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?"
Translation: "WHERE IS THE CLIMB? WHERE IS THE CLIMB? WHERE IS THE CLIMB?"


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..

Tuesday, 15 August 2017

2nd race in Spain - Racing in the wet

It had been exactly 6 weeks since my previous race, and a lot had changed:
  • I spent 5 weeks receiving medical treatment for a broken finger and nail.
  • I changed residences to a village named “Karrika”.

  • I discovered new training routes around Karrika.
  • I accidentally clogged the shower in the new house.
Last Sunday (4th June), I signed up for my second race in Spain. A 122km spin around the town of Bergara with two cat-2 climbs in the final 30kms of the race. I lined up at the start line, with my primary goal to not crash.
When the race started, I settled into the back of the bunch and decided to keep out of much trouble. The temperature was 8 degrees celsius and there were torrential rains scheduled for 10 mins from the start.
As we exited the town, the rains decided to prove meteorologists wrong and started their thing earlier than expected. The speed quickly went up to higher than 45 kilometres per hour with everyone on the edge of their seats. While the slick and wet roads had everyone on the edge of their nerves.
Cycling in the rain. Racing in the rain. Suffering. Bike racing. Spain. Basque country.
In the hurt locker! Photo credits: Iñaki Sagardui Gómez
20minutes into the race, a 10 man breakaway managed to get off the front and the pace quietened a bit, but still above 40kmph. The downpour too quietened to a drizzle. This gave a chance for us cyclists to perform the lesser important tasks of racing –  take off their leg warmers, removing the jackets, pee while riding and swerve to avoid the guy peeing.
As we finished the first lap and re-entered the town of Bergara after 20 kilometres, the rain picked up again. A sense of collective safety ran through the bunch and everyone took the turns super slow and careful. That was quite helpful as now my braking abilities had drastically reduced because of the lack of friction.
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Back in Bergara for the 2nd lap. Photo credits: Iñaki Sagardui Gómez
As the race crossed the 45 minutes mark, a cold though ran through my mind, about how this was the point where I crashed in the previous race. I decided to not pay much heed to it and decided to focus on the real problems at hand. Like navigating the wet & slippery roads and the clogged shower back home.
At the 50 kilometre mark, I had a heart-in-the-mouth moment as I hit a pothole and nearly lost control. But since I was in the tail-end of the bunch, nobody crashed into me and I rejoined the bunch.
Over the next 10 minutes, I was struggling to stay in the bunch. I thought it was due to the lack of fitness owing to the large gap in training and pulled out.
I headed back riding to the car feeling wet, lonely and dejected while questioning if I’ll ever be good enough. To keep my mind occupied, I began calculating the long way back to my peak racing form and the effort involved, when a ray of sunshine shone upon me. Metaphorically speaking – as I heard my brakes rubbing against my front rim!


Tuesday, 9 May 2017

First race in Spain - Part 2 - A lot to be thankful for!





Click here to read Part 1, if you haven't already.

Fact #1- Humans have anywhere from 40,000 to 80,000 thoughts per day. That is 2500 to 5000 per each waking hour. This roughly equals to 1 to 3 thoughts per second.

In the second after which I turned back, the 3 thoughts in my head were -
1. He's definitely going to crash into me.
2. That helmet is strikingly blue.
3. Oh shit! He's definitely going to crash into me.

Fact #2 -  Nerve impulse signals such as those for muscle position, travel at speeds up to 119m/s.

I remember that when the impact happened, my motor neurons went into overdrive instructing the limbs to do everything possible to keep my bike the right way up. For a moment, I thought I had regained my balance, but it was not meant to be. I lost control and crashed at 60kmph.
As I approached the tarmac, the much known dread of hitting the floor returned hard. My field of vision tuned cylindrical as I began to roll and tumble. This was the fastest speed I have crashed at so far. I was expecting to reach 0kmph sooner than it happened. I could feel my hips taking the brunt of the force and my helmet getting roughened up quite bad.


