Wednesday, 26 August 2015

Oudenberg again!

The day after the race at Ursel, I joined the Zappi's pro cycling team for a training ride which included multiple ascents up the Koppenberg! Why multiple ascents you ask? Turns out, the British nationals championships were to be held on a circuit which included and finished on top of a cobbled climb resembling the "Heads Mountain". How cool is that!!

Koppenberg! Literally translates to Heads Mountian!
We started the first ascent, I kicked into a suitable gear and began powering up the climb. Unfortunately, the power I was putting out was too much for my trusty aluminium steed as 50 metres into the 600 meter climb, my derailleur hanger snapped and shoved the derailleur into my rear wheel! Sheise

18th June, 2015 : Oudenberg

My friend and supporter, Prof. Jamie Anderson was kind to lend me his carbon bike with some pretty sweet Dura-Ace components and I lined up for my next race at Oudenberg.

The course was a 6.2km loop. Flat as a pancake. As windy as a Hurricane.

Th start line was the same as the criterium I had done 3 days ago, but after the second corner, we ventured further down the road and turned into exposed country stretches littered with corners and road furnitures.

The field was 50+ riders strong including riders from the An-Post Chain Reaction Cycles Team and the Lotto-Soudal U23 team (These guys are everywhere!!) and also the Estonian U23 National Champion!

As always, the race started with a flurry of attacks from the front, I settled behind the Callum's wheel who is one of the most experienced riders in the Zappi's team. We approached a round about and a few guys took advantage of a bike path alongside and sped on it to position themselves towards the front.

Mental note to self: Use the bike paths whenever you can.

As we took a left turn from the city onto the country roads, we encountered a strong crosswind coming in from 10 o' clock. After the sprint, I latched onto a wheel while being on the right hand side of the field. Riders who were on the left hand side of the bunch were exposed and were constantly trying to move in to se-


A big Belgian dude, probably 80-85kilos bumps into me trying to steal my position. That son of a gun! He did not have the agility of Mark Renshaw and I quickly went offensive, thrusting out my left elbow into his ribcage. He moved slightly ahead of me and tried to butt in his butt onto my handlebars. At that moment, a gap opened up on the right hand side and I sprinted to slot myself ahead of him. Take that! Phew! That was close...and fun! Oh and all of this happened at 45+kmph!

Who says cycling is not a contact sport?!

As we encountered one corner after another, I noticed that the entire bunch ahead was lined out into a single form with a group of 7-8 riders at about 4-5secs ahead. This is going to be hard race.

 Lap 2:

I took the bike path. But in doing so, I was at the edge of my nerves trying not to crash and did not make up much positions exiting onto the road.
I had settled onto the rear wheel of one of my teammate whom I knew was very experienced. Fortunately, there was no argy-bargy...for a while. Entering one of the corners, another teammate of mine swooped in and stole my position. What the? Who the? HEY!
At this point I was furious at him and lost focus in the race, loosing wheel after wheel, eventually relegated to the very last wheel.

Belgium racing lesson number 4 : FOCUS! FOCUS! FOCUS!

I eventually snapped due to the constant accordion effect taking place and was dropped about 1km from the finish line.

Gutted. Again.

To overcome the disappointment, I decided to ride the 90km back home. I caught up with Flavio and wished him and the boys the best for the nationals and set about finding my way back home.

The way back to Gent was quite enjoyable as I got to visit the picturesque city of Brugge en route and feasted on some waffles mid ride, which I would regret doing so 3kms later.

Wordt vervolgd..


Tuesday, 25 August 2015

Zappi's Pro Cycling team and Tools of the Trade

Belgium has one of the, if not, THE toughest amateur racing scene in the world. The tough field, harsh weather and narrow winding courses, make Belgium the perfect university for any aspiring bike racer.

Every year, several teams and riders take upon the pilgrimage to the heartland to throw themselves into the ring of fire and test their physical abilities. One of the teams who do this every year is the Oxford based Zappi's pro cycling team. An U23 elite amateur team mentored by Flavio Zappi, who once wore the green jersey at the Giro d'Italia!
In my 2nd week of my stay at Belgium, I gained valuable insights into the sport by racing and training with the Zappi's boys for a few days.

Zappi's Pro Cycling Team

15th June, 2015: Ursel

The morning of the race day, I caught up with Flavio and rode with the boys (4 that day) to the town of Ursel wherein I lined up for my 5th race.
While pinning on the numbers, I was quite taken aback by the conversation between the Zappi riders-

"I'll go in the first break and you guys cover any counters if I'm caught"

"Got it, and guys make sure someone's marking Mario all the time"

"If it comes down to a bunch sprint, I'll go for it"

 "Sarvesh, what's your plan?"

"Ummm, I don't know. It depends on how my legs feel in the race". I was too embarrassed at that point, to reveal that I'd be happy if I lasted more than 2 laps in the race.

We started the 120km race with 60 odd riders, including a rider from the U23 Lotto-Soudal development team! Unfortunately, Loki had sprained his ankle and could not line up for the race.

I took too long to register and pin on my numbers because of which I could not check out the course. Big mistake! All I knew was that each lap was 6.9kms in length and was "slightly" technical.

We started of by going flying up a 800m incline with an average gradient of 2.5%. I was in a good position at the summit in the top 20 or 25 and I even tried to bridge along with one of the attacks, but my body had not warmed up yet and I settled back into the peloton.

