A Game of Attrition!
BBCH Criterium this year was organized on a brand new course in Century Sports Village just after airport toll off Hyderabad highway. The circuit was a very interesting loop with many flowing corners making it quite technical. The loop starts a little inside, goes down to take a U-turn near the entrance of the property, a 90 degree right hander quickly followed by a left hander takes you to an acute angle right hand turn followed by four quick left turns that lead you back to the starting/finishing straight. While the number of turns make it difficult to make it super fast, the course itself is completely flat. In the aerial view, the course could pass off as the Nike logo. The riders had to be quick on the corners and ‘just do it’.
With a short technical circuit(1.4km) like this, with a field of varied abilities, it is difficult for those who lose the leaders to stay in the race for long without getting lapped. If the leaders manage to catch you from behind(or lap you), you will be out of the race. So, once you are distanced, it is going to be riding for survival in the race. The races are short time based, typically 30-60 mins in duration. So, the start of such races will be high intensity, the middle will be higher intensity and the end will be even more high intensity. Whoever can keep that intensity for the longest and have more high intensity matches to burn tend to do well. It is a game of attrition with the last man/woman standing winning the race.
The Women and U-18 categories started together at 7am for a 30 min race around the circuit. The young ones were off to a flyer right away with 15 year old, Vivek Shivakumar, setting the pace. Aman Thadani, Imaad Sait, Gautam David, Saish etc were on his wheel. After about 3 laps, Vivek felt the burn of staying constantly at the front and sat back while others started to set the pace. Aman, Imaad, Vivek and Gautam were sharing the load for sometime before Imaad broke away from the group halfway through the race. Others probably thought it was too early but before they knew, he developed a big gap that they could not bridge.
Eventually, Aman finished second a few seconds behind in second place while Vivek finished 3rd. It is so heartening to see the numbers in U-18 growing. Some of them learnt some lessons in race tactics the hard way by burning the matches too early and having nothing left towards the business end of the proceedings. Showing up and racing is the best way to learn. No amount of theory or watching the races can teach you what practical experience can.
In Women’s category, the field had two national level medal winners. Rutuja Satpute is the current National champion while the Bangalore girl, Samira Abraham is a bronze medal winner in ITT discipline at Nationals. Lakshmi Tangadurai from Chennai started off setting the pace for the initial laps while the more experienced riders including Samira(Sam), Rutuja and Tim Tim Sharma, held back a bit. About 10 mins into the race, Samira took to the front and distanced the rest with only Rutuja managing to bridge up to her.
They rode together from then on with Sam setting the pace and Rutuja taking occasional turns. With 10 mins left in the race, Sam attacked and managed to distance Rutuja as well. She built a huge gap on all her opponents and lapped quite a few other contestants.
The field was the biggest in Amateur Category. The action was hot right from the word go with Izak Spies from SA and Tarun Rao building a gap and staying away. A chase group of four formed behind with Niranjan Iyer, Kartikeya Panwar, Kamalino Ramodoss and another rider from Chennai. After a few laps, Niranjan tried to bridge up to the leaders but ended up in no mans land riding alone for most of the race. Kartikeya and Kamalino were working hard to bridge up to the leaders with another rider sitting on their tail, but the gap only got bigger and bigger with time.
Tarun was hanging on to Issac’s wheel for dear life. There was a prime lap with cash prize collected from the viewers called crowd prime. Tarun burnt whatever matches he had and sprinted to take the prime lap. After that Issac left him behind and went solo. By then, they lapped majority of the field. Issac took the win with Tarun finishing second and Niranjan taking third.
For Master’s Category, the race didn’t see a huge turnout. Part of the reason being the change of age cut off from 35 to 40 years this year. But the lack of numbers didn’t mean the lack of action. Ashok Mehta set a blistering pace for the first lap before Craig Raynes(Spectrum Racing), Mohan Kumar(Spectrum), Rajani Kanth and Nigel Smith(Scott) set the pace and distanced the others. For about 10 mins the pace was relatively calm and the front four stayed together. As the pace picked up, Mohan was the first one to get distanced.
Rajani and Nigel managed to stay on Criag’s wheel with Rajani taking an occasional turn. Halfway through the race, Craig upped the pace to distance the duo. The gap kept growing as Craig began to lap the rest of the field. Eventually, Rajani attacked and distanced Nigel to ride solo taking second place on the podium. He and Nigel were the only people who did not get lapped by the Aussie diesel.
There was a short kids race organized for one lap. Since it is a closed loop and controlled environment, it is a perfect opportunity to let the kids have fun. Tiny tots from 4-12 years old participated enthusiastically. It was a nice fun way to introduce the next generation to the sport.
After the fun kids race came the final event of the day. The Elite race where two National champions were taking part. Naveen John(Gold, ITT Nationals) and Arvind Panwar(formar ITT and Road race national champion). Both are now representing Ciclo Team Racing. They were working for their development team rider, 19 year old talent Aman Punjani. The action began very calmly with a couple of laps at a calm pace where major contenders all remained together. Then a couple of wattbombs exploded and distroyed the pack. The three Ciclo Team Racing riders broke away and started to build a gap.
Naveen Raj and Muralidhar were the first chase group. A couple of Scott riders were chasing behind them while Spectrum Development team rider, 17 year old, Gagan Reddy formed another chase group behind them with Rajat Subhra Roy(PuneWolfpack), Tejaswi(17 year old from Mysore) and Ben Joseph(LBB). Raghu Mohan, Ryan Krzr(TI Cycles) and Vivek Bhateja(Spectrum Racing) were another group. Rest of the field was spread out with solo riders.
The Ciclo Team Racing team kept ploughing through the field lapping one after the other at a blazing pace. It was mesmarizing to see the three riders ride in unison like a well oiled machine. Naveen John and Arvind Panwar were taking turns with Aman riding adeptly on their wheels. It is not easy to stay with such strong riders unless you yourself have a decent capability. It is symbolic of how they are mentoring to do well in Nationals and beyond. The young guy not only has great talent but also works extremely hard under the able guidance of his coach and teammate, NJ. He’s set to pursue collegiate racing in the Boulder, Colorado(US) later this year. Although he’s aiming to do well at Nationals this year, the goals go much beyond them. Let’s wish him all the best.
The Ciclo train kept eating up all the chase groups like a Pacman game. The last standing group was Naveen Raj and Murali who struck like glue to Naveen’s wheel. It was like Naveen Raj(NR) doing an ITT against the Ciclo Team Racing’s TTT to stay in the race and avoid getting lapped. As the three leaders kept coming closer, Naveen Raj increased the pace further. With that infusion of pace, finally Murali was dropped and eventually got lapped by the leaders. The audience kept cheering for NR for every lap he managed to stay away. It was incredibly inspiring to see the grit and perseverance of that guy. He rode like a man possessed throughout the race and managed to be the only guy completing the race apart from the Ciclo trio. If his top end is half as good as his engine, he would not get dropped when the attacks fly. That’s the reason he does very well in time trials but struggles to make decisive breaks during road races at the highest level. Hopefully, he’s able to work on his weaknesses and do well in this year’s nationals which is his goal.
Thanks to the volunteers and organizers for another superbly organized race. Thanks to Century Sports Village for the venue and all the other sponsors for supporting this great platform for racing in Bangalore. The organising committee has been working on improving the races all the time. The communication to all the racers with detailed start times etc., was sent a day in advance so that they can time their arrival, warm up etc. A skills clinic was organized on cornering techniques etc by the National champ, NJ, to benefit everyone.