Monday, 23 October 2017

Training Camp - Week 1

It's been one week since I landed in the town of Jamkhandi for a training camp. This camp is for the National Championships happening at the end of this month. Here's a quick recap of this week -

The journey to Jamkhandi involved a 10-hour long overnight bus from Bangalore to the city of Bijapur. The night before, I had googled a Taxi service in Bijapur to get a drive to Jamkhandi. After a lengthy and testing round of negotiation, I brought down the fee from 1300 to 1200 rupees.
Reaching Bijapur early in the morning, I got into the taxi after loading up my bike bag with the Time Trial bike and a borrowed indoor-trainer.

In the 60 kilometre drive, I was welcomed by the sights of endless grain fields, wind-turbines in the far off distant small hills and in the nearby footpaths, people performing their early morning ritual of open-air defecation. Feeling a bit grossed out, I proceeded to look at fields and wind-turbines on Instagram.

Jamkhandi hosted the national championships in 2014 and is set to host this year's edition too. While the nearby city of Bijapur hosts many talented cyclists of the country, the little sister town does not lag behind either.

Upon reaching, the town, I checked into a hotel based on the recommendation of a fellow Bangalore cyclists, Gagan, who too is training for the nationals. I carried the confidence from the taxi-negotiation into the hotel reception desk and was surprised to have them bring down the rent from 4500 to 3750!

Filled with this high, I headed out for lunch at one of the local homemade restaurants, commonly referred to as "Khaanavali". These places make some of the healthiest, cleanest and spiciest meals at a very affordable rate. For a meager amount of 50 rupees (70 cents), the menu consisted of unlimited amounts of Chapatis, Sorghum rotis, vegetable curry, lentil curry, rice with sambhar (lentil soup) and curd.
Feeling quite chuffed with how good the day had sailed through, I hit the bed of my hotel for a short nap, soon after which the power went off. This region of Karnataka is infamous for it's extreme weather. And I experienced this at that afternoon as temperatures soared to a mighty 40 degrees!

The next morning, I was joined by Naveen Raj, a friend of mine. He is one of Bangalore's best cyclists and currently the second fastest finisher of a Speculoos jar I've come across.

Once he set up his bike, we went looking for breakfast and ordered 2 plates of Idlis at the nearby hotel. Halfway through Naveen's Idli, I noticed him pulling out a black-coloured object from his Idli. Not wanting to seem rude by asking, I assumed it was a piece of lentil that somehow got mixed in. "Special idlis", he mentioned and chuckled. "Oh, you mean they come with protein-packed lentils in them?"I asked. "No mate, that was a cockroach leg that I removed." he remarked. Both Naveen & I are very similar in personalities and we expressed out displeasure of this situation by quietly finishing our meal and making a mental note to never return to the place again. Special Idlis indeed!

Over the next three days, life followed a similar routine -
1. Wake up
2. Closed-room defecation
3. Head out for a training ride with Naveen.
4. Stop and check if my wheels are rubbing against my brakes.
5. Return, shower and stretch.
6. Head out for lunch.
7. Wait out the afternoon power cut.
8. Clean the bike.
9. Head out for dinner.
10. Check my brakes before going to bed.

On the fourth day, my routine was disrupted. In the midst of post-ride nap where I was dreaming of Climbing up the Nandi hill at 25kmph, I was woken up by a severe case of Bijapur-Belly. I watched in disappointment as fluids and my form went down the drain, quite literally.

Things turned to worse when I developed a high fever that same evening. Despite the weather being 36 degrees hot, I had to pull on 4 layers of clothing to not shiver.
After 3 liters of ORS (Oral Rehydration Solution), 30 hours of sleep in 2 days and 4 paracetamols, I was back to normal health.

The next day, I lined up for a 40 kilometre Time Trial which was the selections for the state team. Anyone who has ever done any kind of time trial knows that it is more of a mental battle than a physical one. You feel great and invincible if you are catching up to the cyclists ahead of you. On the other end of the spectrum, you question if your brakes are rubbing or contemplate retirement when guys behind you catch up. I contemplated retirement twice today but I knew I was not in the best shape due to the illness.

I was fast enough only to get on to the reserve squad of the state team. Feeling dejected, I returned to my room and took a short nap. I woke up and sluggishly made my way to grab some water. I sluggishly noticed a bed bug underneath my left elbow. I sluggishly panicked and informed the hotel owner about this, who insisted that it couldn't have been a bed bug.

