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.

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