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! 

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