7:05 am on a sleepy, chilly, Sunday morning 97 bikes and riders were standing in the left most lane of the Hyderabad highway a few km after the Bangalore International Airport. We were flagged off after a quick briefing and we started rolling on the first road race of the season. 100 km on the rolling course with heavy winds wasn’t going to be easy.
|The peloton being lead by Arvind on the way out! Photo: Stalin: RollingShutterz|
|Ronny, the bald Belgian drove the pace for most of the way! Photo: Sourav Kumar Das of Light Trails|
A few riders were getting impatient seeing their hr in zone zero sitting in the bunch. One of them was my teammate, Shankar Jayaraman, who decided he needed to check if his heart was still beating and broke from the bunch and kept riding just some 50m metres ahead. After wondering for a while what exactly was he trying to do, I decided to jump ahead and pull him back to the bunch assuring him he’ll get ample opportunities to redline his HR in the course of the race.
All this furious activity meant a few riders new to group riding began wavering to pick the pace up resulting in taking themselves and a few others out with them. I was keeping quite close to the front 5-6 riders on the way out just because I wanted to avoid being struck in the middle and getting involved in possible crashes. I found myself a few riders back than normal occasionally but used to quickly get back up. Around 5km after the turn around a rider went down and took down some others. I narrowly escaped by slowing down and jumping off the road before getting back on and picking up pace to get back to the bunch quickly.
|One of the many attacks on the way back.. Photo: Stalin: RollingShutterz|
I was feeling horrible with the varying pace and didn’t feel I could last much longer. I conveyed the same to our skipper, Arvind, and told him to get ready to execute plan B which was to have him ready for the dash for the line for Master’s podium. He asked me not give up and hang in there close to him. He has a very polite way of saying HTFU.
Watch Out…Oh.. Ouch!
In trying to recover, I slowly slipped a few places down from the front and bang, it happened again! Cleated Warrior, Deepak Mhasavade had a touch of wheels with the rider in front and went down. Team BOTS rider, Kiran Kumar Raju crashed into him and I crashed into Kiran.
I don’t remember how I managed to keep my knees off the ground but I quickly picked up the bike and started to go. As soon as I got on the bike, I realized my right brake lever/shifter completely bent inwards. I quickly checked if shifting and braking were working and they seemed to be fine. Instead of using the hoods, I had to stay in the drops and try to shift from there. The group at the front developed a good gap by then and it was time to chase. In a few meters Kiran joined and he began to go quite strongly.
I jumped and latched onto his wheel and hung on as he went hard chasing the group ahead that had all the Master’s contenders including my skipper, Arvind. It was during that chase that I saw the first signs of cramps. I quickly took a couple of swigs of my energy drink and mentally crossed my fingers. After what looked like an eternity but which wasn’t more than a couple of kilometers, we made it back to the group largely thanks to Kiran. All I did was hang on as if my life depended on it.
Hang In There!!
After making back to the group, I promptly sat at the front two three positions not wanting to go down any further. By then another group went ahead with a couple of team Wheelsports riders, Laxman Kurni(SKCT), Lokesh Narasimhachar(SKCT), Asif Attar(Globeracers) and Aditya Kaul(Team ProCycle). They were the third group and our large group of mostly masters riders became 4th group on the road. After recovering a bit, I began to share the turns at the front with Ronny and Vivek with Arvind and Shankar chipping in to keep me from being at the front for too long. Ronny was driving the pace strongly on the inclines and it was difficult hanging on. To keep going, I kept reminding myself that everyone must be suffering and that I can recover on the downhills. I was deliberately not looking at any of the figures on the Garmin and was focusing on just hanging on.
|The master’s bunch… Photo: Arun Kumar of Light Trails|
With about 15km to go, Naveen Raj tried to break with his team boss, Vivek in tow. I quickly jumped on to Vivek’s wheel before he got on Naveen’s wheel. The cramps made another appearance when I stood up to make the jump but I got his wheel. The smart chap that he is, Vivek didn’t want to tow me into the break and so sat up and fell back into the group. In the process we lost Arvind who himself was suffering from cramps and decided he had enough. I still had my teammate Shankar Jayaraman with me and we decided to keep going after briefly considering if he should fall back to bring back our skipper to the group. With 10km to go Ronny, Vivek, Rajani, Shankar and I kept rotating smoothly. By now we gobbled up a few riders who failed to stay in touch with the breaks they got into. Sarvesh and Aditya Kaul joined us having fallen back.
The Dash For The Line..!
As the kms kept rolling down, the tension in the group kept mounting. No one wanted to ride too hard at that time. I kept drinking regularly to keep the cramps from becoming strong. With 5km to go, Rajani tried to jump ahead and I quickly joined him and tried to encourage him to keep going to build on the gap we got on the group. He seemed to realize there was no point carrying me along with him and fell back to the group. As the odometer kept ticking by, my teammate Shankar began to drive the pace at the front and kept riding strong.
