Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Bangalore to Belgium: Into the heart of bike racing

It's been a little over 2 weeks of training and racing in Belgium for me, so without further ado, here's my 1st diary entry on what I've been up to in this bike racing-crazy country, on Cycling iQ! 
In this entry you get a sneak peek at the setup here, and a couple reasons why one of the pathways to the future of Indian cycling passes through Belgium. 

Head over to Cycling iQ and read about it!

An interesting footnote: Back in 2012, Cycling iQ is where I learned about the burgeoning cycling scene in Bangalore, and how I got in touch with and started to ride for my current team -- the Specialized Kynkyny Cycling Team. You've got to love it when things comes full circle! 

Thursday, March 5, 2015

Race Report: 2015 Vodafone Pro Race

I've been waiting for a while to call an end to the 2014 season. It's been very long, with a lot of consistent and quality training, a dearth of racing, and capped with a solid haul of results. Training that started back in June of last year, saw me take the Indian National ITT title in December of the same year and the National Games ITT Gold medal in early February. The Vodafone Pro Race, that was part of the Vodafone Cycling Marathon this past weekend, was the final race of my 2014 season.

The Stage

On the start line of Vodafone Pro Race -- a relatively sizable field, by national standards, with about 80 starters. Photo Credit: ProElite

The Vodafone Pro Race was part of the Vodafone Cycling Marathon. VCM is a 2nd year event, and kudos to the organizers who made up for the short falls of last year's event. Putting on a bicycle ride/race with about 5000 participants, of all ages and abilities, in a residential quarter of Bangalore, on a completely closed-off main arterial road, on a Sunday, is no easy task! 

A Race Official's vehicle? A Police jeep?? An ambulance??? What it is, is Proper! Photo Credit: Flashbulbzz Photography 

An early move up the road, official's motos, a pace car, oh my! All very legit. The organizers of the event, with the services of the Bangalore City Police, had a well executed plan and a fair paise was spent to ensure riders in all categories had traffic-free roads to ride and race on. Photo Credit: Protons Running

The Course
The race was 60 km, on a 10 km out and back loop, done 6 times, with a sprint for points on the finish line, every pass through, thus rewarding the most consistent sprinter, not just the fastest finisher. 

The course was pretty flat and fast. The field strung out heading into the flyover/turn-around. Photo Credit: Flashbulbzz Photography

Off the fly-over, and into a slight head-wind that picked up during the day.  Photo Credit: Flashbulbzz Photography 

The only crux of the course was a flyover that we rode up, looped under, over and back down. Also, the exit off, and back onto the flyover had only one clean line really close to the concrete barriers. Taking any other line meant you'd hit this massive pothole that sapped all your momentum. And yep, this is a little foreshadowing for the astute reader out there.

The Contenders
The guys to beat were Shreedhar Savanur -- an Indian Railways/Team Wheelsports rider, 2-time Indian Road Race Champ and last year's winner of the event; C. Rajesh -- a veteran Railways track and road sprinter; and a long list of pretenders. Shreedhar had the support of the Railways, a couple Services riders, and a ninja or two. Sprinters often collude and split winnings with riders who don't stand an icicles chance in hell of making it to a podium place, but who can muster enough wheel suck to neutralize breaks and race negatively, bringing everything back for a very predictable sprint. Nothing just rolls of the front, no matter how perfect the combination is. And that's pretty boring racing if you ask me!

Trying to upset the rhythm of the race. I figured the U-turn would be a good place since it was right after the sprint, but no dice. In hindsight, this was a terrible place to waste energy, since it was tailwind and downhill -- way too easy to get back on wheels. Photo Credit: ProElite 

SKCT lined up with all 3 of our elite road riders -- Naveen Raj, Loki and I. We also had our new recruit and U-23 rider -- Sarvesh Sangarya -- in his first real outing with the team. Also, our MTB talent -- Kiran Kumar Raju -- lined-up for some much needed support. Vivek and Fariyal pitched in with mech and moral support, along with my little Sis and my Mom. There was a ton of home crowd support all over the course too, which was amazing!

Sitting about 15th wheel with 250m to go, right behind Loki in the front left of the picture. Sprinting feels like learning to race a bicycle all over again! Photo Credit: ProElite 

In my 150,000+ kilometers of training and racing, I've never gone into a race with the goal of contesting the sprint. But after having checked-off my ITT goals this season, I've been looking for a new challenge to keep me motivated for the coming season, so I've decided to give finishing fast a go. I plan on taking the same approach I did with my TT goals -- measure, plan, train with power, race, recover, repeat...and see what happens. However, my goal for this Sunday's race was to benchmark/measure my sprint against the best sprinters in India before I head into a 2-week long off-

The Script

My data from the race. You can make out quite a bit from the Power and HR graphs (purple and red) about the sprints and the break. Here's my ride on Strava

The whistle blew and the first 4 laps were Shreedhar and Rajesh having everyone in the field grasping at straws, the former sniping maximum points. The sprint played out the exact same each time: The last 1 km was a 1.5 minute drag race on a false flat, where you had to be tucked in till the last 250 m to have a chance at points. I found my self skirting the field on the right, all wide-mouthed and anti-poker faced for an entire 1.5 minutes, while the sprinters positioned early, stayed tucked and spent the last 17 seconds turning themselves outside inside out.

