Friday, 12 June 2015

Third time Lucky!

7th June, 2015:

 There were only two thoughts in my mind when commuting the 13kilometres to the start of my third race at Marelbeke-Schelderode:
1) I've got to finish a lap in the bunch
2) How the heck on earth has the weather changed so drastically?
It was a bright sunny day with a warm (actual warm) temperature of 25 degrees Celsius!


My knee injury was still persisting, but I was in the right frame of mind for the race, thanks to the arrival of my teammates Naveen John and Lokesh Narasimhachar in the days preceding the race.

Everybody loves "New Kit Day"!

Numbers for the day!
The race was 14 laps of an 8.3kilometres rolling course with a couple of stretches at 2-3% YES! and a 75 metre section of Cobblestones! Oh god, YES!!
I lined up alongside 133 riders, including one U23 Track World Champion, and we were flagged off at 3:00PM. Learning from my previous mistakes, I came up with a gameplan - I would latch onto a wheel while going into every corner and hold on to that wheel while coming out of the corner, even if that meant sprinting my guts out.

The Australian U23 Track team were competing that day!

We approach the first corner, I did not dare to look at my GPS but we were definitely north of 40kmph. My teammate, Morgan, passes me. Target locked! I jump onto his wheel and anchor my position there. Elbows spread out.

I can see the accordion effect taking place up front while I sit at about 10th wheel. I shift down a couple of gears and anticipate the upcoming effort. I take the corner smoothly. Meanwhile the elastic upfront has stretched.  

This is it! 

I get off the saddle and give it all I've got to hold onto Morgan's wheel.

Aaaaarrrggghhh..hhmmppfff....eeeeekkkk!! Phew!

Well, that was easy!

In actual reality, that was the hardest sprint I'd done in the race, Power number wise. We had turned onto a headwind section and the riders upfront had slowed down a bit. I stick my head up and notice attacks going on upfront while I sit at 30th wheel. I look to my right and notice something amazing...stunning...awesome..well, words can't describe it.  We were going at about 45kmph when I see Mario Willems hop onto the bike path and speed past the field to position himself in the first 5 wheels!!

In this section, I took advantage of the mushrooming effect. I sprung onto a Belgian rider and moved up 5 positions while in his draft, before the next corner.

Next corner..

Same drill again.

Aaaaarrrggghhh..hhmmppfff....eeeeekkkk!! Phew!

In the first half hour of every race in Belgium, there are always moves going off the front as everyone and their brother wants to be in the breakaway. A few days later, me too! For now though, I was staring at the sponsor logos of the rider in front of me.

The peloton, encountered, split and rejoined while tackling a section of road furniture. This was on an uphill section of about 2% but at that high of a speed, I did not even notice it!

The next turn we encountered was an obtuse angle turn, meaning the entering and exiting speeds were relatively slower, but with there being a cobbled stretch on the left hand side of the road, "mushrooming" my way forward was tougher.

The cobbled section separated the road from the bike path!

One more right-handed-obtuse-angled-turn later, we hit a stretch of road with tress lined up on the left side of the road, making the wind redundant. Any guesses what happened next? Attacks flew off the front. I could see riders ass far as 200 metres from where I was. Sheesh!

Right turn approaching..

This time, I jumped onto Jacob's wheel while he was mushrooming to the front. Thanks, to the accordion effect there were about 0.78secs of recovery while entering the corner when I could shift to a gear just right for sprinting on exiting.

Enter..Maneuver..Exit..Sprint for 20seconds...aaaarrrgghhhHoldOnHoldOnHoldOnnnnnn...YESSSS!!

Next up on the menu, a forest section with a tailwind section and sketchy roads. The entire peloton was narrowed in at this point due to the high speed. This was a crucial section because if the rider in front of you pulled the plug, then you had dig in really deep to first, overtake him and then speed up to the motoring bunch ahead.

Don't you dare let go off at that wheel!!

2mins and 27secs of teeth clinching, lung burning effort later, we turned left from the narrow forest road to a narrower farm road. I took the turn on the outside and began sprinti- Holy shi-aarrgg..heeekk!Phew! Bloody road furniture!

Somewhere, in the next stretch when we were going at a "relatively" slow pace, I remember extremely cautiously removing my bottle water from the bottle cage..extremely carefully sipping down water...super extremely carefully putting it back. I glanced down at my GPS for the first ever time and notice the speed at 49.7kmph!  

Meh, 0.3kmph slower than I expected it to be.

We approach the end of the section and we hit - COBBLESTONES!!!! We wrestle with our rattling bikes for about 75meters also maneuvering a right hand turn in the process only to jump onto a section of urban pavement/cobbles. Such a bummer!

I see the barricades on both sides of the road. It hits me suddenly, we are less than a hundred meters away from the start line. I just finished a lap..IN THE BUNCH!!!
At this point, I had to work very extremely hard to contain the impulse of performing a victory salute!

