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..

Wednesday, 19 April 2017

First fortnight in Spain - Week 2

Click here to read Part 1

WEEK 2

Training – Basque Style

While the first week had me rushing around trying to keep up with a hectic schedule, the second week was far more relaxed, which allowed me to get in much more riding. Monday morning was my ride in Vitoria-Gastiez and I joined Ethan for a recovery ride around a nearby lake called "Landa". The weather was ideal with very few clouds and the temperature hovering around 17 degrees, which allowed us to get in some good shots throughout the day.

Riding out of Vitoria-Gasteiz

Lake Landa!


Tuesday was less of a photoshoot day and more of a let's-get-to-work day on the bike as I joined Ethan and another teammate, Arritz, on a ride towards a climb where we would do some hill repeats. Despite the leg grinding efforts, I was dumbfounded by the sheer beauty of cycling in this region. It’s hard to take a bad photo here to be honest - the sights you come across on a ride are often so picturesque that you don’t need an ‘eye’ to capture them.

What I can’t quite yet capture in a photo though is the simple wonder of these roads. Someone driving a car generally might not appreciate the quality nor the diversity of a road, as they are usually only concerned with going from point A to point B in the shortest amount of time. A motorcyclist? Sure, they’ll get something out of the experience. But a truly great road really does, in my opinion, need a cyclist upon it for its majesty to be realized.

Riding with Ethan and Arritz

First exposure to Basque Racing

In Belgium a typical race attracts between 50 and 80 riders, but here the number goes up to 200! Due to a paperwork mix-up, I couldn't enter a race that was scheduled for Thursday in a town called Durango. Instead I decided to ride there and say hello to the team management, who I had not yet met.

I opened the google maps app and checked for directions to Durango. A pretty cool feature was the "Bicycle path" feature that shows the shortest route that can be traversed by a bike. Little did I know that this feature does not yet differentiate between road-bike paths and Mountain-bike trails. In the second hour of the ride, when I was 6 kms away from Durango, I was instructed to take a right turn onto a beaten, rock-laden, 4-foot wide path. While descending.

Not what I expected

Off the Beaten Path

"I'm going to hit the main road at some point very soon." I said to myself and began the descent. But 60 metres in, I saw a huge brown figure rush towards me at 11 o'clock followed by a thundering bark. I hit the brakes hard and stopped in my tracks, watching as a Bullmastiff charged towards me before being stopped by its chains. Despite being a huge dog lover, I realized my best option was to turn around. So this is exactly what I did as I retraced my path faster than a cat living its 9th life.

I took the longer and well-paved road to Durango and met with the team management who were quite warm and curious about my racing history. I waited around until the race flagged off and headed back home.

Catching the start of the race


2 hours and a category 1 climb later, I was back in Vitoria-Gasteiz where I had the chance to appreciate more domesticated canines. All from at least 4 feet away.

Fun fact (and also my favourite stat about Spain so far) : 1 in 3 people in Spain have a dog!!

Group Rides – Basque Style

Thanks to Allan's help I was able to co-ordinate with Joseba Beloki and I joined him and a group of other cyclists in Vitoria-Gastiez to go on a 5 hour long ride. Beloki is a legend in the Basque racing community. He podiumed three times at Le Tour de France, all while racing clean during the Lance era! Despite his high achievements, he was incredibly down-to-earth, chatting with everyone in the group and offering me a bit of advice while even pulling a couple of pranks on his friends!

This was my first 2-man-wide bunch ride in over 5 months, and while I was more strained mentally than physically, I quickly regained my rhythm and was quite comfortable within an hour's time. This was short lived as soon I was put into physical strain as the bunch tackled every road that sloped upwards at a punishing speed.

With Beloki and co.


5hrs and 1700m of elevation later, I was back in the comforts of my room, only to come face-to-face with my nemesis..

That's a 3 inch wide garage lock, next to a mosquito!



On sunday morning I hoped to get in a 4-hour endurance-paced ride in order to recover well from the previous day's exertion. 2 kilometers into my ride out towards Landa however, I spotted a bunch of eight U23 cyclists about to start a group ride.

The rule of thumb in cycling is - "Train with someone who is slightly stronger than you." Keeping this in mind, I approached them to ask if I could join them on the day’s ride. "Sure" they said.

The pace was quite comfortable in the first hour until we hit a climb and were soon going up it at speeds I hadn’t thought were possible. Halfway through, I couldn't hold on and got dropped. I was certain they would not wait for me and began dreading the thought of having to use Google maps again to get back home. Surprisingly, they were kind enough to wait for me at the top of the climbs.
Them Quickstep boys are quick!!


I got lost in translation (and a bit of my shyness) not knowing how long we would be riding for. 3hrs into the ride, we stopped to get some water and I learnt that we were 2 hours and one Cat1 climb away from home. "Oh okay", I replied in my typical stoic manner while internally dreading the obstacle ahead.
After a total of 5.5hrs of suffering over 2250m of elevation gain, I was happier than ever to see my refrigerator. I promptly downed 4200 calories, happy about finishing a solid weekend of training!


Discussing which climbs to take on!

What's next: Barring any catastrophe, I will lining up for my first Spanish race on the 23rd of April. Follow me on Facebook and Instagram for regular updates, and this blog for fortnightly ones.