Yesterday was my first road race of the season, the Vodafone Cycling Marathon (I can't stand misnomers). It had been exactly 5 months since my last road race and I was quite curious to check my fitness level.
With a big prize money on the offering, the VCM attracts the best cyclists of India and this was the perfect place to test, not only my fitness but also my bike handling skills in the bunch.
The race route
The race was a criterium where we did a 10.5km loop 6 times, with points on the offer every time we crossed the start/finish line. The terrain was: 1.5km down, 1.5km false flat, 1km down, 1km false flat and up-and-down the Domlur flyover twice before returning on the same route.
The plan was that our team leaders, Naveen John and Loki, would go for the sprints while the rest of us would animate the race to ensure that the other riders suffered enough to switch their sport to ping-pong!
At the start line!
The pace quickly went up to 40+kmph when the gun went off and the first 3-4kms were a bit of a blur as I panicked to figure out what was going on. When there was a lull in the pace, I did not hit the brakes, maneuvered myself towards the front and regained my composure.
Then we arrived at my favorite stretch of the race – the Domlur flyover. The sharp turns were pretty tricky to descend. I divebombed like a P-51D Mustang – Outside, Inside, Outside, HIT THE THROTTLE! BOOM!
I came out of the flyover with a 2-3 sec lead! Enough to make sure that the other teams wasted their batteries pulling me back.
As, we headed back towards the finish line, I stayed near the front, countering every other attack. I did enough to keep the pace high and not go into the red.
Near the front, but never at the front! (Photo: Flashbuzz photography)
I was not keeping an eye on the distance we had covered and got boxed in with 1k to go when the Indian Railways team surged to the front lifting the pace by 6-7kmph!Damn, That escalated quickly!! They were looking to deliver their sprinter, Shreedhar Savanur, the current national champion, to collect the points on offer.
Lap 2: I’d read an article by Phil Gaimon wherein once he was yelled at by a guy on his wheel to shut down a gap, and at the heat of the moment, it worked! I decided to employ the same tactic. *evil laugh*
Whenever, an attack went up the road, I would move to 2nd or 3rd wheel and scream at the guys in front of me to close the attack.
“CLOSE THAT GAP! CLOSE THAT GAP! CLOSE THAT GAAAAAAAAARRRGGGGHHHHPPP!”
“DON’T LET HIM GO! DON’T YOU DARE LET HIM GO”
I had to work very hard to hide my laugh when the plan worked! oh! the beauty of it!
Second time into the flyover, divebombed again. This time with my friend Enautopolous Gonzalakis (the Spanish mountain goat who raced with the likes of Intxausti and Izagirre in his teen years!) in the lead. It was pretty exciting when I looked back to see that we had again distanced the field – two guys on aluminium bikes and training wheelsets, outmaneuvering the best riders of the country on their carbon bling. Provided some much needed confidence for the big races I’m attending in June and July.
This time, when we approached the 1km to go mark, I had managed to place myself in about 3rd wheel (after a bit of elbow shoving). With 800m to go, I wanted to test my fitness and launched an attack moving to the other end of the road. But the pace was too high and I quickly got spat out to the rear end of the bunch, struggling very hard to stay in contact.
Lap 3: Taking advantage of the mushroom effect after an attack was neutralized, I moved towards the front. This time though, a rider from the Railways was setting a quick pace at the front discouraging any attacks.
Enter the flyover. Divebomb. Exit the Flyover. This time with 3 other guys. I was having fun as the “rear-seat driver” yelling at the others to work harder so that we don’t get caught.
With 1km to go, I was at about 6th wheel, when my Team leader, Naveen John wanted me to accelerate with 700m to go to position him near the front, but my attempt to do so failed and I settled at mid bunch.
With 500m to go, we were going at a speed north of 50kmph and with the constant elbow bashing going on, someone was bound to hit the tarmac. Unfortunately, the rider in front of me lost control and went down hard. At that speed, there is just enough time for three thoughts to run through one’s mind –
“Damn, I cant go left…”
“Damn, I can’t go right…”
“BUNNYHOP IT IS!!”
Lift your front wheel…ok, we’re halfway over him…uh-oh…my rear wheel is lifting…this is not supposed to be happening…THIS IS NOT SUPPOSED TO BE HAPPENING…MAYDAY! MAYDAY!
I get catapulted into the air and land on my left shoulder! BAM! My helmet takesa huge impact!
Then the pain rushes in. Every bone and muscle in my body screaming out in anguish. I lay there on the road in a crouched position to protect my head, as the peloton rushes by. Damnit!
As soon as I was lifted off the ground, I knew there was something wrong with my left collarbone. An X-Ray later reveals the clean cut and the displacement.
Rite of passage!
2-3 weeks off the bike. 6 weeks for completely recovery.