Wednesday, 5 March 2014


        Two weeks ago, I headed to Sriperumbudur to attend my first race of the season, the Madras Motor Sports Club (MMSC) criterium organized by the Tamil Nadu Cycling Club (TCC). Fortunately I have good memories of all the races I attend, including my first race which was coincidentally a Criterium (wherein I got overlapped...3 times...and finished in the last 5! goosebumps), so here is a report on it-

Saturday / the day before the race-

  Fortunately our team director was able to obtain access to the race track on the morning of Saturday, so I went for a reconnaissance ride with some of the riders from Chennai. Having been accustomed to the dry weather here at Bangalore, I was mildly shocked to find myself sweating profusely while riding at 20 degrees! (Tough day at the office tomorrow).
          The course was pretty cool, being 3.7km long with 12 corners which meant bike handling skills would play a vital role, which I would elaborate later on. But with minimal elevation and strong winds, it was pretty clear that it would be a power course (in other words, I would not be dreaming of a win).

There was a 3 lap warm up race conducted that day to open our legs and also inflate one's ego a bit. The race was a handicap race wherein the women riders would start first followed by the junior riders after a certain gap and then the open/elite category riders would start at the end. I worked well with the riders in my group and caught up with the rest after 2 laps and would have won if my left crank had not come off the bike! (felt a bit like Andy Schleck at the moment)

(Yikes! Note: ignore white socks)

Fortunately, I obtained tools from a fellow rider and fixed it Phew! 
While putting up the bikes onto the car rack, we heard engines revving. Curious to find out more, me and a couple of my teammates entered the pit-stop region. What I saw can be described as every mechanical engineering students' dream-

 Narain Kartikeyan's Paddock 
(He would go on to win the next day's F2 race)

His engine!

Aerodynamics - the one thing common between cycling and Formula sports
(Safe to say that I have got myself a descent haircut now!)

Race day / Sunday:

After a quick breakfast I was off to the race track at 6 in the morning to attend my brother's race in the under 18 category. After witnessing the under18 race, I headed off to the parking lot to get a good warm up on the trainer (am I the first person in the country to do so?). If you own a trainer, I'd highly recommend using it to get a proper warm up before a crit/TT, it makes a HUGE difference!
    Fortunately, I timed my warm up perfectly and arrived at the riders' assembly area 10mins before the start of the event. I collected my transponder (which is pretty cool) and downed a caffeine gel. Ah! The joy of knowing that my preparations were perfect! 
    At the start line, I was looking around and marking the strong and weak riders. I also might have have scared my teammate when I told him that my main goal for the race was not to get overlapped! The way I saw it, there were 5 main teams-
1. Trek Firefox Racing Team:
We had two guys from the main team for the race including myself. A couple of riders from our development squad and a few more riders invited to the race as a try-out.
2. Specialized Kynkyny Cycling Team:
They had a squad of 4 riders. These were the guys to beat and it was not going to be an easy task, with all the guys in their team being medalists at the National C'ships.
3. Trichy cycling team:
They had one of the fastest sprinters in the country on their roster list, so he'd be riding with a bull's eye on his jersey!
4. Team Wheelsports:
Their strongest rider was absent for the race. Phew! But they could play a major role if one of their guys sneaked into a breakaway.
5. Indian Army:
Quite frankly, I realized that they were in the race only when I saw the results sheet! With each rider riding for himself and wearing different jerseys, it appeared they were attending just for the sake of the travel, accommodation and to attack aimlessly during the race!
       Pretty soon, we were flagged off  at about 9AM, and I sprinted to the front of the bunch because positioning before the first corner would play a major role, or so I thought! I sat in second place as we approached the corner, the pace was quick but not fast enough and soon other riders were coming to the front. The "Mushroom effect" was now in action and I was finding any gap to slip into the front again.
When I did the warm up race yesterday, the pace was not quick enough so I could take the corners at my own time coasting through them. But now, every time I coasted through the corners, I would slow down relatively and get mushroomed. (It also important to note that while racing in India, riders behind you tend to make hissing noises to let you know that they are approaching) I would be in the top 5 position before the corner but find myself somewhere in the 15th to 20th position while coming out of it. This went on for the first lap leaving me gasping as I accelerated after each corner.
            I knew I was wasting more energy, so I decided to take more risks and load up on my bike handling skills from the 2nd lap onwards. Each time while approaching a corner, I would "hiss" my way to the top 5. While in the corner I would shift weight to the leg on the outer side and pedal through rather than coast the corner. And it worked! I would come out corners in almost the same position I started!        
 According to the rules, there would be a sprint on the 3rd, 6th and last (10th) lap and the riders in the first three position would be awarded points. in the end, the rider with the most accumulated points wins. With the excitement realising that my tactic had worked, I lost count of how many laps had passed. With 400m from the finish line, I moved to the front only to realize that this was the second lap! D'Oh!

