Battle Royale of Climbers!
They have been trading blows for the last couple of kilometers on the famed climb. Or was it sharing the load piercing the considerable headwind? The young contender versus the defending champion. Mano-a-mano! Battling it out between themselves while riding away from the rest of the contenders. The fight looked close. Very close. Until the defending champ threw his first punch, getting off the saddle and dancing on the pedals and started riding away! Will the dance continue all the way to the top? Will he stay away from the rest of the equally experienced climbers?
The Stage Was Set!
With about 180 participants registered from all over the country, the Nandi Epic is one of the most eagerly awaited and fiercely contested race in the BBCh Calendar. The 45 Elite riders and 25 Masters riders were flagged off at 7am and the rest of the field of more than 100 riders of Amateur, U-18 and women category riders were flagged off for their shorter(65km) race at 7:10am. The race for Elite and Masters field was 112.5km. Both ending on the top of 7.34km ~5% climb, Nandi!
The race started from The Century Sports Village, just off the Hyderabad highway after the airport. We rolled into a neutral start for the 500m to the highway and off we went. My Spectrum Racing team skipper, Arvind Bhateja and I were at the front during the rolling start and expected that the enthu-cutlets will take over once we hit the highway. But those cutlets never showed up. We were still dangling at the front.
The Highway Dance!
I have asked Arvind to move back and I too slowed down to a crawl to move a couple of bikes back, forcing others to the front. That put another Spectrumite, Shankar Jayaraman at the front. I began to encourage a few of the friends like Nagaraj Harsha(Scott), Milam Saxena, Rushit Davda and others to take turns at the front and get the peloton moving. Everyone was super apprehensive about working and wanted to save themselves for the inevitable attacks that are going to come after the U-turn. Then there is the monstrous effort they would need to get up the hill at the end, after more than 100 km of racing. So, it felt a bit criminal even asking my out of shape teammates Gaurav Dwivedi and Vivek Bhateja to contribute at the front. But they willingly obliged for a bit. The initial kilometers ticked by with me trying to organize the front into some enthusiastic pedaling.
At 8km mark, KKR decided to infuse some josh into the peloton by attacking the hill. All the main contenders followed him up the incline and that put fear right back into the guys working at the front and moved them to the back. After the animating move, all the main contenders silently settled back into the peloton while my teammate, Mohan and I ended up at the front. Till that time, I was trying to save energy not because I wanted to go for placings for myself in Elite category, where I had no chance at all, but because I wanted to be there if my teammates in Master’s category needed any help covering any attacks after the U-turn. I knew if I spent energy before the U-turn, I would be pretty useless when the real action begins after the halfway mark. But with the way things were crawling, I have decided to stay at the front along with Mohan and set a decent tempo, without going berserk, so that we might still have a slim chance of staying on and contribute after the U-turn.
Around 20k mark, Lokesh Narasimhachar(Loki) of Cyclopedia Mysuru came to the front to animate it again resulting in the peloton being strung-out long and thin. When he shrugged the shoulders for others to take turns, of course, no one came through. It was Mohan again followed by me. Around that time, Punay Pratap Singh, the U-23 National ITT bronze medalist attacked and took off. We knew it was way too early with more than 90k to go. We just let him be and kept him in sight. Matthew Twynham, a triathlete from Trivandrum Roadies Club, got tired of sitting on and decided to breakaway. I knew he was in masters and I was only glad to let him go early and tire himself out of contention. I told Mohan and others like Kamalino(Bangalore Mavericks Racing) and Anand(Veloscope) who came to the front, not to close the gap but to do just enough to keep him in sight. We caught up to him on an uphill but he went again and again after a few kilometers. We let him be in our sight all the time and let him fall back tired.
Video by Jimmy Amrolia!
Even as he was working at the front, Mohan was taking out his handkerchief and was shooting snot rockets into it and on to the road. He was down with cold and a bit of fever for over a week but that didn’t hold him back from making it to the start line working his ass off at the front for the team. That was inspiration enough for me to take turns and relieve him of the duties from time to time. A few riders from other teams like DelhiVelo, VeloAmichi, Veloscope and BMR made brief appearances at the front in between and it was a welcome relief from the effort in the wind.
The Action Begins! The Scare And The Chase Back!