This was the fastest speed I have crashed at so far, and the loudest thought in my head was - "Why have I not stopped rolling yet?"
After what seemed like an eternity of countless impacts, I finally stopped moving. I was lying in a fetal position, leaning on my right. 

As I opened my eyes, I could see a cyclist's front wheel hit my back and him getting catapulted off his bike. I could hear the panic behind me and braced for further impact.

All of the above happened in less than 5 seconds. 



The Aftermath

I just shut my eyes for a while and the first thought in my head was of the massive disappointment that my first race in Spain and of the year had come to an end in such a manner.


Fact #3 - Nerve impulses such as pain signals travel slower at 0.61m/s
But my disappointments were short lived (Roughly 0.82s) when the pain kicked in. And it kicked in HARD! Every single part of my body hurt and I felt like I would explode soon.

My mind scrambled to figure out how to lessen the pain. I recollected an inspiring scene from the movie "Dead Poet's Society" where Robin Williams encourages his students to let out a "Barbaric Yawp". I let out my own yawp and screamed the loudest roar to drown out the pain. And the disappointment. Surprisingly, it seemed to work, as I felt better. Albeit slightly!

Image result for robin williams yawp
O Captain, My Captain! You were a great teacher!


I was approached by a bystander speaking Spanish, asking how I was. I looked to my feet and was pleasantly surprised to see my bike lying there.

I pointed towards it and said, "Mis biciclettas". I could not figure out how to say "Please pause my Garmin" in Spanish, so I let that be.

I then ran my hand over my hip and it felt different in structure. A cold thought ran in the back of my head wondering if I had broken it. I decided it was best to wait for the ambulance and remain stationary till then. I then reached for my collarbones and was glad to see them retain their shape.

At this point, there were 2 more men checking up on me. "Habla ingles?", I asked. "No", they replied dejectedly. "Ambulancia, por favor" I replied and made a couple of gestures pointing to my hip. They understood what I meant and hurried to get the race ambulance to me.

I had heard horror stories of how injuries can worsen if not handled well immediately after a crash, so I made it a point to lie as still as possible in the most comfortable position I could find.

The Road Back To Reality

When the ambulance arrived, they got me on the stretcher, which was surprisingly more technologically advanced than I had expected. I was rolled into the ambulance without any discomfort and we began our way to the hospital.

I was surprisingly calm in the ambulance, plotting my moves depending on which bone would be revealed as broken. Since this was a home course, I also had knowledge of the route from the crash site to the hospital, so I kept my mind occupied by spotting the tree or hill or bridge that I had seen earlier while out training and guess-timated how long it would take me to the hospital.

At the hospital, I provided my basic information as I was reeled into the emergency ward. A nurse cleaned up my wounds and said I would be taken in for X-rays to check my hips, collarbones and neck. 

I was joined by my cycling team admin, Javi, and gave him a rundown of what happened. He spoke with the staff and got things moving around quicker. An hour passed by faster than expected thanks to the painkiller I was administered after which I was reeled in for the x-rays.

Hallelujah

As I anticipated to hear the news of the damage and began calculating the time I would need to recover, the tense minutes felt like hours. The prospect of losing much worked upon fitness and the long struggle to get it back was also worrying. Then Javi walks towards me from the x-ray room with a relaxing grin. The nurse alongside is smiling too as she speaks in Spanish and makes hand gestures which I translate to no broken bones.

Well, almost no broken bones. One finger damaged. No big deal in the grand scheme of things.


Image result for hip fracture funny
 
I almost cried in delight and relief on hearing that news. I had to wait for a while till I got my finger treated and I got around to thinking about the day's proceedings. While recollecting, I realized that I had a choice to make. I could wallow in my misery and pity myself about the 4th major crash in the last 25 months. I could constantly ask, “Why me?!?!” as I fail to gain any understanding of this crazy world. Or, I could recognize how lucky I am that I fought the tarmac at that high a speed and basically walked away, or rather got rolled away, with a few flesh wounds. That I don’t even have a concussion is a miracle.

I made that choice. I’m here now, and no self pity is going to change that fact. What awaits next is a month-long exigent road to racing again. I can't see myself doing anything other than -
1. Focusing on my recovery
2. Pick up enough Spanish to say "Please pause my Garmin".