Typically, I'm somewhere out of the frame in a sprint, and even here I'm nowhere in position to even hold a candle to the top-5. Let's compare pictures in 9 months! Photo Credit: ProElite 

I stuck to my plan, giving my current best in the sprints. I typically started 15th place, way too far back, munching wind, passing a couple riders every time. My gap of  5-6 bike lengths to the riders in 5-10th place held steady, but I lost 2-3 bike lengths on the top whips. I collected the data I needed, so now I've got some work to do.

The New Guys

Kiran putting his MTB skills to use. He showed some of the dimmer bulbs in the field how to take a U-turn right and to negotiate the long, fixed radius turns on the flyover end of the course. Photo Credit: ProElite 

The real excitement of the first couple laps, for me personally, was seeing two of my teammates really riding out of their kits. With me going off domestic duty, Kiran and Sarvesh were tasked with steering the race away from mid-lap lethargy. Kiran shared tempo on front with former Indian ITT champ -- Arvind Panwar of the Railways, while Sarvesh did well to counter a couple moves and even dropped a Wattbomb or two in the deep end of racing in the last K's.

Sarvesh and Kiran, in the early laps, staying attentive up front. Photo Credit: Flashbulbzz Photography 

However, about halfway through the race, I was really bummed when news came around that Sarvesh went down hard trying to avoid a crash right in front of him. In fact, we had a crash pretty much every lap. This could have been avoided if those responsible for the Pro Race registrations had been more selective in deciding who exactly got to line-up in this race. There were too many riders in the race who didn't have the fitness, the race experience or bike handling skills to be there. They served to do nothing but put lives at risk -- both theirs and that of fellow racers. It cost my teammate his collarbone. Good thing he's a hungry little Bull Terrier, and he'll be back stronger soon. You can check out his account of the race on his blog. 

The collarbone fracture. Clean break. Dichtgroeien, Sarvesh! 

Jumping the Shark

Everything was going according to the script. With 1.5 laps to go, I placed myself near the front heading into that flyover. For the 1st 4 laps, I found everyone struggling up this speed bump and keeping me from riding my rhythm up it. So, I stood up, surged a little and used the clean line to put some daylight between the lined out bunch snaking the flyover. I did a quick shoulder check, saw a bonafide gap, asked the engine room for some power and it was giving me what I felt was needed, so I kept pushing. 

At this point I quickly clicked my PowerTap Joule GPS to take my wattage readings off the screen and switch to something less innocuous, like speed. Thing is, the worst thing to look at while trying to make a break and trying to tune in to what your body can/cannot give you after an hour of hard racing, is the objective feedback that power numbers provide! Also, luckily for me, the headwinds had seriously picked up in the last half of the race, so that meant a tough chase for anyone in the back. I bored through it though since I still had decent residual TT fitness from Nats and the Games in me.

Early in race: Trying, but getting nowhere. I tried again later on a tough section of the course and it stuck. Photo Credit: ProElite 

Here's a little intermission with my top-10 breakaway tips for you breakaway artistes out there*:

  1. So, you just dropped a savage Wattbomb and you've pried open a gap. Realizing this has resulted in a rush of adrenaline. Snap yourself out of this stupor, ASAP!
  2. Quickly assess the damage and do ticket collecting for passengers that may have boarded your train. Can you use them? How willing are they to be used!? Are you about to be used?!?
  3. On flat road or downhill stretches, pour out a steady stream of power, at, or slightly under your 40k TT effort 
  4. On these stretches, you aren't going to make much time on a galloping peloton, but not relaxing here means you can hold the gap steady
  5. Also, look to get as aero as you can, since aero matters most when you are going fastest
  6. On tough or slow sections -- like into a head/crosswind bits, over short risers or on bad road -- push above your 40k TT effort level, but careful not to spend too much time in your red
  7. These sections are where you can make time on an unorganized or hesitant chase group
  8. It is critical that you push over the top/beyond, these tough/slow sections, and get back up to speed before you throttle back your effort
  9. Take the legally shortest lines possible -- apexing corners, hugging barriers, and floating over rough stuff if you have to
  10. Don't forget to shift gears and don't let your cadence sink, neither on the slow bits, nor on the fast bits. Keep the legs turning over just like you would in a time trial
*You can only avail of this offer once you've: (a) done the hard work of establishing a gap, and (b) done the training that puts your FTP at or above the FTP of the top 5% in the field.

This time around though, I ended up bringing a passenger along with me, who happened to be on my wheel when I surged, and I relinquished 3rd to him by not contesting the sprints. It would have been nice to have official time gaps from the race moto and maybe I would have tried something. So, in that fashion, I ended up 4th in points, and 2nd by overall finish time. I spent the first 4 laps trying to be as sprinter as I could be -- head-nudging, shoulder-checking, quad-flexing and basket-weaving through the field -- trying to hold position. However, with 1.5 laps to go, I regressed to my dirty TT habit. Really though, there was no better way to end my season!