We were averaging just a shade under 40 kmph and in about 1hr 15mins, we approached the U-turn that was under a flyover. A few riders calmly moved to the front as they approached the turn and I was right there when I heard my teammate Vivek Bhateja instructing our support car which already took the turn to go back for Craig. I was not sure what was going on and slowed down as the riders began to go past me. Then another teammate told that Craig had a puncture and was getting a spare wheel. Our support car which already took the turn couldn’t back track to go help Craig but fortunately, another support car with Vinesh Chawla and Ashok Mehta quickly helped by offering a spare front wheel. Craig was our main contender in Master’s category and although he was strong enough to bridge up to the peloton on his own, that would definitely waste a few matches that he could use later at critical moments in the race. So, I decided to wait and help him get back to the peloton.
As soon as he came up after the turn, I quickly signaled him to get on my wheel and began to pound on the pedals. Thankfully, the peloton wasn’t going berserk and it was may be just under a km ahead by that time. All I needed was to be able to see my target and I could work with it. It took me a 3 min Vo2 interval and we made it to the back of the peloton. I knew that there were long 1-2km climbs coming where decisive attacks were going to come and I needed to quickly recover. I sat on at the back for a few minutes and as the nearly 1.8km 3% climb was approaching I moved to the front again to see if I can slowly drop back as the climb progressed and hang onto the tail of the peloton by the time it ended. But the problem with that plan was, the climb was too long and with the attacks that were going to come, there wasn’t going to be a tail or a head for the peloton. There wasn’t going to be a peloton. Only small groups of riders. The only way to be able to survive that hill and make it to one of the front groups was to be able to put in another 3-4min Vo2 max effort. At that point, I didn’t have another one of those at my disposal and I quickly got dropped.
Break The Peloton Into Pieces!
At the front a selection was made with 11 riders including KKR(Trek), Loki(Cyclopedia), Parshuram Chenji(Ciclo Team Racing), Craig Raynes(Spectrum Racing), Naveen Raj(BMR), Sreenath Lakshmikanth(Scott), Anubhav Karmakar(PropelRaceFit), Siddarth Krishnan(Veloscope), Sampath Valluripalli(TheBikeAffair), Nikhil Anandshekar and Graham Maltby(DelhiVelo). Masters riders, Vivek Radhakrishnan and Arvind Bhateja put in a massive effort to make it to that group but got dropped on the next uphill.
They dropped back to the second group with riders like Simon Sawada, Daniel Vaverka(DelhiVelo), Sudeep Rao, Tarun Rao, Kamalino, Nagaraj Harsha, Nigel Smith, Venky Keyframe, Vishnu Janardhan, Ranjith Renju and a few other riders. A third group was behind them comprising of mostly master’s riders like Gautam Chima(DV), Bachi(VeloAmici), Rushit Davda, Russell Bell etc. Having recovered a little, I formed a forth group by catching upto Mohan, Matthew, George Varghese and Sanjay Krishnamurthy. I knew that with two of my team’s master’s contenders up the road, it didn’t make sense for Mohan and me to work with two other master’s riders in Matthew and Sanjay, to chase back. Ideally we should just sit on and let them chase if they want to. But, that wasn’t going to fly with the gentleman that is my teammate, Mohan. So, I told him to take very small pulls and I decided to do the same.
The Bridge Back!
I told Sanjay, that all the uphills were his and I will work only on downhills or he can take those too. He was fine with it. I communicated to Matthew that he has to take his turn at the front and sitting on wasn’t going to work and he agreed to contribute although he must have been super tired with all the break attempts he made earlier. George needed no encouragement and he was keen to bridge up to the group at front. We kept seeing the third group at about 500m ahead all the time. We kept going well but I left the majority of the work to others and kept reminding Mohan to get back. Sanjay as promised was taking the uphills strongly and that resulted in first Matthew getting distanced followed by George and then eventually Mohan. Sanjay and I kept going and managed went get within 200m of the third group as we got close to Nandi cross. When I saw the Spectrum pink and blue in that group, my heart sank knowing that it was Arvind. I was hoping he would be further up the road with the second group but apparently the efforts chasing the first group had cost him and he got dropped from the second group after a few more kilometers. Now, I brought another master’s contender to him although my contribution was minimal.
