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Monday, March 31, 2014

Team Work FTW!! SFS Team Time Trial - Race 2

Everyone In Unison! 
Team Time Trial(TTT) is one of my favorite disciplines after Individual Time Trial. While the Individual Time Trial is often called 'the race of truth', putting an individual against the clock and the elements to see how fast one can go, the TTT is all about team work and how well you work as a unit to beat the clock and the elements. Like a chain is as strong as it's weakest link, in the team time trial, a team can only be as fast as it's slowest rider. How fast the team goes depends on how well the team leverages the strengths and weaknesses of all its riders to fight against the elements and the clock. 
Cleated Warriors-Team A - Riding in sync! Photo: Md Rafi
Small things like having a rider who isn't that great when the gradient points northwards at front on an incline, or have a pencil thin rider who would struggle to go fast on a downhill at front on a downhill, can have a huge impact over the period of a race. How long should each rider take the pull at the front? How long should the pulls be in tailwinds and how long in headwinds? Should everyone in the team share the load at the front equally or should the stronger riders take longer turns? The answers to questions like these would usually make up the team's strategy going into a TTT.

Our Race:
Our team, Spectrum Racing, however, gave all the strategy talks a miss and four of us turned up to race at the Student Foundation of Sports(SFS) Team Time Trial on Sunday. Shankar, Ameet, Gaurav and I made our team to tackle the second SFS 50km TTT. Five minutes before 7am, the captains of all the 9 teams that managed to wake up in time, picked up a token from a box for deciding their starting order. I drew first and got 9 and that meant we get to start last. That gave us a chance to enjoy the satisfaction of dropping a few teams that started ahead of us although its difficult to do that with 2 min gaps the team start at. We started with no pressure knowing that even if we don't finish on the podium we are assured a top ten finish.
Spectrum Racing train.. Ameet leading us at the start of the second lap! Photo: Md Rafi
Instead of pumping each other up with motivational words to go fast, we told each other to ride slow and not drop each other. We have decided the order and duration of our turns at the front after we got to the start line and off we went. I took the first turn and started at gentle pace not to over do the start. As we got going, we kept rotating smoothly without any problems. No one was accelerating unnecessarily and no one was slowing down too much, which would have been exactly according to the plan if we had one. 
Team SFS boys had a great race and finished 2nd fastest! Photo: Md Rafi
The nice pace we were going at without too much struggle said, it was probably tailwind on the way out. As we approached the U-turn at about 12.5km we could see Cleated Warrior A team of Venkatachalam(DaLam), Deepak Mhasavade and Ganapathy Subramanyam, on the other side of the road. They were just heading back on their first of the two laps that would make 50k. The return leg of the first lap was also quite smooth and we took on the inclines quite strongly. At around 21km mark, we managed to overtake Cleated Warrior team A and Team C(Nalla Konar, Mohammed Rafi and Amitabh Bhattacharya) at once and as I waved as we went past, I heard 'poda dei'(get lost, dude..) from DaLam and we promptly obliged. We finished the first lap with an average of 41kmph. 

The outward leg of the second lap also went well with those of us who are still strong taking longer pulls while others took shorter turns at the front. After we took the u-turn in the second lap for our last 12km, we could feel that our flagging strength combined with the headwinds began to show with a dip in the speed. 5km from the finish, the last incline is always a tough cookie and it took a casualty in Gaurav while Ameet, Shankar and I went ahead, although a lot slower than we would have liked. After the 1km long incline however, the downhill home stretch always brings a lot of relief. We drove it home strongly and finished well satisfied with our effort. 

Team Globeracers finished first with the fastest time for the day, 1 hr 09 min 37secs (1:09:37). They improved by 54secs over their time in previous race on the same course two weeks ago,(1:10:31). 
Team Globeracers had a great race and unsurprisingly finished the fastest! Photo: Md Rafi

