I was taking a long pull at the front and just started to go to the back of the group to recover. It was 20km to finish! And he attacked. A couple of riders tried to follow. No one was able to follow. That’s where the race was won with one gutsy move!
Bangalore Bicycle Championships Hassan Express is an 118km race that starts just after the Nelamangala toll and goes out on Hassan highway for 59km before taking a U turn and comes back to Nelamangala. The course goes slightly downhill on the way out and like all things that go down it has to come up. Err… You get the point. It’s mostly uphill coming back to the finish line with a slight headwind.
The race had nearly 160 participants from 12 States all across the country.
Since the time the Masters category was started at BBCh , the masters field started and raced alongside the Elite field. It made it hard for those who couldn’t stick to the group and made it harder for those who could stick to the group. It was fun. But, with the number of masters riders increasing, and the Elite field itself ballooning in size each year, it made logical sense to separate the starts for Masters category and Elite category.
That’s what BBCh has done. Masters riders now start 5 mins after the Elite field starts the race but race the same distance and course. The criteria they are using to decide whether to have a separate start or not is the number of riders in the masters category should be more than 10. We were 12 masters riders at the start of this race with 14 registrations.
Having a separate start allows us masters riders to determine our own pace and our own race strategies. While a mixed field offers an opportunity to ride in the draft of faster and younger riders, not all masters riders have the ability or willingness to suffer through the higher intensity or the million accelerations that come with that.
Then there is also the all important aspect of safety. The huge size of the peloton racing on open roads brings its own risks even with the kind of safety precautions that BBCh takes. Also the younger riders themselves have a bit more risk appetite than us older folks. So, a separate start for different categories is a welcome change that could encourage more masters riders to join the races.
A flying start!
About 5 minutes after the Elite riders were flagged off, us masters riders started our race. With no teams being represented other than two riders from Team Bike Racing Outfit(Team BROS) in Abhishek Priyadarshi and Sangram Jena, all of us were solo warriors. What that meant was, no one had anyone working for them or for the group.
We quickly realised that it could turn into a slow Sunday group ride if everyone looked and waited for someone else to work at the front. So, I went to the front for a minute and urged the group to organise into a cohesive group with each of us contributing to the pace. Everyone apart from 2-3 riders were taking turns and pushed the pace of the group up.
We were motoring along nicely but when I noticed a few guys smartly missing turns and sitting back, I went to them individually and encouraged them to contribute and not just get a free ride. All of them but one obliged. Vladimir, the Russian rider from Goa, needed a bit more goading than normal. I did not hesitate to offer him more encouraging words. But, instead of taking turns at the front like everyone else did, he kept going off the front making some sort of Star Wars theme music.
I wondered why he would take off like that instead of helping the group move along. But that was better than him sitting at the back. So, every time he went off the front, I’d encourage the group to not chase him and disrupt the rhythm of the group in the process. It also had the added benefit of him hanging in the middle a little longer and tiring a little in the process.
Deryk, the Canadian from Delhi, Rajesh Ravi and Vikram were taking strong pulls at the front along with Abhishek, Sangram and myself. I noticed Ashwin Vig of LBB was missing from the group. Later learnt that he was lost to a puncture even before 10k into the race.
Sudhi Chandran from Kerala and Mahesh Iyer from Pune are two strong riders in the group. They were taking turns but were quite prudent about it. They did only the minimum they needed to do to not appear to be not contributing to the pace. They were riding how road races are supposed to be ridden.
When Abhishek Priyadarshi had a slight gap, I asked Mahesh if he was up for joining to bridge up and possibly ride away from the rest of the group. He said okay and I tried to force the pace to get away. We came about a couple of rumblers that meant we had to slow down and even without them, my jump lacked the punch it needed to actually distance the group. I realised that the race might actually end up in a sprint if we do not force something.