  Back in action!



 

Wednesday, 3 May 2017

First race in Spain - Part 1 - Crowds, nerves and Descents!


A week late, but I can remember everything that happened like it was this morning.

On 23rd of April, I signed up for my first race in Spain at a town called "Durana".
I couldn't have asked for a better race for my first race of the year -- the start was just 5kms away from my UMC apartment and it was my "home course" - I had trained extensively on the route and knew exactly what to expect.

Once I reached the start line of the race, I went through my entire usual pre-race ritual:
  • Collect my race numbers
  • Shove energy bars & gels into my jersey pocket
  • Meet and greet my teammates
  • Check if I have enough bars & gels for the race
  • Pump up my tires
  • Move gels & bars into the right pockets
  • Go to team car to pin the numbers
  • Remove bars & gels from pockets to pin the numbers.
  • Put the bars & gels back in
  • Head out for a 20mins warm up spin
  • Rearrange bars & gels in the pockets
  • Pee
  • Check if I have enough time to grab another energy bar. I don't.
  • Locate teammates and head to the line.


Pre-race prep work with the team!

When all was said and done, the knowledge of having nailed the planning of my race nutrition gave me that extra bit of comfort at the start line.

Race profile:

The race was 120km long with a total elevation gain of 1160m.  There were a 122 Under-23 riders who had signed up for the race with the big hitters being - Team Lizarte, Caja Rural Development Team and the Quickstep development team.

We would cover 2 laps in the race with each lap having two loops. The first loop was 17kms in length and was relatively flat. The second loop was 44kms long and slightly techincal - with 6kms descent (avg 5%) followed by the toughest part of the race - a 2.8km long climb averaging 10% and hitting a maximum of (a leg crunching) 23%!

Climb Profile.PNG
The climb of the race that turns legs into Opera singers!
Approach to the race:

At the team meeting, the instructions were quite simple -
"This is going to be a tough and dangerous race. Everyone needs to be at the front before we begin the descent. Stay safe and give 'em hell, boys."

It had been over 6 months since my last race of which I spent almost 4 months training alone. I was quite nervous going into the race. Unless you’re racing regularly, it’s hard to gauge your actual level of physical fitness and what goals to set. Drawing inspiration from the recipe of the Plain Dosa, I decided to keep my goals simple and two-fold:
1. Stay in the first 30% of the bunch at all times.
2. Stay as far away from the wind as possible.


Race start:

Once the gun went off, I clipped into my pedals on the first attempt Phew! and latched onto a wheel ahead of me. About 500 metres later, we approached a tight left hand corner. Unlike Belgium racing, there wasn't a massive surge in the speed and I had no difficulty holding my position exiting the turn.
I spent the next 15 kilometres trying to stay in the sweet spot of the peloton -- a position which was third row from the front and first column from the right. This turned out to be tougher than I had anticipated when the road narrowed to half its width in certain sections and I got squished into the middle. And when the going got tough, my inner cornerman woke up..

"Macha, Sarvesh, you gotta move up. If you are in the middle you will get pushed to the back of the bunch before you can shout ALLEZ!".
As the shape of the peloton alternated between a baguette - when attacks flew up the road, and a loaf of bread - when the attacks were caught, novice-named-Sarvesh, focused on staying in the sweet spot.

Sweetspot.PNG

23mins into the race, we finished the first loop.
Avg speed                           : 43kmph
Crashes                                   : 0
Indians surviving in the race    :1

Loop 2-
The moment we started the 2nd loop, I was in about 10th wheel, and a rider from the Lizarte team went on an attack from the far left hand side of the bunch. As soon as he crossed the tip of the bunch, there were loud yells in Spanish coming from the other riders calling their teammates to the front to mark him.


"Okay, then. Lizarte is the strongest team here. When the race approaches the difficult sections, get onto the Lizarte team's slipstream to get a tactical advantage."
Once, that move was shut down, there was a counterattack and I managed to get into that move. While I was not eating any wind, I couldn't help but worry about the extra energy I would spend.