Team SFS of Andrew Jerald, Arogya Pradeep, Alwin and Praveen Kumar finished second with 1:12:02. This was a massive improvement over their previous time of 1:16:43. They lost Alwin for a flat in the last race and even in this race he was dropped early on. So, it was effectively the same three guys riding but an improvement of 4:41 is huge. Either they had an off day in their last race or had an incredibly good race this time around. Well done. 
SFS boys showed a massive improvement and finished 2nd fastest! Photo: Md Rafi
Spectrum Racing, we finished 3rd with a timing of 1:13:30 which is 2:18 better than our last time on the same course which was 1:15:48. Last time we were a team of three as opposed to a team of four we had this time. We were also riding much better together this time with all four riding well as opposed to one of the three in the last race struggling and the other two having to slow down for him. 
Spectrum racing oldies.. Finished third!  Photo: Md Rafi
Did We Get Better?
This was the longest time trial for most of us although it is a team time trial. So, the first race might have worked as a feeler and we knew what to expect and how to pace ourselves better this time. Also, considering almost all of the participants were faster than last time the conditions might also have been favorable but with an out and back course, the change in wind conditions might not be a massive factor. Here are the overall results.
SFS-TTT-Race 2 Results! Don't Piss-off team PSYOFF!(Prajval-Shyam-Yogesh=PSY)
Organizing and Volunteers:
SFS team did a fabulous job of organizing the race again. The volunteer force did a great job. The sandwich and banana musettes each team go as they crossed the finish line were a welcome relief. The results were out immediately without delay. All the finishers received a memento of some sorts with the top three teams getting t-shirts and medals. 
Participants, Volunteers and organizers together! One happy bunch after the race!
Sponser Details : 
1) Medals - Mr. Prasanna Krishna of Shivaram Sports 
2) Caps & T-Shirt - Mr. Durai 
3) Certificates and Nutrition - SFS 
Volunteers :-
Suman , Sam , Santhosh , Anand, Ranjith Joe , Sunil , Sachin , Pavithra , Leelavathi 

Thanks to sponsors, volunteers and everyone at SFS for giving us another great race. We look forward to more races from them in a few months time in June/July. 

Photos from the race by Mohammed Rafi Shaik can be found on BAR page here. Thank you Rafi! Photos from IronMan Dipankar Paul can be found here.

Monday, March 17, 2014

A Lot Can Happen Over A 100k!! BBCH - 100km Race - March 2014

The Calm Before...:
7:05 am on a sleepy, chilly, Sunday morning 97 bikes and riders were standing in the left most lane of the Hyderabad highway a few km after the Bangalore International Airport. We were flagged off after a quick briefing and we started rolling on the first road race of the season. 100 km on the rolling course with heavy winds wasn't going to be easy.
The peloton being lead by Arvind on the way out! Photo: Stalin: RollingShutterz
Apart from a few shouts of alarm caused by a few weaving riders and touching wheels, the action was subdued in the first few kilometers with everyone trying to get their bearings right. That allowed the occasional weekend warrior to enthusiastically jump ahead of the peloton only to be slowly gobbled up after their share of limelight. About 10 km into the race two riders, Sangamesh from SKCT and Manu from Team Globeracers quickly moved to the front and rode off ahead of the bunch making a two man break. It was perhaps too early for it to stick and in any case represented two of the biggest contenders. They managed to drift off into the horizon as the peloton settled into a comfortable rhythm with an easy pace set by their teams.

A few attempts from the guys from Team Wheelsports and others to break were quickly shut down but those attempts drove the pace up and spiced up the action a little. When Samim Rizvi of Globeracers tried to go, Vivek Radhakrishnan of SKCT quickly jumped into his wheel. I wanted to chase them down since they were contenders for master's podium for which our team was aiming. But my skipper Arvind Bhateja quickly shot my call down saying they won't go very far with 80k still to go. So, we sat back and reeled them in after a couple of km, on an incline lead by Arvind.
Ronny, the bald Belgian drove the pace for most of the way! Photo: Sourav Kumar Das of Light Trails
A few riders were getting impatient seeing their hr in zone zero sitting in the bunch. One of them was my teammate, Shankar Jayaraman, who decided he needed to check if his heart was still beating and broke from the bunch and kept riding just some 50m metres ahead. After wondering for a while what exactly was he trying to do, I decided to jump ahead and pull him back to the bunch assuring him he'll get ample opportunities to redline his HR in the course of the race. 

Ronny Schrijvers, the gentlemanly bald Belgian, decided he needs a good workout and began to drive the pace at the front. His constant work at the front forced a few of us to join him to share the load even as the two big teams decided to let their riders up ahead gain time on the peloton. They were however quick to react and shut down any further break attempts by their direct competition, i.e., team wheelsports riders who didn't have anybody in the break. 

So, the pace remained sane but for an occasional surge on an incline and we rolled into the U turn at about 38kmph. 

...The Storm!
Immediately after the U turn, the pace began to pick up and the big boys began to make their moves. Naveen John jumped ahead of the peloton and Santosh Mane(Globeracers) and Sarvesh Arya(Team Trek-Firefox Racing) managed to join him. They were the second group up the road. With Team Wheelsports missing the second break as well, the attacks kept on happening relentlessly with more riders trying to break and those trying to shut them down.

