Bangalore Amateur Racing! What’s The Handicap System?
Those who are familiar with Golf might be well versed about a handicap system. This cycling tips article gives a good idea about what is handicap system in cycling. It basically sorts the riders in different groups based on their recent performances and starts the slowest group first followed by a faster group until the fastest group is started last. Theoretically at least, this gives everyone a fair chance to win. It doesn’t matter if it is a National champion or a weekend warrior, you stand a chance to win.
How? Say, the slowest group is estimated to ride at 31 kmph, for the race distance of 75.5 km in our case, it takes 2 hrs and 26 mins for them to cross the finish line. If the fastest group is estimated to ride at 43 kmph for the distance, they will take 1 hr 45 mins to cross the line. So, by starting the slowest group 41 minutes ahead of the fastest group, theoretically both the groups cross the finish line at the same time and probably can sprint against each other, thus leveling the playing field a bit.
The group that starts first is called ‘Limit’ group while the one that starts last is called Scratch. The group that starts just before the fastest is called Chopping block while other groups can be named after the gaps they are given compared to the Limit group.
While whoever finishes 1-2-3 get the podium, there is also a prize for the fastest time for the race.
Our National champion, Naveen John, happened to mention about this race format a few years ago and shared the cyclingtips article on it. But, it was not until December 2017 that we gave it a try at BAR. After the first race, the feedback was unanimously positive. Everyone had a great time racing, either trying to stay away from the group behind or trying to chase down the group ahead or both. So, we decided to give this format a regular run this season at BAR. In the first race, guys from the Limit group took 1-2-3 on the podium. In the second race a couple of months ago, guys from the Scratch group took the podium.
The handicap races work best when everyone in each of the groups work together to stay away from the group behind or chase the group ahead. Only after ensuring that their group is getting to the finish line first, should the tactics to beat the competitors within the group kick in. Otherwise, the group that works together best will win even if they are vastly outnumbered. That had been the case in the last couple of races with 4-5 riders of the Scratch group out working much larger groups that didn’t work very well together too stay away and get to the line first!
Get Set Go!
For the third handicap race of the season at BAR, there were 4 riders in the Limit group while there were 10 in the 16 minute group and 10 in the Chopping block and 6 riders in the Scratch group. We used a simple guideline(see the pic below) to categorize the riders based on their performances in the recent individual time trial(ITT) at BBCH where available.
The four riders of the limit group were flagged off at 7:30 am.
Then at 7:46 the 16 minute group was flagged off.
At 8 pm, 30 minutes after the limit group and 14 minutes after the 16 minute group, the 10 riders in the chopping block started the race. This group had a number of strong and young riders.
We gave another 9 mins and started the Scratch group at 8:09am as we knew 43kmph would be tough in the current wind conditions!
Aman Punjani(20y) from Hyderabad and Colorado who raced last season with Ciclo Team racing was in India for a study break and joined us for the race. Gagan Reddy(19y) of Ciclo Team racing, Naveen Raj and Vivek Radhakrishnan of Bangalore Mavericks Racing(BMR), Kiran Kumar Raju(KKR, Trek India), Craig Raynes and myself from Spectrum racing formed the Scratch group. Sunil Nanjappa of Tour of Glory joined our group as well.
The pace picked up right off the gun! Gagan picked up the pace with Aman, KKR, Naveen Raj and Vivek adding to it. In the meantime, we realized that Craig had a flat and had to drop off right away! Sunil got dropped too. With lack of sleep and feeling fatigued, I felt that missing a few turns might help me warm up and get into it. So, I stayed back at the tail end of the proceedings.
But the way the guys were going, the pace was super hot. Even with a very generous tailwind, I don’t think I ever saw 48kmph for nearly 30 mins. Only the burning sensation in my legs even while hanging on, made it very real! Whenever Gagan or Aman were at front the pace would go up noticeably and I’d run out of gears if it was down hill and run out of breath on uphills! KKR, Naveen Raj and Vivek were more calming influences. By the time we reached the U-turn at 37km mark, we were averaging 49.8kmph. Phew!
We made the turn and felt like we hit a brick wall! The same winds that were patting our backs and were helping us fly on the way out were now punching in our faces and knocking us back! But the young guns were marching on regardless!
As we were making the U-turn, we saw the Chopping block(39kmph, group) getting off the flyover on the other side. That meant they were about 1km ahead of us at that point. We went past a few riders from the Limit group(31kmph) but it was taking a long time to close the gap to the Chopping block and we were yet to see the 16min group(35kmph).
I was praying that our group would catch them quickly so that I can drop off this and join a more saner group. Riding alone against this headwind was suicide that I wanted to avoid at all costs. After about 10k after we made the U-turn, we had the Chopping block in sight. KKR asked that we slow down and keep them in sight till the last 10k where we could attack hard on a hill and go past them so that no one from that group could hang on. That was a sound idea but I reminded him that we did not pass the 16min group yet and for all we know, they could be miles ahead. Relaxing before we catch them could mean that we might never catch them and let them win the race.
So, having sat on till then and having no intention of suffering with them till the end, I volunteered to pull our group to close the last few 100m of the gap to the Chopping block. I suggested that when we get closer, they could attack and go while I stay with the slower group. I pulled for a few minutes and then Vivek took it up as we got closer and the young guns attacked to pass wide of the group. Even then, an alert young rider from BMR, Rishab, made it to the Scratch group as they accelerated away. This also broke the three Chopping block into pieces with everyone trying to bridge up to the faster group.
I ended up with my Spectrum Racing skipper, Arvind Bhateja and a couple of BMR riders, Venky Keyframe and Kiran Raju. Niranjan Iyer and Vivek were ahead of us but we couldn’t bridge.
Now it was just about surviving the headwinds and getting to the finish as soon as possible!
Up ahead the three riders, Saravanan(Spectrum Racing), Denil Lobo(Veloscope) and Sato(BBB) were going strong.
With 12k to go the Scratch group managed to catch them and when Aman attacked on the Volvo uphill, only Gagan was able to follow while KKR and Naveen Raj bridged up to them at a steady pace. Rest of the guys like Rishab got distanced and formed a second chase group.
As they approached the finish line, KKR began to lead with Gagan on his wheel followed by Aman and Naveen Raj. When he ran out of the gas too soon, Gagan ended up at the front which is not a great place to be with nearly 500m to go and a powerful sprinter on your wheel. Then knowing that he’d have no chance in a short sprint, Naveen Raj attacked from behind for a long drag to the line, leaving Gagan to chase. He managed to close the gap and kept going with his own effort with Aman following him closely. This worked perfectly for Aman who got that much more time shielded from the headwind before opening his own sprint to just edge past Gagan and beat him to the line by a wheel length or so!
Naveen Raj finished 3rd followed by KKR at 4th!
Rishab finished 5th by taking the sprint from the chase group that formed behind.
Thanks to my teammate, Craig Raynes for the awesome finish line videos! His puncture ended up making him the official photographer. 🙂
That was one hell of a race with the leaders finishing the 75.4k at 42.3kmph, which is only 90secs slower than the course record! Everyone just love this format. So, the next race on 1st July will be the same format instead of an ITT as previously scheduled.