"Damnit, hide from the wind and seek shelter, Sarvesh. Conserve energy. CONSERVE ENERGY!"
A couple of kilometres later, we were caught by the bunch and a large counterattack went ahead, dragging along over 15 riders. I momentarily lost my awareness and got stuck in the bitter-land: 7 or 8 rows from the front and smack in the middle.

To fight off claustrophobia and the disadvantage of that position, I spent the next couple of kilometres moving towards the outer edge and forw-

"AAEEIIIII!" *screeeaaacchh*
BANG!
*Carbon frames landing on top of each other*
There was a crash just a couple of feet behind me. I did not look behind to check what was the aftermath, but it sounded awful and I thanked the stars for my narrow escape.
As I moved to the first 20 riders of the field, I could see the bunch ahead having gained almost 30 seconds on us. There was no panic in the bunch yet, as there was a steady tempo being set up and everyone anticipated the treacherous climb of the day.

I was hiding in the bunch, so well that this was the only time a photographer caught a glimpse of me! (4th helmet from the left)
We hit the town of Landa and a huge crowd of fans greeted us, yelling encouragements in Spanish or Euskara (the language of the Basque region). This was a new and very pleasant experience for me as there are almost no crowds in Indian or Belgian races. What had me even more excited was when I heard earlier that there would be crowds 2 to 3 people deep in the climb of the race. As a cyclist, few things get us more excited than cheering fans. Big or small, costumed or shirtless, drunk or sober, fans in the race always get us excited.
At the 31 kilometre mark, 4 of my teammates surged to the very front and I realized that the descent was approaching in a very short while. As 3 from Lizarte began to move on the outside, I jumped onto their train and was safely sitting on wheel number 6.

YES!
Race goals achieved : 1 of 2

Descent:

I had trained on that descent earlier. It was 6.5kms long averaging 4.8%. The road surface was fairly good except for a couple of potholes. There were 4 technical turns in the descent, they weren't hairpin curves but tight enough to punish any cyclist who loses concentration. I knew that the speed would never go below 55kmph here.

I had never raced in a descent earlier with more than 5 guys in the bunch. After watching countless pro races with descents, I had assumed that in every race, cyclists would maintain a neat single-line and take the descent caring for each others' safety.

I had assumed so wrong!
As soon as we began the descent, there were guys sprinting to the front, eager to not get stuck behind. The approach to every curve, turned out to be a mad dash to the front and I was quickly back in mid field.

What the..
How the..
Aaargh! Come on, Sarvesh. Get your wits up and figure this out, we need to move up or we are doomed.
Look! Get on the Quickstep devo guy's wheel. He looks like  he can handle himself!
Okay, now take this turn nice and smoothly. WATCH OUT FOR THE GUY DIVEBOMBING ON THE OUTSIDE!!.
The divebomb happens and suddenly the Quickstep guy has to brake and loses momentum. I find myself further back in the bunch.

Okay, we need to revert to the Sweet Spot strategy. Move outwards and forwards. Execute Plan Plain Dosa!
By the next turn, I regain my momentum and take the outer line of the turn. I overtake a couple of guys. Next turn, same formula and I gain a few more positions.

That's it. Outwards and forwards. Keep it up man, we've got less than a kilometre and half in the descent. The nasty climb is 15 minutes away, so don’t forg-
At this point, I feel a hand on my left hip exerting a MASSIVE force pushing me towards the right.
Whhoooaaaaaaaaaaa! What just happened?!
My instincts kick in as I struggle to regain my balance.

I'm gonna crash! I'm gonna crash! I'm gonna crash! Aaaarrggh!
In a terrifying microsecond, I manage to regain my equilibrium and manage to catch a glimpse of the guy who pushed. The next microsecond, my survival instincts were replaced by fight instincts as I wanted to yell at him. I turn my pedal for a quarter of a revolution, convinced I won’t be crashing, when I hear a loud scream behind me. I begin to look back and can make out in the corner of my eye, that the guy behind me is moving faster than me but in my line

Uh-oh..

To be continued..