The results for the Vodafone Pro Race were being handled by a relatively new, but uber professional sports consulting firm and timing services company, called ProElite.

The final points tally of the 60km points race has me in 4th. Photo Credit: ProElite 
The overall timing for the 60 km race, has me in 2nd. Photo Credit: ProElite 

And here' a short video of the race. Thanks, Farah!

What next?!

In the coming season, my personal goal is to become more of a complete racer, to improve another facet of my racing -- my finishing speed. 

I've got the world's best coach, an amazing all-star support team at KYNKYNY racing (pronounced kin-kiny, BTW), some hungry team mates, and world-class technical sponsors! What more can I ask for, really? I reckon I'll keep doing this as long as I'm at the top of my sport and just figure out ways to scrape by. As for motivation -- flights of fancy don't do it for me. I prefer staying grounded, committing myself to small goals, nailing them comprehensively, and seeing where that takes me. Being at the top of a little heap somewhere in a corner isn't all that, but with power training, knowing objectively, that I'm improving, and raising the level of racing in a country of a billion is motivation. 

Right now though, I've never felt or been more stronger or faster on a bike, but mentally I'm ready for a reset. So, I'm hanging up the bicycle for 2 weeks-ish and giving my body the luxury of loosing some fitness. 

NJ, Out!

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Karnataka State Championships Race Report

The Karnataka State Road Championships were held in Gadag (a relatively small town up in north Karnataka) around the start of this month (Aug 31-Sept 1) . The weekend of racing also doubled-up as state selections for the Indian National Road Championships, slated for the 24-27th, October. It was pretty important for as many of our Specialized Kynkyny guys to nail this weekend so we can take a strong, cohesive team to Nationals. With that goal in mind, six of us packed up our bags, our S-Works Tarmac SL4's, and our Transition TT rigs into a minibus. A little luggage-Tetris and bike-Jenga later, we hit the road.

Laxman hamming it up for the camera with his 1200W smile which he backs up with an equally powerful sprint. I don't know how he's smiling because he was probably sitting on a floor pump, a TT helmet and front wheel skewer. We were packed in there tight! Photo cred: Naveen Raj, Blurry Cam Pic Studios, LLC

On our way up, we made a quick pit-stop for linner at the least sketchy looking dhaba we could find. For those familiar with these highway-side institutions of culinary excellence, feel free to scroll on by this; for the uninitiated, I've got your back covered with some dhaba factoids:
  • The menus offer a range of cuisines to choose from. All of that is moot since all the dishes look and taste exactly the same
  • The contents of the menus at these joints are centrally decided upon by the Dhaba Federation of India (DFI), which explains why all dhabas have identical menus
  • You can find a dhaba along highways in India at the same frequency you'd find a Mickey Dees along a US interstate. Don't expect to find a PlayPlace, though you might find a clown on a bench
  • Sketchyness of a dhaba is inversely proportional to the price of food on the menu
  • Spend a couple extra Gandhi's and pick a non-sketch dhaba to eat at; that can mean the difference between a good race weekend vs. a weekend where everything you eat is racing out the back
  • And finally, dhabas aren't all dha(t) ba(d). Nope, you can't unread that.


We got to Gadag a day early. That gave us time to preview the Crit, TT and RR courses; the course profiles were flat, flat and flat, respectively. We got some very non-exotic lunch, caught a cheesy Hindi movie to ease the pre-race nerves a little, registered for the race weekend, got dinner, shopped for groceries, prepped our race rigs for the TT the next day and hit the sack early.

The coolest thing in Gadag were these ATW's (Any Time Water!) -- which are stand-alone, reverse osmosis based, water purification plants, which dispense drinking water anytime, for a cost of next to nothing. It fills me with a little hope to see meaningful, life-changing initiatives like this in small-town India. You can read more about it here [blogspot.in] and here [stevens.usc.edu]. It even made a huge difference to a small-budget team like ours since we were able to save about 5000 INR (75 USD) on water, not to mention the avoiding the plastic waste of about eighty, 2-liter water bottles. I guess that makes us a pretty lean and green bike racing team!

Individual Time Trial 

The first race of the weekend was the Individual Time Trial (ITT) on Saturday. The ITT was a brief 30km affair on an out-and-back course. Pre-riding the course the previous day allowed me to get a feel for the flow of the course. The course had about 20 gradual direction changes (a.k.a. sweeping turns). The direction changes meant having to deal with changing wind direction. On a windy day, you have to push harder into headwinds and you can afford to lay off the throttle a little with a tailwind at your back. The course also had about eight 1 km risers (a.k.a. hills), requiring you to push harder on the way up and again allowing you to lay off the throttle a little on the way down. The idea is to keep chugging along as close to your target average speed as possible, and in the end, the person with the fastest time, wins. 

Every dog has its day and that Saturday was mine. I defended my 2012 State ITT title by over 1:30 to second place and over 2:00 to third. Specialized Kynkyny secured the top-4 spots with me, Bimshi, Naveen Raj and Lokesh.