What was going on in my mind after one lap!
The second lap was pretty much the same. Until, we hit the forested section. I lost my concentration for a split second and found myself breaking the elastic. I got on the mushroom train again, but at the wrong time. In the next left hand turn, I had to brake almost to a standstill to avoid catapulting over the road furniture. Following this, I lost my rhythm and was at the second to last wheel at the cobbled sector.

I had not yet recovered from my effort to stay in the bunch, when we approached the first corner of the circuit and lost contact being unable to sprint back.

I tried chasing for the next kilometer, but with the headwind, I did not stand a chance. I finished the lap alongside Loki who, despite suffering from jetlag lasted almost 2 laps!

24mins 36secs! Heck Yeah!!!

NJ lasted 1hr 50mins. The longest by and Indian so far.

Next race is on the 13th of June. A criterium. *Gulp*

Until next time! 

Wednesday, 10 June 2015

I hate tailwinds..

2nd June, 2015:

I was keen to make amends from Sunday's race and I tagged along with Genadijs and Jacob to compete at a race in Wakken. There were no rains in the forecast, but the 32kilometre ride to the race start did involve riding into a block headwind with the temperature "relatively high" at 18 degrees Celsius!

After an agonizing one hour and twenty minutes, we arrive at Cafe Schaak and sign up for the race. Being a mid week race, the field was shorter with 53 riders in total.

The only photograph I captured that day!
With a shorter field, I expected the race to be easier than Sunday. Oh, How wrong was I!
When the race was flagged off, we blasted down a slightly downhill section of the town. Before I realized it, we took a left hand turn and onto rural roads. The field split to tackle a narrow roundabout and as soon as we converged, we hit a crosswind section.


An attack goes up on the far right hand side of the road, when I was sitting at the left hand side of the peloton in the last but second row. With the wind coming in from the left hand side, this can mean one thing and one thing only..

Rural roads + Crosswinds + Belgian racing = ECHELONS!
Due to poor positioning, I quickly loose gap with the wheel in front of me. Nuh-uh, Not this time! I shift down to the 53X11 and chew my front tire to bridge the gap to the wheel in front of me.



We turn right into a tailwind section. I am in last wheel and there are attacks going up ahead at the far end of the peloton. The elastic snaps and I get spat out the back. Again. 4mins 27secs.

On the way back home, my right knee begins to hurt near the patella, two kilometres into the 32km ride. This has been a day to forget.

The next race I did, has been the most amazing race and also the toughest I've done so far. Stay tuned..

Tuesday, 9 June 2015

First ever!

31st May, 2015:

I wake up at 9:00AM to find it raining outside, the third time in the last 4 days. Sweet! The weather forecast predicts rain for most part of the day with a high temperature of 15 degrees Celsius. "Then his favourite thing happened, it began to rain" -  a line from the documentary "Senna", plays in my mind. I silently pray that the conditions remain the same during the race.

Rise and shine!
5 hours later and 13kilometers away, I arrive at Cafe Vrierdenkring located in the town of Marelbeke. The race is scheduled to start at 3:00PM. I make my way to the registration desk and buy a License to race in Belgium, probably the first time an Indian has done so. This being relatively close to Gent, many supporters of Kingsnorth International Wheelers have turned up to watch us race. The team gets a free coffee and we make our way to the support tent to get changed and pin on the racing numbers.

Racing number and License!

Many of the races are sponsored by Cafes who sell a ton of beer and coffee on raceday!

A very kind couple who are ardent cycling fans and supporters of KIW!

At the support tent!

Our Soigneur, 75 years young!

The New Zealand national team were racing that day! *Gulp*

20mins to start time, I go out for a quick spin to try and warm up. With temperature hovering at 10 degrees and riding into a headwind, I miserably fail to do so. While making my way to the start line, I introduce myself to my teammate, Mario Willems. Mario is a living legend. Having won more than 275 Kermesse races and still kicking ass at the age of 42, he is undoubtedly one of the best amateur racers in Belgium.

"Hello Mario. I am Sarvesh"

"You are crazy, man! Its too warm for leg warmers. Remover them! REMOVE THEM!"


I then go and hide myself somewhere mid bunch at the start line. I had kitted up with every single piece of clothing I could find :                             1 Thermal Base Layer + 
                                                            1 Full-Sleeve Team Jersey + 
                                                            1 Wind vest + 
                                                            1 Half-Sleeve Team Jersey + 
                                                            1 pair of team BIB Shorts + 
                                                            1 pair of Leg Warmers + 
                                                            1 pair of Winter socks +
                                                            1 pair of Shoe covers + 
                                                            Cycling cap

If allowed , I would've gone with a rain jacket too. 

As excited as a schoolboy!