Close call!
(Photo credits: Photogalaxy)
On the brightside, 50m from the finish line, there was a crash in the middle of the bunch. I was at the front and escaped when it caused a spilt in the bunch. Good choice to accelerate at the wrong really..
           Viewing the crash as an opportunity some of the riders moved to the front to increase the pace while at the same time my body needed to recover from the previous acceleration. As I was struggling to stay with the pack, the SKCT riders controlled the pace and grabbed all the points on offer.


As in any criterium, there was a breakaway formed after the sprint lap, since we had one of our guest riders in it, we decided not to chase. By this time, the wind speed had picked up and positioning was more crucial than ever. The Trichy riders took up the responsibility to chase, and a couple of laps later the breakaway was caught. Immediately there were counterattacks forming left, right and center! Our team captain, Jetharam had successfully broken away with 3 SKCT riders, and it seemed like that was the winning move.
At this point, I positioned myself in the top 5 in the main bunch to cover any attacks. Ahead of me was Lokesh (who is one of the strongest and most respected riders in the country!) from Team SKCT, and that's when it hit me-

I'm on Loki's wheel!

With 4 laps to go!

Despite my form resembling a lean Homer Simpson!

Criteriums are friggin awesome!!

                  As the saying goes "Three cyclists are better than one...unless your name starts with Rajni and ends with Kanth". The Trichy riders once again took up the responsibility to chase while the SKCT riders were happy to allow Jetharam do all the work. Pretty soon they were caught. And predictably there was another counterattack. From the same 3 SKCT riders. With the Trichy riders riding on empty tanks, the break had managed to escape. I went ahead to form a chase with one of the rider from Team Wheelsports.  After my first effort, I dropped back into the bunch to recover. With strong crosswinds blowing, the guy in front of me lost contact with the bunch, and before I realized it, there were 10 or 12 guys ahead of me! I quickly began to chase, resulting in my longest...pain-dangle...ever!
               For 4.5kms I was chasing alone with the bunch just 7 to 8secs ahead of me. Just when I was about to give up, I noticed that up ahead, that the bunch was spread out on the road, without hesitation, I quickly shifted down a couple of gears and accelerated to get back into the bunch, while going into the red and squealing like a rat for a few moments. Only to realize that no one was working despite Jetharam trying to organize a chase. I went to the front again and chased for a while, but I was no match to the 3 riders ahead working in unison! After my effort, I dropped back into the bunch to recover, but since no one else was chasing, 30 secs later I went ahead to the front to slog it out for one last time. I had gone into the red while doing so, but my efforts were fruitless as the gap wouldn't nudge. Pretty soon I was cooked and got dropped from the bunch with 5km from the finish.
        With 3k to go, an Army rider caught up with me and he was glad to do all the work. Sucker! I sprinted past him with 150m to go and finished in 12th place.
It was a good way to start the season, although a podium for the team would have sealed it. Despite my physical capabilities not suiting criterium racing (for now), I look forward to my next crit race because they are fast, fun and sort of an ego booster (when one does not get DNF'ed!).
Pretty neat results sheet!

Next Event:
March 16th - Bangalore Bicycle Championships 100km Road Race
Back to racing in awesome weather and "normal" amounts of humidity.


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