I've got a lot of improving to do before Nationals though, but with the help of my coach [pbscience.com] and the schedule I'm on, I've got my sights set on the big one at the end of October. There are a ton of challenges along the way, but I'm checking them off one-by-one, trying to have a plan for every eventuality. Nothing is unimportant -- whether its pre-race nutrition/hydration, tire selection, equipment set-up, trip logistics, pacing strategies, and more; you name it, and I'll be thinking about it.


Sunday was a double-header, with the crit in the morning and the road race at noon. The crit was run in the center of town, going 10 laps over a closed short course, for a total distance of ~34km. It was run in a points race format, with sprint points on the line every other lap and double points at the finish. I decided to sit out this race, but the guys did a great job helping our teammate -- Laxman Kurani -- convincingly defend his 2012 Crit title. In 2nd place was Asif Attar of Team Naesar Racing -- a pretty strong, young bike rider -- who put more energy out his vocal chords than through his pedals in this race. In 3rd place was my teammate -- Bimshi. After the crit, the guys hydrated, fueled-up and power napped before the road race.

Road Race

A bike race is like a book. It's got a beginning -- where you meet the protagonist and antagonist of the drama that's about to unfold. Then, there are the chapters of the book that tell the story with varying pace and intensity, and more generally speaking, this is where shit happens! Finally, you have the ending -- which may or may not be so happy.

The race, broken down into chapters

The road race was scheduled for (a short) 100km, but was further shortened to 65km. The plan was to set-up our rouleur -- Ambi -- for the win. He wasn't the strongest guy on our team but he needed to rack up a win to secure a spot on the state team for Nats. It was my job to shepherd Ambi to the finish in a diminished field, or sneak away in a small break while the other guys on the team "distract" the field.

Chapter 1 - 15min, 38kph, 4 surges: The first 15 minutes of the race, Ambi and I spent tail-gunning the field as some very non-threatening events -- as most events in the first half of a bike race usually are -- played out up front. Pretty tame heart rate (HR in red) and power graph (that's the purple squiggles)

Chapter 2 - 12min, 38kph, 13 surges: A mildly threatening attack went with no Specialized in it, so I responded. At this point I had put myself (and Ambi) out front because I was forced to do so and found it hard to settle to the back of the field. I spent the next 15 minutes wastefully and fruitlessly racing up front, which you can decipher from the jagged edges of the power graph.

Chapter 3 - 9min, 32kph, 1 surge: Flurry number umpteen, but this time, I force myself to holster the BS. Loki countered with a rider in tow and got a gap. Soon after, Bimshi departed with some baggage in tow as well. "Great", I thought to myself, but here is an example of where a race theory vs. reality don't align. Theory: Ambi and I chill - guys who missed the break dig deep to bridge up or close the gap - Loki and Bimshi sit on in the break - field coalesces with break - I counter with Ambi in tow for the winning break and Ambi takes the W! Reality: nobody chases - I have the entire field sitting on my wheel and when I unclip and stop, everybody stops with me! All it takes is a couple minutes of inaction in the field for a break to consolidate an advantage.

Chapter 4 - 33min, 42kph, 3 surges: We had enough of the non-sense so we decide to take Ambi up to the break. I ask a friend to help us freight train the field. With the field moseying into a headwind, we come from the back, up the right, at 55k's an hour. Attacking into a headwind isn't ideal to attempt to wedge a gap; all you end up doing is piercing a hole for riders behind you. But we need to get to that break so Ambi  has a shot at the win. Naveen Raj and I traded pulls to chase back the break (with our team mates in it, who we hoped, weren't working in the break!) and we shelled half the field in the chase.

Chapter 5 - 28min, 43kph, 1 surge: The break was 5 seconds from being reabsorbed and it was the perfect setting for a counter. That was too much to expect apparently and everyone was down to chill. I wasn't, so I kept the pace high all the way to the finish. Coming into the last kilometer, the field is reduced to 5 guys:  2 wily local racers, Ambi, Bimshi and I. 200m to go: Ambi and Bimshi both open up their own individual sprints because leading out a team mate is passe in these parts. 3rd and 4th is what we came away with. On to the next!

We had a categorically unhappy ending to the road race, but a good weekend for the team otherwise.We took 6 guys to the state trials and all 6 have qualified to represent Karnataka at Nationals. In addition, we'll have Dipankar "Dipu Smash" Saikia who'll represent his state, Assam and Omkar "Phablet" Jadhav, who'll  represent Maharashtra. That's a pretty strong 8-man team we'll be packing to Nats, so we plan on bringing back some hardware. I'll try and get a preview of what Nationals in India is like a week before the event. Till then, thanks to all (two) of you who spent the time to read this!

Update: You can check out another account of the weekend by Sarvesh Sangarya. Sarvesh qualified for the KA state U-18 team. He rides on Team Trek Firefox Racing who are doing some ground breaking work for cycling and its athletes in India. 