Right hand corner.

Sprint out of it.

200 meters later, repeat again.

I was on the right hand side of the bunch coming out of the corner and was quite horrified upon exiting to find out that the width of the road had narrowed to two-thirds of its initial width! After spending 6 scary seconds trying to balance myself on a gravel section while going at 42kmph, I jumped back onto smooth tarmac. Albeit the damage had been done. While I decelerated to 42kmph on the gravel section, the bunch had powered along at 50+kmph and I found myself in the tail end of the bunch.

Pro Amateur Tip: Check the course before the race

Panic took over my reins and I found it difficult to move up the bunch when the road was only 3 riders wide. For the next 2 kilometers, I was in an agitated state, because I knew that if I did not move up soon, I would get dropped in a corner up front.

I did not move up soon.

We took a sharp acute angled turn onto a a wider road but into a block headwind. I could see a break of about 10 riders up the road with a gap of about 12-15seconds and it included one of the Zappi's boys! Damn, these guys are strong!

Contrary to the racing scene in India, wherein everyone sits up in a headwind section, in Belgium, headwinds are used as a tool to turn the screws in a race. Since physics dictates that you save 30% drafting behind another cyclist, all the riders on the outside of the bunch move inwards in search of the ever precious slipstream. This causes a cascading effect wherein at the tail end of the bunch, a long thin line of riders struggle to hold on.

Tail end was where I had checked in to at this point and my facebook status was updated to "Struggling to hold on".  Neither had my body warmed up yet nor did I have the raw power needed to hold on and my relationship status was quickly changed to "single" as I unceremoniously got dropped soon.

A hundred metres later, the bunch took a left hand turn into the town wherein buildings on either side of the ride negated the effects of the winds. I chased as hard as I could and was just 3-4seconds behind the bunch when we crossed the finish line, but I was burnt by the time I hit the ramp and the broomwagon shot up the road ahead of me.

I was gutted at this point and rather sit around and wait till the race finishes, I took advantage of the headwinds and got in a decent training session.

Rule number 5!

Zappi's team bagged a top 10 and a few primes in the race. The post race ride back home was quite fascinating as I exchanged stories with the Zappi's team about racing and training in the subcontinent.

To be continued..

Monday, 24 August 2015

Oudenberg criterium - Frites and Cornering

14th June - Oudenburg Criterium

I lined up for my first criterium in Belgium at Oudenberg. Typically, criteriums in Belgium start at 7:00PM (Yes, you read that right). The field is restricted to 50 riders and the race distance is 70-80kms. Each lap in this course was 1.9kms in length.

In criteriums, it is essential to know the course, I began warming up 30mins before the start and memorized the entire course well (too well actually) -

  • Start off into a headwind....left hand corner after 100m...
  • 200m later, another sharp left hand corner at the town out on the outside of the curve...
  • 450m long stretch with road traffic on either side of the road..150metres apart...
  • 90degree left corner followed swiftly by a 90degree right corner...
  • 200m later, wide left corner...speedbraker in 50m..
  • Another left corner..I can see the finish line in the distance..crosswinds from 2 o' clock..
  • 200metresfrom the finish, a small roundabout..hit the finish line..

I got in a good warm up and lined up at the start line with 3mins from flag off and I quickly downed a gel (gels are so easy to find in Belgium!!)


As we sprinted off the start line, learning from the previous races, I grabbed onto a wheel heading out of a corner and sprinted....aaaaaaaannnnndd...managed to hang on!!! Yessssss, short term  improvements feel so soooo gooooood!

Approach next corner. Repeat again.

I was in the top 30 position and up front I could see the entire bunch move to the left. That could only mean one thing - Road Furniture!!!

I swerved to the left, 25secs later, to the right.

Pesky little things them Road Furniture!!

In the next corner, the road was pretty wide allowing the riders to take it a high speed, but it requires a level of bike handling skill to do so. Which was made evident when I got overtaken by a Belgian dude who seemed to make it look as easy as eating frites!

Approach next corner. Repeat again.

Damn, I lost 2 positions in 100meters to guys who were not even pedaling when they passed me!

 I held onto my position and as we approached the start/finish line, I could see the peloton stretched out in a single line. Pesky little things them headwinds!

Lap 2:

Pretty much the same dealio, but in the 2 quick 90degree turns, I mimicked the movement of the rider ahead of me to get more speed in the corners. It was not as flawless as his but was an improvement compared to the first lap.

Lap 3:

With primes on the offer every lap, it was tough for a breakaway to form. This was evident as there were constant attacks going off the front.

After the final corner before the start/finish line, I was in about 10th wheel. I was sensing that a breakaway would go sooner or later and when we approached the roundabout, I saw (Super) Mario sprinting on the right hand side of the roundabout. I threw caution to the wind and sprinted towards the left hand side of the roundabout, hoping to catch his slipstream.
Alas, I did not have the required acceleration and was quickly caught by the bunch and immediately spewed to the rear.

Lap 4:

Not having recovered from my dig, I was chewing my front Tyre to stay in the bunch. As soon as we hit the two 90degree turns, I could not hold onto the accelerating wheel ahead of me and let go.

(Heidi Lannoo Photography)

First criterium was done and (left me) dusted. Several important lessons learnt. As me teammate Naveen says, "Onto the next!"

P.S. Naveen went on to finish the crit and also take a prime while breaking away from the bunch for 2.5laps!