Soon after he returned from Jakarta after competing at the Asian Games, Esow Alben decided to get a haircut. Not because the hair was too long for his liking, but because he wanted to change his look and feel more “relaxed.”

“Abhi change chahiye. Asian Games were not ideal so new beginnings now. If I am back home, I am more relaxed and try to do new things. I haven’t gone home since March and I miss home,” Esow says.

He may not be able to go home for a few more months though. India’s latest cycling sensation Esow is now in New Delhi to take part in the Track Asia Cup that begins from Friday and the teenager is looking to make a mark in the competition.

“There is a lot of difference between the level of competition in those tournament and this one in Delhi. This is not as difficult as those and it has only 100 rankings points. But I’ll have to do a lot to win here as well,” Esow says.

Apart from his loss at the Asian Games, it has been a fruitful year for Esow. Beginning with the gold medal at the Asian Junior Track Cycling Championship, he followed the win with three gold medals at Asian Track Cycling Championship and then came the historic silver medal at the Junior Track Cycling World Championships in Switzerland.

Esow hopes that he can now continue the good form despite a not-so-ideal performance in the Asian Games where he crashed out of the pre-quarters.

Back home

The Track Asia Cup will be his first home tournament in an year. He is back after a three-month long camp-cum-competition in European countries including the Junior World Championships in Switzerland. Now, he wants to use that experience here.

“The weather is nice there and we have some good competition to take part in. Because the Olympic qualifying process is long we have to be consistent in our performance and it’s good that we got a long camp there,” he says.

The 17-year-old from the Andaman and Nicobar Islands is looking the larger picture here and knows what his path could be if he wants to qualify for the Tokyo Olympics. But a thought of representing India at the top level never crossed Esow’s when he first began cycling, which was by chance, in Andaman.

Back in 2013, the teenager was at playing outside his home when his mother received a call from his father Didus Alben, a fireman with the fire department. He was on duty at an election rally and saw an ad for sports trials.

“He asked my mother about me and then I was asked to go for the trials. It was not cycling. I just turned up for the trials and was okay if they picked me for any sport. When I entered the trial everyone was looking at me because I was very young and had a small height. They selected me for rowing,” Esow recalls.

Big breakthrough

But that was only for a month. Most of Esow’s friends at the State Sports Council Netaji Stadium, Port Blair shifted to cycling. As his father had been a cyclist and competed in the Police Games, Esow was tempted to join the cycling camp. And then came the big breakthrough.

“In 2015 at the Kerala Nationals, there were two national competition. In the road nationals I didn’t win any medal but when I got a medal in track nationals, it was unbelievable for me. I was 14 and I had a medal and also selected for the camp,” he says.

That was a big step in Esow’s journey that has seen him become the first Indian to reach the top of the world rankings earlier this year. Currently he is third.

“He is third but for the past six months he has been in the top three. The rankings change every week depending on the competition you take part in. There are lot of competition that the European cyclists take part in so they get more points,” coach RK Sharma says.

But even after the historic medal and the records, Esow isn’t letting the achievement to his head.

“I have to be below 10 seconds in the sprint event to stand with the European cyclists. I am not saying I will win a medal but just to start against them. I can only participate for now at the senior level,” he says.

For sprint event, Esow has the national record which stands at 10.194 seconds in 200m. No Indian has achieved that timing at any level and that’s the reason Esow is rated so highly.

“I just hope to continue and win medals. I have so much to achieve for the country. There is a World Cup, World Championships and everything at the senior level. I want to win those tournament. So much to do,” he says.

But his immediate plan is to travel back home and relax with his family on the beaches of the Andaman and Nicobar Islands.

“In Delhi, there is pollution so even a relaxed ride will leave our body stiff. Back home it’s great. I can go to the beaches, enjoy with family, go fishing. I am eagerly waiting when can I go and go to the beaches. And also I can get a new hairstyle”.