Monday, November 19, 2012

Tour de Bintan Race Report II - Stage 2 and 3

Stage 2: Nothing ventured, nothing gained
After Stage 1's crampfest, I went into serious recovery mode. Depending on which theory [blogger.com] you subscribe to, cramping means you're pretty dehydrated. The last time I was severely dehydrated wasn't a pretty sight or song. I went to town on some ORS, had recovery shakes on shakes and ran train on the race dinner buffet. We spent the rest of Saturday night disagreeing on how many DirectAsia dudes were actually in the race, finally settling on a number between 13 and 30. 

Going into stage 2, our goal was to work for Laxman, who was 2nd in the sprint competition and Loki, who was 3rd in the KOM competition. The points jersey's are hard to defend and if you want it, you have to go out and get it. The strategy for the guys was to shadow and try to come around the current jersey wearers -- Heksa and Mike Maiers (DA). 

Marking an early attack by Joel Penington (Cannasia).
Image: Tour de Bintan Facebook page
I wasn't sure how my body had recovered after the first stage so my game plan was to stay up front and dig deep for the first rolling 14kms. I've never been one for plans though. After the 2km neutral section and a couple flurries, Joel Pennington (Cannasia) attacked on the ramp out of the resort. I marked him and I was swooped up the riser. While it may be categorically Cat6 to do so, if I have a 5 second gap on a bunch, I'll convince myself it's the winning break. I contributed, but mostly because I realized that the effort was going to be more steady and less painful than an accordioning peleton. On to lower ramp of the days first KOM at 8km, I throw it into my big ring and let Cannasia work, riding past the 1km to go marker. We have enough of a gap to play with. Then, Cannasia decides he's under-geared and Andy Schleck's his shifting [youtube.com]. For a fraction of a second, I considered waiting, but I quickly slap myself out of my stupor. My inner Pistolero took over, took out the KOM, and eased up for a counter. 

At this point, all the protagonists of the play were up front -- Colin (DA), Tjarco (Fuji Asia), Heksa Priya (ISSI Tanjungpinang), and Takashi Miyazawa (Saxo Bank-Tinkoff Bank-Bank Bank). I stayed behind yellow (DA) as Fuji Asia tried to get separation and were repeatedly shut down. The front was a good place to be as the roads narrowed around 14km. Riders started shooting off the front with only anyone in top-10 open to respond. Three riders get a gap and they begin to consolidate. Six more bridge-up with Heksa in tow. Heksa's presence in a move turns out to be a lithmus test for whether a break was going to succeed and I've always thought lithmus paper was cool. All I can do is sit and watch since some dude just doused a match I lit. At 30km, there's 9 guys up front with a veritable gap. This must be that breakaway thing people kept talking about!

We're 30kms into the race -- Angus Wippell (Specialized Shanghai) is next to decide he wants in and soon after, Jason Baran (DA) digs in. At this point it becomes evident that the party is up front, so I dig in to bridge up to Jason. Not convinced we can close the gap to the front, I unabashedly ride Jason's (DA) coattails for a bit. We're on the flat, exposed, Busung Highway; I look back and we've got a gap. Jason's hard work has converted me to a believer; I start to work double-time. We pick up Angus along the way and we work together for a breezy 6 clicks. With 500m to the group of 9, my impatience showed and I bridged the remaining gap solo.

At 38k, the group was 13 strong, with 3 Cannasian's, 2 DirectAsian's, 2 Trek APAC's, 2 Anza's, 1 Maverick, Heksa, Angus and me. The conductor on our train ended up being the teams with the most guys in the break. If you have 'n'  guys in a break (where n >1), and I'm all alone, just get comfortable with the idea that I'm going to sit in a minimum of (n-1) times. Maybe I'll sit in less, if I'm feeling fabulous. The usual big break dynamics followed -- cussing out the passengers on board, the occasional monster pull from that one dude, pseudo pulls, dudes wiping out because of having too much room to corner, you name it. 

With 40km to go, the gap ballooned to 3+ minutes and our group contained virtual yellow. Pretty virtual it ended up being as the gap plummeted at the rate of a minute every 10km. The break had whittled down to 7  guys by this point. About 2km out from the KOM at 73km, 3 riders rode away. I made the effort to close it down, reeled it in on the KOM line and took the scraps for 3rd. At this point, the only thing keeping the break from being swallowed up by the peleton were the incessant attacks and counter attacks of the remnants of the break. I tried a flier with 10km to go and then in a 2-man break with Heksa at 5km to go. I dug in again with 1km to go, but I found the road tilted the wrong way for my liking. I ended up 7th on the stage with the peleton hot on my heels. 

I brought in the rear end of the breakaway in 7th place. The field sprint was 5 seconds behind.
Image: Adapted from Tour de Bintan Stage 2 official results

Stage 3: Flying the flag
The only thing left to take away from this race was a stage win. The goal was for Loki to save for the sprint and to reduce his race to coming around Heksa or Tjarco in the finish. While that was the end game, there were 38kms for  rest of us to race our bikes and help take the pressure off Loki. Laxman, threw in the kitchen sink just as the race was flagged off. Throwing caution to the crosswinds, Laxman forged ahead, building up a 35 second lead on the DA led peleton, riding a brisk tempo. The only KOM on the stage, at 15km, was closing in. The pace started to lift under the wings of DA and Mike Maier's polka dot jersey. Laxman stuck it and took the only KOM on the stage by a whisker. At the 20km mark, I dug in, kept cruising for 10km solo and took out the intermediate sprint at 23km. Next, Sangamesh (Specialized Kynkyny) threw in an attack and then Naveen Raj (Specialized Kynkyny). On the run in to the finish, Loki had to grab a handful of brakes on the cobble section, but still managed to finish 5th in the bunch gallop [facebook.com].

