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!


  1. Naveen,

    This is a fascinating insight into your mind for the average joes like us! Keep blogging these gems!

  2. Great write-up NJ. As you had pointed out, I will be looking out for you in the first group of Sprinters next year!. All the best for the upcoming season.

  3. Nice accounting and a great write up as always from the rider POV, which makes it all the more interesting. All the best !!!

  4. Great Writing NJ.... there is a good writer in you ... keep it up

  5. Hey NJ, very well written and insightful article.
    Made for an interesting read. Best of luck :-)

  6. Thanks for sharing. Interesting insight. John will it be necessary to have an indoor trainer to measure up to fitness required to be able able to compete in pro circuits.

  7. A great write up and an amazing accounting of the entire event. I envy you dude! Wishing more laurels in upcoming events. Keep rolling & keep blogging. Cheers!