Naveen John Interview – 2 Times Indian National Time Trial Champion Cyclist

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John Naveen: I actually got into riding when I was in the United States. I was doing my Bachelor’s and I got into the sport through collegiate cycling and I keep telling people that the reason I got hooked on the riding wasn’t so much the bike riding. It was the social aspect of riding and just hanging out with a bunch of like-minded folks, who in their free time, decided they wanted to flog themselves on the bike and that’s how I got into it.

Then, got introduced to racing and then figured out that I was pretty good at one particular aspect of racing, time trialing, and then it just snowballed from there, really. That’s how I got into it.

David Heatley: You were racing over in America?

John Naveen: Yep. In college. The nice thing about collegiate racing in the United States is it’s such a low pressure racing environment. It was relief for the majority of us. It was a reason to escape on the weekend, get away, do a road trip, so because it was that kind of racing where it wasn’t all about the results, it was more about just getting out there, having fun, it was great way to get into it. Then, started getting introduced to non-collegiate racing, that kind of stuff. Yeah.

David Heatley: Then, from there, you did some racing-

John Naveen: Yep.

David Heatley: Really good at time trial, right?

John Naveen: Yeah.

David Heatley: What happened after that?

John Naveen: After that the seed was planted. In college, as you do, you spend the night out inebriated and you may joke around about, what is your deepest, darkest fantasy related to bike racing? We joke and someone says, “That would be cool, going professional,” and it made it my joke, “Wouldn’t it be cool if you went back home and won your national TD title?” That was it, it stuck. It was that seed that was implanted. It was inception and it just grew from there. Yeah. Four years later, decided to go back home and do exactly that. Yeah. That’s where it started.

Then, it started becoming a little bit more serious. The goals started to get a little loftier. Winning a national title was one thing, but then trying to do something that’s never been done in the sport in India, which is really step outside of the country and see what the real level of racing is like. Going to Europe and basing myself there for about three months was an amazing experience. I realize that isn’t so much …

You can’t really say that talent is what’s holding you back when there’s so much more you can do, there’s so much more to grow. If you’re just exposed to that level of racing, there’s a lot of progression and that’s what happened. In three months, I went from a national TT title, not finishing in kermesses, to being in the front group and I was like, “If that’s what can happen in three months, what can happen if there’s more stimulus?”

Then, that year allowed me to, it was sort-of a stepping stone to reaching out to teams outside. No one really cared if you are the Indian National Time Trial Champion. No on has heard about cycling in India. Nobody really cares, but you tell them you went to Belgium and you talk to them about this progression and you talk to them about your top 20’s and top 15’s in kermesses within three months and then, they’re kind-of interested. “Okay, you’re the Indian National TT Champion, but you’ve also raced in Belgium and you’re in the front groups and you’re progressing,” so that opened up a couple of doors and one of them was the opportunity with State of Matter. Yeah. We talked about it and we felt that we could both benefit from it and yeah, ran with that.

That led to a rather innocent evening that I spent up in a mate’s place in Bendigo, of all places, eating dinner and I get this message out of the blue saying, “Hey, call me back. This is important.” Okay. A guy in India, who I’d never heard from in a long time, and I replied to his message and follow-up and find out that India has the opportunity to go to the worlds or the first time in a very long time, in about 25 to 30 years, and just followed that. This is two weeks before worlds, so my initial reaction was that of shock, but I was with a pretty good mate of mine who’s been around the block in terms of bike racing and things like that, won Tour de Korea, and he told me, “Just calm down and just knock out the steps necessary too get me there in the most relaxed way possible,” and that’s what I did.

Yeah. It was in Qatar and man, I didn’t know what to expect and so that was the whole part to my approach to worlds, was I can’t really surprise anyone massively, but I can mess it up if I do the wrong things in training and that’s when I reached out to you and we had two weeks left. Sometimes training is not so much about what you need to do, as opposed to, what are the things that you shouldn’t do. What are the things that can totally sabotage training? I think that conversation that we had is, what are the four sessions that I can do between now and D-Day, to maybe not boost and to maybe not progress too much, but just hold what I have, because I’m in a good place, so how can we hold onto that? That was-

David Heatley: Because we were working towards your national time trails.