Lokesh (Specialized Kynkyny) finished 5th, to arguably, the best sprinters in the race. Takashi Miyazawa (Saxo Bank), who wasn't on the official results, finished slightly ahead of Loki. Image: Adapted from Tour de Bintan Stage 3 official results

With a 9th, 7th and 5th in stage placings, I'd like to think that we could have made the podium if we had a couple more stages to fine tune our race craft. While our competition had the benefit of a race season to build fitness, we made do with countless hill repeats, innumerable 20:40's, and training by feel. The race savvy that our opposition had honed over multiple seasons, we had to learn in situ -- over 3 days of racing. Overall, a pretty good outing for only our 2nd race outside the sub-continent as a team! 

Lokesh and Naveen Raj (Specialized Kynkyny) finished in 17 and 18th on GC with a 1:30 deficit to yellow accounted for by the 12km Prologue. Image: Adapted from Tour de Bintan official GC results

Also, kudos to DirectAsia.com, Fuji Asia, and Heksa Priya!

Tour de Bintan Race Report I - Prologue and Stage 1

Prologue: Tiny Indian dudes can't TT...(yet!) 
The 12km course was momentum sapping with cross winds and false flats on the way out. That didn't stop Tjarco Cuppens (Fuji Asia) from smashing his way to yellow in 16:27. Biting at his heels was Colin Robertson and Dave Christenson -- both of DirectAsia.com [facebook.com] -- at 16:46. DirectAsia put the bulk of their squad in the top-15. This was great fore-shadowing of the control they would wield over the peleton over the rest of the race.

Lokesh (Specialized Kynkyny) heading down the start ramp. He covered the 12km course in 18:03 for 24th on the stage. Image by Venkatesh Shivarama

I put down a 17:41, theoretically enough for 16th on GC, at 1:14 from Tjarco. I say theoretically, because in reality, my race ambitions had turned stone cold on the start line. All because I wasn't made aware that I needed to run my 5 year old, 11 kilo, aluminium Specialized Allez, with over 80,000 kms on it, through bike weigh-in. Never mind that I was given permission to start my TT by the race director, who was aware that I hadn't got a chance to weigh-in. Also, set aside the fact that I probably had the heaviest bike in the peleton. When results came out that evening, I found out I was relegated to dead last, being docked 5 minutes. So, I spent 3 months of my season building up to Bintan and I spent the rest of the race convincing myself that the GC was sour grapes. 

I ended up with a top-15 time, but was relegated to dead  last. Image: Adapted from TdB official Prologue results
The prologue had made it clear that we were lacking in the FTP department and that's something we'll work on going into our first off-season. Surprisingly, last year's winner -- Heksa Priya Prasetya (ISSI Tanjungpinang) -- also started the Tour with a significant deficit.

Stage 1: Rolling in and out of cramp city
The 150km course looped around the island and dished out a little bit of everything -- forested rollers, red hills, coastal flats, narrow sinuous rollers, urban fanfare, filler miles, more hills and a rehash of the first 20kms (except this time under the slickness of a tropical downpour). Unlike in engineering school, I had actually done my reading for Bintan and it clearly said: early breaks have a high probability of success, so be in it. The bunch knew this too, and so the queen stage turned out to be an all out melee. Everyone and their mom kept attacking to get separation, but it was all for naught. The rule of the day (and the tour) proved to be this: One does not simply ride away from DirectAsia (DA, for short).

Heading due east, the first 22km featured a bunch of frazzled breakaway attempts. On the run in to the first KOM, at 28km, Lokesh (Specialized Kynkyny) was the first to jump. He was pipped at the line by Mike Maiers (DA). Tjarco (Fuji Asia) put in a couple solid digs and I marked him with intent every time, only to be shut down by DA. When was this supposed "break" supposed to happen? 

Due south, and on to the flat coastal section, a couple half-hearted attacks kept the peleton semi-strung out. Cat6-esque gaps were opening up in the back with people failing to figure out the neutral moto drink support. Having enough of that, I went  to the front and signaled our boys to move up. Right then, Dipankar Saikia (Specialized Kynkyny) marked a surge by Jason Baran (DA) and the two were joined by Mark Scoular (Unattached). This ended up being the longest break of the day and the most steady 30k of the race. I sat 5th wheel as a Maverick, two mustachioed Cannasian Movember-ers, and a thousand Michel Velasco's (Fuji Asia) did their turns. The escapee's were reeled in around the 90km mark, by no small effort on Michel's part. 