I talked to Abhishek and Sangram of TeamBros and offered to work for Sangram since he has a good sprint. That was because, I knew I had no chance in a sprint with the likes of Mahesh, Sudhi and the unknowns of Vladimir and Deryk. With the group likely to end up together all the way, I was willing to bet on Sangram rather than myself so that someone from Bangalore is represented on the podium. Without such bets I thought the race would end up being a bit bland.
After the U turn, I noticed that Sudhi was getting support from Team BROS support car. It gave me an idea that we could bring together some synergies and make the race a little bit more interesting. I suggested that with 20k to go Abhishek and Sudhi could attack and go off the front. That could force others like Mahesh and Vladimir to chase while Sangram and I could stay fresh giving Sangram a higher chance in the spirit. If they don’t chase, Abhishek and Sudhi would be guaranteed to fight for 1-2 while the rest of us can duke it out for 3rd. I got them on board to the plan and I started working.
Vikram and I were taking major turns and by now we lost a few riders like Deryk while we picked up a few elite riders who got dropped from their peloton.
As we approached the 100k mark, I just took a big pull and was about to go back to take a breather when Mahesh attacked. I was in no situation to follow. Sudhi and Abhishek tried to chase. I could see them struggling to bridge up. Sudhi got the closest to closing that gap when his chain snapped and he had to stop his race abruptly. Abhishek fell back to the group. Mahesh was gone. At that moment I knew the race was won by him with that daring attack to go solo in the last 20k.
Both Abhishek and Sangram indicated that they were struggling with cramps. At that point I knew I had to recover and do what I could to play for the podium. Vikram and I still worked at the front. A few riders like Krishna from the elite group that were on our tail came forward and kept the pace up.
With about 3k to go I got on Vladimir’s wheel since I knew he was the guy to beat. I told Sangram to be ready to jump on him with his sprint if he can. In the last km, Vladimir accelerated and quickly jumped and went with him. The big Russian was putting down some serious watts and I couldn’t match his watts to get around him and ended up finishing alongside him a wheel length between us. Sangram finished just behind me and Abhishek followed him.
Mahesh finished strong about 3 mins ahead of us. It was a truly well deserved win for him. I’ve been following him for a long time and the kind of consistent work he put in training over the years is what got him this win.
After all the strategies and tactics against each other, I had to whole heartedly congratulate Vladimir for the smart way he raced and for having the legs to deliver at the end. It is always great fun having these fun contests and laugh about them later. He is a sweet and friendly bloke off the bike.
In the Elite race, Rick Nobel and Chinmay broke away from the rest of the group with 10k to go. Rick took the win with Chinmay closely behind. The sprint for the third was one of the closest we have seen in a while. It was between two Kerala youngsters, John K Sunny and Sudhev. If the finish line was 2cm further down the road, Sudhev would have taken the win. But, John K Sunny took the third on the day by a whiskers length. The winning break rode at almost 43kmph and the peloton finished at 42.5kmph. That’s impressive even if the group was almost 50 riders strong.
In the women’s category, Priya Sugandh took the win followed closely by a young girl from Kerala, Devamitra P. The duo rode away from the rest of the group to finish almost 2 mins ahead. Third place was taken by Dr. Blanche Themudo from Goa.
Amateur category race ended up with a bunch sprint that was taken by Adhityan closely followed by Amaljith and Ashith Soman. Amateur category had a strong field of more than 50 riders.
It is really heartening to see more than 10 U-18 riders in the race. The sport is definitely picking up in the young demographic across the country.
The U-18 race was won by a Goan Youngster, Ashwel Fernandes who finished well over 4 mins ahead of the rest. The sprint was taken by Sanjay Ramesh followed closely by Dhananjay.
A big shout out to BBCh organizers and volunteers! As they keep delivering well organized races and it is very easy to take them for granted and forget the amount of work that goes on behind the scenes leading up to the event and on the event day itself. We are indeed lucky to have the best racing platform in India in Bangalore! Thanks a lot team BBCh!