John Naveen: Exactly, yeah. Exactly. We were working towards national time trials that was eight weeks away and then all of a sudden this shows up three weeks before that, so how do you adjust on the fly?

David Heatley: Just a little bit of a polishing.

John Naveen: Exactly, yeah. That was the best part about having you to bounce those ideas off of. That was the money.

David Heatley: Fantastic.

John Naveen: Yeah.

David Heatley: Then you came back to India?

John Naveen: Yep.

David Heatley: Nationals.

John Naveen: Yep. That was also very interesting because I’m usually used to being a little clinical in my training and things like that. I’ve got to see those numbers just increasing week to week and I, unfortunately, this time, with the worlds coming in between, I didn’t have the luxury of that perfect build. Normally, I spend two weeks to a month where I’m going to race, ride the course over a bunch of times, get familiar with the conditions, but this was a different approach to nationals from what I’d previously done, what I was comfortable with, which is just land, get on the ground, be ready to perform, so that was a new experience for me.

Yeah. If you are riding at the continental level, it’s something that you have to do pretty often, but for me, it was the first time that I was put in that situation, so that was also a massive learning experience, is definitely things I learned from worlds. For worlds, I went there six days ahead of time, but for nationals, I decided from the mistake I made at worlds, I decided just land there a day before, because sometimes when you get into a new place, there’s a lot of variables, like where do you train in Doha? What do you do … It’s hot at 7:00 AM in the morning, so everything changes.

There’s a whole bunch of new variables and you’ve got six days and you’ve got to really nail those six days if you’re there longer than planned. Yeah. I suppose sometimes you’re lucky and you arrive in ideal conditions and everything runs smoothly, but in Qatar nothing was smooth. You couldn’t even figure out where to ride your bike. Picked up on that lesson and applied that to nationals and booked my tickets literally two days before. It went pretty well.

David Heatley: Nationals ride?

John Naveen: Nationals ride was, again, one of those things, just relying on previous experience. Again, relaxing was the biggest thing, which I guess just comes from doing the same thing over again and just trusting the fact that you know what you need to do, you just have to do it. I think you get your best results when you sit back and, yeah, as opposed to, that paralysis by analysis.

Just go with the flow and that’s what I did. It worked out all right and to be honest, yeah, I set a power target. It was really hard because I didn’t have that confidence of multiple weeks of seeing the numbers go up, so I did that power test that we talked about, the one on the track, the 20 minute test, a week before. I know in a week, my fitness isn’t going to progress that much, so use that as the baseline, set a couple brackets for what I could go over for the hard parts of the course, the headwinds and the risers, and just nailed it. That was that. I didn’t look at my speed at the end, when people told me I averaged like 46 and a half or whatever, fro me, that was something I’d never done before, so it was really good to see that I moved on that much from two years ago, where there was a half a second gap between me and first to a minute and thirty.

David Heatley: Yeah. A minute and thirty

John Naveen: Minute and thirty, yeah. Two and a half too.

David Heatley: Plus, we haven’t worked much together, really.

John Naveen: Yeah, but the little that we have worked, it’s been a different kind of relationship. I really like that I can tell you where I’m at and you can just pick up on that and you’re able to distill what needs to be done and then we can talk about it. I think I’ve come to a point where, yeah, where I need is, what do we need to focus on? You’re able to really, with me talking for about five minutes, you really … I don’t know. We haven’t been working for that long, but you get it, because you’ve had that experience of working with a whole bunch of riders.

David Heatley: Yeah.

John Naveen: It all goes back to that idea of specificity, I think. You’ve got to go the TT. There’s only so many things you need to do. Are you doing those things?

David Heatley: Yeah.

John Naveen: Everything else is just fitness, maintenance of fitness, avoiding injury, keeping that little bit of volume going so you can progress into next week, so yeah, that’s something that, if we were talking a year ago, I wouldn’t have any of that, that base knowledge, but yeah, I guess we just met at the right time.

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