1km to go.. 500meters to go.. Rajani tried to jump again and I promptly got behind him. Then Vivek tried to jump and I got behind him as Rajani faded. Then I reached Naveen Raj who was slightly ahead and tried to bridge up to him. The handle bars were getting crushed under our grips and the bodies were swaying as we tried to channel every ounce of our energy into the pedals. As the line got closer, around 100meters to go, I stood up to put the cramping legs to one final torture as I opened my sprint. I sat down a few meters from the line with the utter disbelief that I actually went past a few strong riders and finished at the top of the master’s podium. I was punching air in elation but was still wondering if it was real. The cramps in the legs as I continued past the line told me it was no dream and that I was painfully and yet joyously awake. It was indeed my first win!
Vivek Radhakrishnan finished 2nd with Ronny finishing 3rd. Rajanikanth, riding for team Wheelsports finished 4th on the Master’s podium.
|Master’s Podium.. Product of a great team work!|
The action at the front as I later learned was pretty intense as well. It unfolded with the very early break of Sangamesh and Manu and the chasers in the form of the second break that formed immediately after the U-turn with Naveen John(NJ), Santosh Mane and Sarvesh. In the chase group after working with the guys for a while, NJ managed to ride the other two off his wheel and then began to bridge up to his teammate Sangamesh.
|NJ doing what he does best, driving the break and riding others off his wheel.. Photo: Arun Kumar of Light Trails|
By the time he made it to Sangamesh with less than 10km to go, Manu who apparently worked too much during the way out got ridden off his wheel by Sangamesh. So, it was smooth sailing for the duo from SKCT to the line. The third chase group that formed with a couple of riders each from Team Wheelsports, Globeracers and SKCT, finished a couple of minutes behind the leaders with Asif Attar and Laxman Kurni fighting it out for the third spot on the podium. Asif finished third and Laxman fourth.
|NJ does it in style with Sangamesh! 2 in 2 so far this year for NJ! Photo: Arun Kumar of Light Trails|
|Men’s open podium!|
Spectrum Racing’s Vicki Nicholson won the Women’s category by a good margin. With the other women riders from team Wheelsports and SKCT marking her, she had to work with her teammates to not only try and stay with the peloton but also lose the competition that’s tailing her. When Hari Menon who was doing his domestique duties burnt himself out in the process of riding the other women riders off their tail, we got the information through our support team that she was alone riding against the winds and sent Mohan back from our group to help her. She finished the race in 2:51:52 with Gitanjali and Saheera Attar of team Wheelsports finishing in 3:08:41. Fariyal Jamadhar of SKCT finished fourth in 3:38:47.
Piet Moeleker won the Cat2 race. He would have been second place in master’s podium if he were to register in Master’s as he finished just behind me. I didn’t even realize that he was in the race until I heard that he finished behind me. He rode that smartly completely hidden from the front. Anoop Kutty of Trivandrum Bikers Club(TBC) who came down from Trivandrum to participate in this race, finished 2nd in Cat2. Although he is a little disappointed to have lost the peloton 55km into the race, it was a good performance from him in his first big mass start race to finish in 2:50:37. Sudeep Rao finished 3rd with 2:51:03.
It was a fantastic race not just because my team, Spectrum Racing, and I had a very good result but also for the classic way the race action unfolded. It was a great outing for SKCT as well with 3 positions in the top 4 in open category and one in master’s. Although one of the other top teams, Globeracers had a good race with their riders having good representation in breaks and eventually managing to put their best rider on Podium, team Wheelsport missed out in the top action in this race with their best rider, Sreedhar Savanur not making it to the start line. Team TrekFirefox was a no show except for the team’s local rider, Sarvesh Arya who fought a lone but brave battle, in vain. More representation from the other top teams would have made the race even more interesting at the top.
For me personally it was a great result and a great learning experience. The take away from the race for me was to stay positive and mentally alert. A lot can happen in a race, especially over 100km. Things can change either for better or worse, in fraction of seconds and if you manage to hang in there, you might give lady luck a chance to help you out. You never know!
It was outstanding. The organizing team has done a splendid job of getting the race rolling on time. Almost first time in its history, BBCh race has started on time, i.e., with only a 5 minute delay from a professed 7am start. With so many registered riders coming in from far off, to pull it off on time was a great thing. That was largely possible because of a few process changes they have made based on the feedback from the last race. They made the online registration compulsory and eliminated the spot registrations completely. They also made the indemnity form online and eliminated manual signed forms. This meant they only needed to spend time for distributing the bibs and briefing the riders on safety before flagging the race off. By including a cut-off time of four hours for the race, they ensured that another constant grouse for many, i.e., the podium delay was also taken care of this time. By 11:20 am they were able to get the podium sorted and announced.
There were crashes and other minor glitches but they were taken care of by the mobile volunteer and medical support teams. Some results complaints are still there with some of the rider bib numbers being missed at the finish line and they are sorting the complaints out.
It was a difficult course with a lot of rolling and headwinds on the way back. Lots of riders struggled to make it back once they lost the bunch early on. The results suggest only 55 out of 97 starters managed to finish in time.