At 3:00PM we are flagged off and escorted by the coolest police motorbike I've seen. We are to cover 20 laps of a 6kilometers course. As we take the first turn, attacks are going off the front and I've positioned myself in mid bunch at about 10th wheel.
The amateur racing in Belgium is the toughest in the world because every one wants to get in the breakaway. Every. Single. Person! Due to the countless attacks going on at the front, the speed is relentlessly high. I averaged 44.5kmph in the first 2 kilometres of the race!Into a headwind section!
 The other factor contributing to the agony, is that when approaching a corner, the riders in the first 2 rows intentionally drop the speed to less than 30kmph and then sprint while exiting the corner. This sets off a huge  accordion effect in the rest of the field with the riders in the last third of the bunch finding themselves sprinting for over 40secs just to stay in contact. 
In the first corner, I move up on the inside corner. Rookie mistake. I had to hit the brakes to avoid crashing and nearly came to a standstill. Exiting, I wrestle with my bike swaying it from side to side, like a mad man to get back to the bunch. 

In the fourth kilometer, I panicked. I switched off mentally and was quickly turned into pack fodder. Rather than sprinting to latch onto a slipstream, I began riding at a Time-Trial pace. Big Mistake! After the next corner, we turned into a tailwind section. I was being passed by all the riders in this stretch. Despite spinning the 53X11 at a 102rpm, I made no grounds on moving up the field, I was spat out the back of the field. While riding at 51.2kmph! I lasted 9mins 02secs in the race.

The second lap, I settle into a rhythm. Clearly, I was out of the race, but I wanted to ride along for as long as the commisaire pulled me out. It was drizzling at this point and into the last corner, my right wheels slipped and I swerved uncontrollably onto the sidewalk. My race was done.

The pack!

The pack fodder!

Updates on my next two races will be within 24 hours. 

P.S. Mario won the race!

Saturday, 6 June 2015

Bangalore to Belgium - Kingsnorth International Wheelers

Day 2:

Kingsnorth International Wheelers is an amateur cycling team based in Gent, Belgium offering a pathway for aspiring pro cyclists from the Commonwealth nations. Jack Bauer and Gordon McCauley being the most famous alumni of KIW. I came across Kingsnorth in an online article last year.  I contacted Peter Murphy, the club president, inquiring if I could ride for the team and he was very welcoming.

Jack Bauer. The cyclist, not the counter-terrorism agent!

Jamie lent me his pretty cool looking LOOK Pro 586 (look what I did there?) to ride. Sadly, my shoes and pedals were in the bike box which was scheduled to arrive between 8 and 11PM this day.
Pro Tip: Carry your cycling shoes and pedals in your cabin luggage, so that you can borrow a bike to ride in case your bike box/bag is lost in transition.

Belgium is famous for its cycling infrastructure, with almost every stretch of road having a dedicated cycling lane. This also comes with a 150 fine if you are found riding outside the dedicated cycling lane!
In the evening, I  rode to the Gent Sports Centre with my teammates Michael, Daniel and Genadijs and boy-oh-boy was it amazing to ride on the bike paths. It was slightly scary in the beginning with its twists and turns and plenty of road furniture, but once I got the gist of it, I felt like a fish in water!

GoPro Video coming soon!

The Sports centre is a gigantic expanse housing several sporting arenas including tennis, football, Kayaking & Caneoing, etc. Being the pro cycling fan I am, the only arena which mattered to me was the Vlaams Wielercentrum Eddy Merckx (Flemish Cycling Centre Eddy Merckx). 

At 10PM, I received a phone call that my bike box had reached the doorstep. "ALLEZ! ALLEZ!" I shouted as I was reunited with my Specialized Allez!

O' How dearly hath I missede thoust!

Bangalore to Belgium - Shocking food at McDonald's

27th May, 2015: 

After 12 hours of travel and 5 (good) + 1 (oh god! WHY?) flight meals, I stepped out to the Düsseldorf airport. The fresh air immediately cured my asthma and increased my VO2 max by 2.3mL/(kg-min).
I was scheduled to land at Brussels, but due to technical issues at the airport, the flight was diverted to Germany.

        Once at the airport, I got a good workout searching for my bike box running around to almost all the cargo carousels. Unfortunately, due to the short layover at Dubai, the bike box had not made it to the Brussels flight in time. Bummer!
Bird's eye view of Dusseldorf!

First touchdown at Europe!

I got onto the shuttle arranged by the airlines from Düsseldorf to Brussels and slept like a baby. 4 hours later, I stepped out onto the heartland of Bike racing - Belgium! At the Brussels airport, I breathed a sigh of relief when they had tracked my bike. I breathed a heavier sigh of relief, owing to my increased VO2 max, when it was assured that my bike would be delivered to team's host house at Gent.

At Brussels airport, my good friend and supporter, Jamie Anderson, provided a car ride from Brussels to my residence at Gent. Sorry Jamie, I was too jetlagged at the time and forgot to take a photograph.
Surprisingly, when we went searching for dinner at 8PM in Gent, almost the entire city was shut down! 
McDonald's came to the rescue and shockingly they had a salad on the menu!!
Back at the house I was delighted to meet the guys at the team following which I navigated successfully despite feeling like a zombie and crashed on my bed. Oh god, YES!