"It had six legs, was sucking my blood and I found it on my bed." I insisted, "No no, it's impossible to find a bed bug in this hotel." he replied. Not-so-sluggishly I told him he was wrong and spent the next 4 hours with Naveen turning out room upside down looking for further infestation. In the 5th hour, both of us reported a clean-sheet and went about the usual routine peacefully.

My first part of the training camp came to a positive end after a few frantic phone-calls to various other teams. I finally managed to get a spot for the national championships and I will be heading into the second week tomorrow.

To be continued..

Friday, 6 October 2017

Tour of Glory - Stage 2

After the 96km race and 100km transfer yesterday,we were checked into the quaint coffee town of Chikmagalur, which is nestled in the lush Malnad region of Karnataka. After a good night’s rest, we lined up for the second stage of the ‘Tour of Glory’.

The stage started in the town of Aldur. Today was 84kms in length with a total elevation gain of 1200m. Apart from the jampacked elevation gain, the special feature of today’s race was that there wasn’t even a single straight flat stretch for more than a kilometre in length. The kind of route that reminds me of the Belgian Classic race – Liege Bastogne Liege

We were flagged off at 8:30AM and soon me and KKR headed to the front to take advantage of the technical descent to try and split the field. We were joined by 10 or so of the strongest riders and we began to take turns in the front.

Photo Credits: Deepak Sondur

While the headwinds of yesterday’s stage tested everyone’s perseverance, today’s course tested everyone’s bike-handling and attentiveness – with its continuous rolling terrain, the occasional traffic and more than occasional cow-crossings.

As we approached the KOM climb of the day which was 1.5kms in length, there was one cyclist, Shiven, 15 seconds up ahead of us. I rode in the front to not let him get too big of an advantage. But as soon as we hit the base, KKR kicked off. I followed in hot pursuit, but I did not have the legs to bridge across and towed in behind Naveen and Adarsh. We crossed the KOM line about 12 seconds behind and worked together over the next 2 kilometres to bring them back in.

In the following short ascents, descents and cow-dodgings, the lead group thinned down to 4 - Me, Naveen, KKR and Adarsh. We agreed to a mutual ceasefire and took turns riding tempo so as to build a lead on the bunch behind. I tried to attack at the 45kmsmark, but I did not have the legs and was soon reeled back in.
PC: Deepak Sondur

Over the next 6-7 kilometres, we were witness to the spectacular views of the Malnad region, which is nestled in between the western ghats and I was in awe of the route selected by the race organizers!

As we hit the next short climb, I was witness to the rear wheel of Naveen Raj, which was nestled behind KKR who was setting a high pace and I was in awe of the pain being dished out.

I was glad I had survived this climb, but I realized that my legs were fatigued from the hard week’s training the week before and I was worried if I could stay with the leading duo till the finale.

At the 60km mark, we hit a 4km climb and my body had reached lactic-acid saturation. I let go off the wheel in front of me, which unfortunately also meant that I let go off my 3rd place on GC.

I rode the rest of the route at my own pace and counted down the kilometres and counted up the number of cows I came across till the finish line. 76 in total. Disappointingly, I have dropped down to 4th on GC, but there’s still one day and 1800m of elevation gain to make it up. 

PC: Deepak Sondur

Thursday, 5 October 2017

Tour of Glory - Stage 1

Tour of Glory:
Today was the first stage of the ‘Tour of Glory’. The ToG is India’s first Stage race and I signed up for it to prepare for the national championships happening at the end of this month. The Tour consists of 3 days, covering 250kms, a total elevation gain of 3000m, and headwinds a-plenty.

We rolled out from Hotel Palms Resort to ride the 7kms neutral to the start line on Nelamangala. The stage would be a 96kms flat day. 23 of us lined up at the start line, eager to get to the finish line as soon as possible and we were flagged off. I had two of my former-teammates in the race – Kiran Kumar Raju and Naveen Raj and I knew that they would be the strong guys to look out for.

At the start of the race! PC: Deepak Sondur

As soon as we started, KKR went to the front of the field and lifted the tempo, reducing the width of the peloton to 1 cyclist ( or 0.75 human) wide. Approaching the next uphill, I decided to put a dig in to reduce the field even further. Following this there were only 8 or 9 of us left in the front bunch.
At around the 15kms mark, KKR launched another move, and was covered by me, Naveen Raj, Master’s racer Bikey Venky, Chennaiite Adarsh Saxena and the MTB rider Shiven.
We began to work together over the next few kilometres, setting a high tempo knowing that the podium for the day would be decided amongst us.