I've learnt, that if you aren't able to recall what happened in a race, you were either: (a) way off the front, (b) too far out the back, or (c) were turning yourself inside out to stay with the field that your senses had shut down. Around the half-way mark, some cranky cramps kicked in and I soon found myself categorically experiencing (c). Every time I'd hit the back, I saw our team director, Vivek, still in the race. I kept telling myself that if he can make and sell classy furniture, father a brood, run this team, all while training 2 days a week, then I was going to have to chew some handle bar tape and get back in it. It helped that half the field was cramping with me, including the yellow jersey!

We were now out of the capital, Kijang, on the far southern end of the course, making our way back North.  At around 98km, Loki (Lokesh) asks me to lead him out for the 2nd intermediate sprint at 103km. I tell him I'm in no shape to lead out, but I can string it out and he'd have to stay on sprinter wheels. Just then, Laxman (Specialized Kynkyny) solo's off the front. A disinterested peleton let's him roll. That works great: Laxman dangles, sprint approaches, peleton closes, DA/Fuji leads out, Loki takes it. Nope! Laxman holds of the charging field, takes maximum points and it's grupo compacto.

Past the 110km mark, what starts out as a hunt for KOM points ends up changing the face of the race.  Dave McIntosh (DA) solo's off. Dave gets the seperation everyone's been trying for all day. This time it's different though, as the peleton isn't taking it lightly and is hurting in its chase. Sensing the peleton's pain, Heksa Priya (ISSI Tanjungpinang) -- last year's winner and canny tactitian --  hits out. Mike Maiers (DA) is there too.  Meanwhile, Dave (DA) snipes maximum points at the KOM. The peleton has no snap left and switches to if-you-can't-bridge-up-to-them-then-neutralize-them mode. DA is in the drivers seat. The yellow jersey is cramping and DA must realize this. At 126km, Colin Robertson goes all carpe diem and makes the GC winning move, marked by Peter Hope (Fuji Asia). At this point, only Alan Grant and Richard Paine (both of, Confero Mavericks) realized that this was the move worth anything and had the legs to do something about it.

The yellow jersey of Tjarco Cuppens (front right) and Lokesh (center, red bike) in the dash for the line under a torrential downpour. Image credit: Tjarco Cuppens

The next 10km saw several valiant, but unceremonious attempts to break free of the peleton by Lokesh, Heksa, and Specialized Shanghai. In the last 10km, right as I was about to melt into a puddle of brown and red, the skies opened. The peleton did well to keep it upright. Loki sprinted to 5th in the bunch and 9th on the stage.

Lokesh (Specialized Kynkyny) was 5th in the field sprint for 9th on the stage. Image: Adapted from TdB Stage 1 official results

As a team, we went into the stage a little disillusioned -- our lack of experience, telling a little. At the end of the day, we ended up with a 9th on the stage (with Lokesh), Laxman (unwittingly) ended up in a 3-way tie for the Sprint jersey, Dipankar infiltrated the day's longest break, and we (by our own measure) rode an aggressive race. On to the next! 

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Harohalli-Jigani Road Race Report

I pulled up to the designated roadside parking right before the start line and introduced myself to pretty much everyone there. There were lots of friendly faces around, but for the life of me, I couldn’t figure out why everyone was so damn chirpy for it being 6:30 in the morning. People started pulling out their pride and joy’s which ran the gamut from late 90’s steel frame Colnago’s, to blacked-out Chinarello’s, to Specialized Tarmac’s, to a couple Campy rigs and everything else in between. I didn’t spot any Di2 or Zippacelli’s -- thank Lord Mario for that. I picked up my race number and was told to zip-tie it to my handlebars, oriented in such a fashion as to incur the wrath of the Euro Gods while simultaneously offering maximum drag.

The course was an out and back and out with about 2500ft (750m) of climbing over about 33miles (53kms). I did a little warm-up, and with the roads in the pockmarked state they were in, it basically involved practicing my bunny hopping skills. I pre-rode the course the day before in an attempt to make myself familiar with the parcours. I tried to make mental notes of where the sand islands, potholes, cow crossings, rabid dogs and various other paraphernalia that only the Indian countryside can throw at you were. Suffice to say, I suffered from buffer overflow and failed at that task. Decidedly, the top-3 was the safest place to ride in this race.  

The field being controlled by Darren Reid of
Specialized KYNKYNY (on the front) and 
Rich McDowell of Origin (yellow/grey jersey). 
Credit: Veloscope
We got the countdown, and before I knew it, I was racing my first race on Indian soil. I made haste in getting to the top 5. The first 2 miles were at recovery pace. Now, I’m a pretty impatient guy, which often leads me to do stupid stuff like attack 2 miles into a road race. With a lot of trepidation, I tried my best to holster the BS. Darren Reid, the seasoned veteran on the Specialized KYNKYNY Cycling Team (SKCT), took us up the first riser. Then, a short kicker that was over before you could let one out. I took a gander behind and saw about 9 Specialized guys looking fresh as daisies with about 25 miles left in the race. Even on a good day, I don’t have enough confidence in myself to fend off 9 guys, let alone one’s dressed so sharply and coordinated and all. That, and if you were paying attention, you’d know I’m a pretty impatient guy.