Up the road, the lead group was working well to ride away from the rest. They had a big gap over the second group with riders like Vivek R, Nigel etc. I was in the third group a few minutes behind them as we approached the hill.
The Decisive Dance On The Hill:
As the 11 riders hit the base of the hill, all the bets were off. The battle of watts per kilo started. Everyone was jostling for position and choosing the wheel to stick to. That resulted in a touch of wheel around 700m into the climb and one of the race favorites and past winner of the race, Loki had a fall. In the meantime, KKR and Parshu were off the front and began to work together to ride away from the rest.
They have been trading blows for the last couple of kilometers on the famed climb. Or was it sharing the load piercing the considerable headwind? The young contender versus the defending champion. Mano-a-mano! Battling it out between themselves while riding away from the rest of the contenders. The fight looked close. Very close. Until the defending champ threw his first punch, getting off the saddle and dancing on the pedals and started riding away! Will the dance continue all the way to the top?
As KKR began to ride away, Parshu seemed to have lost a bit of steam. Naveen Raj began to work his way back to Parshu and went past him. He looked to have found his mojo and began to pound on the pedals like a man possessed chasing the skinny guy who seemed to be dancing on his pedals. The gap kept looking tantalizingly close but on each hairpin bend, KKR would ride away from him.
Loki, having recovered from the crash quickly set about making up for the lost time. He went past Sreenath and quickly set about chasing Parshu who was now the third man up the hill. He knew this hill as the back of his hand from his past experience winning this race and having ridden it hundreds of times. He was in top shape and having won the prestigious Mysore Dussera race up Chamundi, he was training hard for making a comeback on Nandi. He put the crash behind him went about chasing the rider in front.
KKR never stopped dancing on the pedals and Naveen never managed to catch him till the end. The skinny MTB champ managed to defend his Nandi race win from last year while Naveen Raj finished 16 seconds behind him with a super gutsy ride. Loki did manage to catch and pass Parshu to finish 8 seconds ahead of the young man from Ciclo racing to take the third position. Parshu, to his credit put in a ride of his life to better his personal best by more than 2mins, that too at the end of a hard fought race. It was a superb performance by Sreenath, the young state champion from Kerala. We are going to see more of these names in the coming years. All the top 10 put in a massive effort to be there. In fact, it was an epic ride not just for the top 10 but for everyone who made it to the top of the hill. It was one hell of a race.
Video by Jimmy Amrolia!
In Master’s category, after suffering a flat at the U-turn then getting back to the peloton and making the break to ride away from rest of the master’s, Craig put in a 25min climb to clinch the win in the category by nearly 6 minutes. Vivek Radhakrishnan took 2nd spot with a solid ride coming back from injury. Nigel Smith finished nearly 5 minutes after Vivek to take the well deserved 3rd spot on the podium.
In Women’s category, Lena Robra put in a solid ride to drive the pace of the Amateur field from the front. She suffered a flat just before the base of the climb and lost the peloton. After a quick wheel change, she caught and passed all but three of the amateur riders to not only take the win in women’s category but to finish 4th overall. She put in her personal best climb time of 25:54! Kudos lady!
In U-18 category, Anirudh Arvind took the win followed by Aman Thadani(VeloAmici). Prajwal Pingali finished 3rd in the category.
Milan Josy took the win in Amateur category followed by BMR’s Kiran Raju at 2nd. Yash Kotwani took the third spot on the podium.
Bangalore Bicycling Championships- 2017!
Another great season at BBCH comes to an end. The BBCh race council and the volunteers have done another stunning job of organizing a flawless race to end the season on a high(literally too). In the view of growing traffic on Sunday’s this season’s Nandi Epic was moved to a Saturday and to top it, with the help of Dr. Arvind Bhateja and Chikkaballapur MLA Dr. Sudhakar, they got the hill closed for traffic for the duration of the race! That was a massive win for cycling in Bangalore. Hopefully this is a signal of things to come with the sport.
BBCh organizers have continuously kept raising the bar with their meticulous planning and execution of the events. We are lucky to have such an awesome racing platform serving us with great races through the year. Thanks to all the volunteers and sponsors for making sure that the races are safe and are well executed. Looking forward to a bigger and better 2018 season!
The beautiful pics for the post are by Mohammed Azaruddin. Check out his full album here.
Full results from the race are here.