The lead bunch at this point. PC: Deepak Sondur
A game of cat-and-mouse:
Adarsh felt he had the legs to rip apart the already reduced bunch and started to attack at the 25kms mark, encouraging me, KKR and Raj to work together and drop everyone else. 

As attacks flew up the road, I forced Shiven to chase KKR and Raj. Once I realized that he couldn’t bridge across, I attacked and decided to bridge across. But I was stuck in the dreaded no-man’s land - t o o  s l o w  t o  r i d e  a c r o s s  to the front group and toofasttobecaught by the group behind, all the while with a stiff head-wind!

Behind, I saw Adarsh attacking Shiven and bridging across to me. We then worked together but the duo up ahead was too fast to catch up. 

Limiting the losses:
I took the lead during the ascents, Adarsh did on the descents and we shared the workload during the flat sections. But the initial attacks took a toll on Adarsh and I ended up doing most of the work
Over the next 30kms, there were only 2 things in my mind.
2. The tail-wind at the 82km mark. I kept looking down at my Garmin every 30 seconds wishing the distance would go by faster. I realized I was letting the numbers get to me and I switched to a different page which had my power and HR numbers.
When I did so I was shocked to find that despite riding at a tempo pace, my HR was at a mighty 186bpm – way into my threshold region. A rough tissue paper calculation revelaed that I would burn out soon at this effort! 

I put two fingers beneath my neck and physically measured my HR. A second rough calculation revealed it to be at 150bpm. Which is when I realized that my Garmin had accidentally paired with Adarsh’s HR monitor!

 I kept my hydration and nutrition well in-line and was also aided by the well-organized race support crew feeding me at the right times. At the 75kmsmark, we were about 8mins behind the leading two, who were working in tandem!
As we hit the 82kms mark and turned around, a tail-wind blew over us and a new-wind blew over Adarsh and he began to take turns in the front.

 We eventually finished the 96kms stage, about 5.5mins behind the winner – Kiran Kumar Raju.
Tomorrow, we have a 90kms rolling route with 900m of elevation gain in the scenic and picturesque route of Chikmagalur!

Here's another account of today's race from the talented Bikey Venky.

Thursday, 17 August 2017

A quick-ish recap

3rd race in Spain - Ataun - 11th June, 2017

After surviving the first hour in the previous race, I regained a bit of confidence and starting moving up the bunch in this race. The profile included 2 laps of 2 loops in rolling terrain before we hit the first of 2 climbs of the day.

Photo credits: Inaki Sagardui Gomez

Compared to the previous race,both my form & my Spanish had improved and I was keen to display both. 40kms in, I moved near the front of the bunch and started asking around "DONDE ES LA PUERTO? DONDE ES LA PEURTO? DONDE ES LA PEURTO?"

We averaged a whoopping 44kmph for the first hour!

At the 60kms mark, we returned to the town of Ataun for the final time before the climb. I was in the first half of the bunch, with about 50 guys ahead of me.I turn around to look how big the field was, only to realize that everyone behind me had dropped off. That is over 60 guys!

Realizing that I was better than several Europeans in the race was a new experience! And the feeling was of extreme content! This would be a recurring theme in all the upcoming races.

But I let this get to my head and got distracted. Pretty soon, there was a big surge in speed which I missed and got dropped in the race. Nonetheless, it was a win in my head and I looked forward to the next race.

4th race in Spain - Tolosa - 24th June, 2017

Going into this race, I had done my homework and I knew where the Puerto was - at the 59kms mark.

Photo credits: Inaki Sagardui Gomez

After riding fairly well in the last  2 races, I had recognized the "flow" of the races and knew how to position myself before the climbs. There were several breakaway attempts in the first hour, but none survived.

At the 35kms mark,one of the moves was shut down and I decided to try my hand legs at getting into a breakaway. I attacked and was joined by 2 guys - from Caja Rural and Lizarte. 45secs in, I realized this was a mistake as my legs screamed in agony to hold the pace. My legs were thankful when we were caught a minute in, my ego was not.

At the 60kms mark, we hit the climb. I moved to the first 20 riders in the 2nd minute of the climb, but the pace was relentless and 5mins in, I eased on the pedals and got dropped.

Despite taking risks like never before on the descent, I could not rejoin and got pulled out 70kms in. My ego was later satiated when I realized I had hit a new 5mins Power number!

5th race in Spain - Irun - 29th June, 2017

Photo credits: Inaki Sagardui Gomez

2 climbs in this race - one at the 45kms mark and one at the 90kms mark. In the previous editions, the bunch took the first climb easily, so I was confident that I would survive it this day.

