The longest race of the BBCH calendar is also one of the most challenging ones. Challenging not just because of the distance but also because of the wind conditions. The constant head/crosswinds and the uphill drags on route makes it very challenging.
The race was flagged off by Devanahalli Traffic Police and they escorted us for the first 6km of neutral start till we reached the Nandi turnoff. Even after the neutral start was over\n, the pace didn’t go up that much. It was clear that headwinds on the return and the 132k distance was playing on everyone’s mind. Usually, such pedestrian proceedings in a race would trigger the suicidal domestique instinct in me and I would go to the front to set the pace. But, having no teammates to work for and being fresh off a bout off flu over the last one week, kept me in check and firmly hiding behind wheels.
There would be an occasional attack that would be quickly covered and everyone would then go back to stroll mode. There was even an attack where the rider went away few hundred meters ahead of the group only to stop to pee as everyone rode past him. We were averaging about 37kmph. A bit bored with the pace, Anubhav Karmakar(Athloft) and Kiran Raju(BMR) rode off the front for a few km and were dangling a km or so ahead of the peloton. No one bothered to chase with more than 100k to go. After about 10k or so, it all came together again. The focus on the hydration and not much intensity in the first hour meant, my bladder was full and I needed to stop for a leak. I moved back and told my Spectrum Racing teammate, Vivek Bhateja, to wait for me so that we can chase back once I breathe a sigh of relief.
It was just over 50k then and I thought with the fireworks expected to go off after the U-turn at 66k, it was the right time to stop. But, I didn’t consider the possibility that my stopping could be seen as an opportunity to put distance between me and the peloton by my competition. I guess that’s what just happened.
I barely stopped for 30-40 secs before Vivek Bhateja and I started chasing. We were going super hard hoping to quickly close the gap to the peloton but it was nowhere to be seen. We began to pick up those who got dropped from the front group as we went by. That’s when I realized that someone turned the gas on as soon as soon as I stopped to pee. I cursed myself for my inability to control my bladder and the bad timing of the break.
My teammate, Mohan Kumar, who was also in Master’s category slowed down and fell back to help me chase. But by that time, he was already doing work at the front to increase the pace. So, he couldn’t help much with the chase as I pressed on. On the way, we picked up Hemendra Upadhyay(Team Crankmeister), Niranjan Iyer, Venky Keyframe(BMR) and Abhiram Bellur! I tried squeezing as much out of my body as possible as we kept the chase on.
As we neared the U-turn, we saw the front group on the other side of the road, about 700m/1min or so ahead. I saw the main competition in Master’s Vivek Radhakrishnan(BMR) at the front driving the pace, and my guess about who’s responsible for the sudden infusion of pace in the peloton after I stopped got confirmed. Looks like he had suddenly decided that he needed a good workout and got to the front in the process ensuring that I never make it back to the group. A totally logical, tactical move.
I knew that if we didn’t make it back to the front before the U-turn, there was no chance after. But, with 66k still to go to the finish after the U-turn, a lot can change. So, we kept on pushing.
Meanwhile in the front group, the action continued to heat up. Karan Kumar of VeloAmici Racing broke away at the U-turn and started building gap on the peloton. Vivek R and Loki built a gap on the group at one point and broke away for some time before they were caught. The constant buildup of pace kept whittling the group down one by one. We picked up the young rider from BMR, Rishab on the way while Hemendra dropped back. My teammate, Vivek Bhateja abandoned having burnt out in the process of helping me chase back. I pressed on the gas a bit and saw that only Abhiram was with me. We kept going.
At around 90k mark, on the long uphill drag, I started to cramp. To recover, I dropped a gear to spin higher, slowed the pace down a bit and took a big swig of my hydration drink. At the front group, on this same hill, Aman Punjani and Kiran Kumar Raju stepped on the gas to drop everyone. Only Naveen Raj(BMR) was able to stay with them as they began chasing the solo breakaway rider, Karan, who by now built almost 2mins gap over them.
The gutsy solo breakaway of Karan against stiff headwinds and crosswinds was having an effect on him. He was running out of water, energy and his pace began to flag. The lovely folk in the Crankmeister support vehicle which was there in support of KKR(Trek) and a few other Crankmeister riders, were sport enough to offer him water, energy bar and banana despite the fact that they were helping him race against the guy they were supporting. They respected the gutsy spirit of the rider and the beauty of the sport shone through their gesture in supporting everyone who is on a bike in whatever way they can.
In the chase group, Aman and KKR managed to drop Naveen Raj too on an incline. They managed to get Karan in sight nearing Nandi Upachar, with 6k to go. By that time Karan was on his last strands of energy and couldn’t follow them as they raced past. KKR opened the sprint as they approached the line but the younger Aman sprinted past him despite cramping legs to defend his BBCH Classic title from last year.
Finish line video by team Crankmeister!
Karan kept the rest of the riders at bay and crossed the line completely exhausted to take 3rd spot on the podium in Elite.
Behind them, Loki, Vivek and others got distanced on that hill at 90k mark. Vivek apparently hit a wall riding solo after that having paid the price for all the excitement he infused in the peloton to distance me. Apparently, like me, he too came into the race, happy but not too healthy, having some tummy trouble and nausea. The gamble he took by going hard to win back fired as he hit the wall. He had to abandon the race and get into a car. He had over 4 mins of gap over me at that time.
I had no idea that he abandoned. I was racing for second at that point and kept going at a steady clip in very fragile hope that I’d catch him if he has a flat or some other mechanical. It just happened to be physical instead of mechanical. When I crossed the finish line and my teammates congratulated me on the win, I was confused at first and couldn’t believe what I was hearing. It was immensely satisfying that all the pain chasing was worth something!
In the women’s category, BVCoaching gal, Lena Robra of Team Crankmeister took the win followed by another BVCoaching gal Kartika Rajaram. Nithya Srinivasan took the 3rd step on the podium. It was great to see 16 women taking part in the race this time!
U-18 podium was dominated by two riders from HRL from Hyderabad taking the first two podium spots. The third one was taken by the Bangalore U-18 kid, KV Aditya!
In the Amateur category, Dilipan Raj from Team Firebolts took the victory and the two remaining podium spots were taken by Maxwell Trevor Acadamy riders from Hyderabad.
In the non-road bike category, Team Crankmeister’s Peter DeSouza took the win followed by Abhishek Priyadarshi and Sangram Jena at 2nd and 3rd places respectively.
Thanks to all the volunteers, sponsors and organizers for executing another successful and safe race! Thanks to Devanahalli Police for extending their support for the bicycling community. Thanks to the Veloscope crew for the lovely pics!