What perspired next was nothing short of "Naveen-esque". And yes, I can use literary devices like this to refer to myself in the 3rd person since this is my blog. From my pre-ride of the course, I knew what was coming up the road. I threw it into my man-ring and punched it over the top of the aforementioned kicker and head-on into a mile long grinder. I don’t look back after I attack, which can make one look really silly sometimes as you can find yourself towing an entire field. Staying true to character, I didn’t look back and just settled in at threshold or something like it, hoping that a couple Specialized dudes would bridge up so I wouldn't have to ride a 40K ITT.

The mile long grinder that worked well to draw out the competition. Credit: Veloscope
After a miraculous bunny hop over a 3ft dug-out section of road, I hit the right hand turn that served as a U-turn chute. I craned my neck around and realized I’d have some company soon. Just then, I nailed a rudimentary rocky speed bump. I thought I heard rim meet rock, so I did a quick check by hopping my rear wheel and it told me it was still at about 120psi. We turned around, rolled down the chute and took a left-hander to get back on the course. Coming out of the corner, I felt a loss of traction. I realized the worst had happened – I flatted. 

Committing to the attack with the Sarvanan egging me on while holding
the rear wheel that would keep me in the race. Credit: The Hungry Tramp
As I stood there, I watched Specialized and a couple other riders breeze past me. I almost started to utter some French, when a moto pulled up to me and frantically offered me a rear wheel. Fortuitously, Brijesh Nair of Veloscope -- rider, racer, photog and race promoter du jour -- decided to offer neutral support wheels and moto feeds as a measure to level the playing field a little. As I threw on the spare wheel, I made the mistake of not paying attention to how many riders rode past me during my impromptu pit stop. The stoppage lasted about 3 minutes. I hopped back on and quickly settled into sub-threshold to attempt a comeback. Within another 3 minutes I saw a group up the road. It was a group of 3 Specialized, 2 Origin, a KYNKYNY Wheelsport rider, a Veloscope rider – Siddharth Kansal and an 8th rider.

In the group of 9, that I thought, was the front of the race. Credit: Veloscope
That was easy, I thought to myself. I asked the Specialized and Origin guys if there was a breakaway up the road. They probably couldn't decipher my silly accent. “No, No”, was the response. With that, I made the mistake of concluding I was at the front of the race. As the 9 of us rode at a Sunday morning group ride pace for the next couple miles, doubt started to creep in. I wondered why the strong guys I marked on the start line weren’t in the break. And, if they happened to miss the break, why weren’t they coming in hot from behind with the lackadaisical clip we were plodding along at. Just then, I noticed an 8ft tall Asian elephant lumbering across the course. I slowed down to a crawl and veered clear of her path. We were racing on the periphery of the Bannerghatta National Park -- a biological reserve, that a dwindling population of about 56 Asian elephants call home.

This is what happens when an elephant tries to ride a bicycle.
The guy riding this was out on the course, presumably spectating.
He ended up in the hospital after his close encounter. Credit: Anju Kp
As my group was a mile from the turn around, I see 3 Specialized riders TTT’ing away in the opposite direction. And then, a second group with 2 more Specialized and 2 Origin riders. Blistering barnacles -- I’ve be foiled! I hit the turn around and rode in repentance for my blatant inattention. In short time, I parted ways with my group of 9. I bridged to the group of 4. I promptly went to the front and threw it into threshold since no one in the group had any incentive to work with me.

Bridging to the group of 4 up the road.
The moto guys were being really helpful
by giving out time gaps. Credit: Veloscope

Another shot of the Anti-poker face. Credit: The Hungry Tramp
As we rode through one of the villages on the route, our lead moto rode head long into a yoke of agitated oxen, clearing a path for us.  As we headed into a blind corner, the moto once again rode in the opposite lane of traffic flow. They waved down a lorry who was Mario Andretti-ing the shit out of a corner, on a bee line for us. These guys were unlike any race volunteers I’ve ever seen operate. They put their lives in real danger on several occasions during the course of the race to keep riders safe. Not to mention, I have them to thank for my timely wheel change.

I asked Sarvanan – my wheel change moto’s co-pilot – what the gap to the leading 3 riders was. “2 minutes”, he yelled. I tried to dig a little deeper and unintentionally dislodged riders from my group. I found myself over geared and was feeling the 3 days of air travel and lack of rest. Yeah, I have a ton of other excuses, but I chose these since they seem most plausible. Starting up the final climb, I felt like I was wading through quick sand. I finished the race with a 6:30 minute effort in Zone 5 – enough to win the cat2 race and end up 6th overall. 

The bit from the flat (15mi) to the second turnaround (25mi) is where the race for overall victory was lost. 

I finished a minute behind the Specialized guys – Ambi, Naveen Raj and Lokesh. After the race, I learned that I was able to finish the race at the expense of another rider who also flatted and whose wheel I ended up using. So a big thank you goes out to him!

Looking chunky on the Cat2 podium. Credit: Anju KP
Lesson learned: Stay calm during wheel changes, keep a time check, note changes in race situation, hydrate, eat and don’t race Michelin Pro3’s on Indian roads.