In the argy-bargy first hour, I avoided all action in the front and saved myself for the climb. With 2kms from the base,I got on the wheels of a French team who were moving up on the inside of the road. Pretty soon, I was on 5th wheel!

Perfecto! I was awaiting patiently for the climb, but the cyclist in front of me couldn't handle the argy-bargy and landed on the ground. I had to veer off into the grass to avoid him and all of a sudden was back in 40th wheel.
Earlier in the race, a group of 20 had escaped and Team Lizarte,one of the strongest in therace, missed that crucial move. In a desparate attempt, they surged to the front and hammered it in the front.

My Spanish had improved further and I muttered "Hoder!" "Ostia!" and "Que comen?" as I looked in awe at the onslaught happening ahead - the lead bunch was tackling a 4% climb at 32kmph!

I gritted my teeth and rode my pace up the climb and joined a bunch of 20+ cyclists. We took good turns up the front, but the lead bunch was way ahead and we had to pull out after 82kms! I lived in the grupetto to die another day.

6th race in Spain - Salinas - 2nd July, 2017

Photo credits: Inaki Sagardui Gomez

This has been the most technical start to a race, I've been in - descending down a 2kms 10% climb which would tackle twice in the race.
I gulped with nervousness as I squeezed onto my handlebars while descending alongside 100 other cyclists. One wrong move and it would turn into a nasty scene.

Fortunately, everyone escaped the descent unhurt, and now lay ahead 45kms of rolling terrain before 2 ascents up Salinas (2.8kms at 10%). My chutney-pudi fuelled skinny physique managed to hide well in the bunch during this time, but 5kms before the climb, I found myself in last wheel. I decided to stay there and conserve myself for the climb.

A few days earlier..
Race crew: "Sir, all preparations have been made. The cyclists will be challenged on the tough climb."
Race director: "Hmm, I'm not satisfied. Can we make it more tougher?"
Race crew: "If we deviate slightly we can make them go through a 500-metre 14% gradient cobbled section 1km into the climb."
Race director: *tears in eyes* "Beautiful!!"

That's what I imagined would have happened as we hit the tough climb and then went through the cobbled section! I was deep into the pain-cave and tiny black dots began to appear in the periphery of my eye-sight as I struggled to stay in contact with the bunch. We passed through the medieval church of the village..

Me: "Hey God, what is your view on compression wear?"
G: "They are pretty effective and worth the buck. But wouldn't recommend wearing them to the beach."
Me: "Thanks for the heads-up!"

Exiting that section, we still had 1.5 more kilometres to go. I was grinding through the 36X28T a 70rpm and was pretty sure my insides would explode any minute!
 The next 6 minutes were a bit of a blur and when the gradient eased off to 6% with 600-metres from the summit, I eased off the pedal and hoped to catch the bunch in the descent.
 But, I had hoped wrong and the bunch was too fast in the descent and I had to pull out soon.

Silver lining: This was the first race when the race caravan did NOT pass me on the climb!

7th race in Spain - Antzuola - 9th July, 2017

Photo credits: Inaki Sagardui Gomez

Lucky number Seven, it wasn't to be. 3 days before the race, I lay in bed homesick and fighting off a fever. I made the recovery in time, but was still unsure if I would have the legs when it mattered. I debated if I should start the race or hit the beach (without the compression socks)...

The course involved 65kms of rolling terrain. but with longer and steeper uphill sections this time around. Followed by two cat-2 climbs to the finish.

As we started, my legs felt better with each pedal stroke but my aerobic system lacked the Oomph factor needed on racedays.

I decided to take a  gamble - try and make it into the breakaway. If this worked, then I could stay in the breakaway, ride the cat 3 climbs at my own pace and have a buffer of energy when the peloton caught up to me. The flipside being, that I don't get in the breakaway and burn all my matches before the climb doing so.

After 15kms spent warming up and creeping towards the front of the bunch,I began to follow the moves and counter-moves flying off the lead. In the next 20kms, I was active in 6 of the breaks that escaped, but all were shut down soon.

I returned to the bunch feeling slightly dejected, when a training partner of mine gave me the thumbs-up, appreciating my effort. Encouraged by this, I surged towards the front again and initiated 2 futher breaks. The final one offered some bright light as I failed to see the peloton for a while, but as we approached Antzuola, before the climb, we were caught up and swallowed by the peloton.

I was in the bunch for a kilometre-and-half, before my lungs succumbed and I got popped. I returned to the start line, quite content with how I had ridden. I met with my training partner who too had popped and was chatting for a while, after which I asked him - "Donde es la playa?"

To be continued..