All this furious activity meant a few riders new to group riding began wavering to pick the pace up resulting in taking themselves and a few others out with them. I was keeping quite close to the front 5-6 riders on the way out just because I wanted to avoid being struck in the middle and getting involved in possible crashes. I found myself a few riders back than normal occasionally but used to quickly get back up. Around 5km after the turn around a rider went down and took down some others. I narrowly escaped by slowing down and jumping off the road before getting back on and picking up pace to get back to the bunch quickly.
One of the many attacks on the way back.. Photo: Stalin: RollingShutterz
I was feeling horrible with the varying pace and didn't feel I could last much longer. I conveyed the same to our skipper, Arvind, and told him to get ready to execute plan B which was to have him ready for the dash for the line for Master's podium. He asked me not give up and hang in there close to him. He has a very polite way of saying HTFU. 

Watch Out...Oh.. Ouch!
In trying to recover, I slowly slipped a few places down from the front and bang, it happened again! Cleated Warrior, Deepak Mhasavade had a touch of wheels with the rider in front and went down. Team BOTS rider, Kiran Kumar Raju crashed into him and I crashed into Kiran. 

I don't remember how I managed to keep my knees off the ground but I quickly picked up the bike and started to go. As soon as I got on the bike, I realized my right brake lever/shifter completely bent inwards. I quickly checked if shifting and braking were working and they seemed to be fine. Instead of using the hoods, I had to stay in the drops and try to shift from there. The group at the front developed a good gap by then and it was time to chase. In a few meters Kiran joined and he began to go quite strongly. 

I jumped and latched onto his wheel and hung on as he went hard chasing the group ahead that had all the Master's contenders including my skipper, Arvind. It was during that chase that I saw the first signs of cramps. I quickly took a couple of swigs of my energy drink and mentally crossed my fingers. After what looked like an eternity but which wasn't more than a couple of kilometers, we made it back to the group largely thanks to Kiran. All I did was hang on as if my life depended on it.

Hang In There!!
After making back to the group, I promptly sat at the front two three positions not wanting to go down any further. By then another group went ahead with a couple of team Wheelsports riders, Laxman Kurni(SKCT), Lokesh Narasimhachar(SKCT), Asif Attar(Globeracers) and Aditya Kaul(Team ProCycle). They were the third group and our large group of mostly masters riders became 4th group on the road. After recovering a bit, I began to share the turns at the front with Ronny and Vivek with Arvind and Shankar chipping in to keep me from being at the front for too long. Ronny was driving the pace strongly on the inclines and it was difficult hanging on. To keep going, I kept reminding myself that everyone must be suffering and that I can recover on the downhills. I was deliberately not looking at any of the figures on the Garmin and was focusing on just hanging on.
The master's bunch... Photo: Arun Kumar of Light Trails
With about 15km to go, Naveen Raj tried to break with his team boss, Vivek in tow. I quickly jumped on to Vivek's wheel before he got on Naveen's wheel. The cramps made another appearance when I stood up to make the jump but I got his wheel. The smart chap that he is, Vivek didn't want to tow me into the break and so sat up and fell back into the group. In the process we lost Arvind who himself was suffering from cramps and decided he had enough. I still had my teammate Shankar Jayaraman with me and we decided to keep going after briefly considering if he should fall back to bring back our skipper to the group. With 10km to go Ronny, Vivek, Rajani, Shankar and I kept rotating smoothly. By now we gobbled up a few riders who failed to stay in touch with the breaks they got into. Sarvesh and Aditya Kaul joined us having fallen back. 

The Dash For The Line..!
As the kms kept rolling down, the tension in the group kept mounting. No one wanted to ride too hard at that time. I kept drinking regularly to keep the cramps from becoming strong. With 5km to go, Rajani tried to jump ahead and I quickly joined him and tried to encourage him to keep going to build on the gap we got on the group. He seemed to realize there was no point carrying me along with him and fell back to the group. As the odometer kept ticking by, my teammate Shankar began to drive the pace at the front and kept riding strong. 

1km to go.. 500meters to go.. Rajani tried to jump again and I promptly got behind him. Then Vivek tried to jump and I got behind him as Rajani faded. Then I reached Naveen Raj who was slightly ahead and tried to bridge up to him. The handle bars were getting crushed under our grips and the bodies were swaying as we tried to channel every ounce of our energy into the pedals. As the line got closer, around 100meters to go, I stood up to put the cramping legs to one final torture as I opened my sprint. I sat down a few meters from the line with the utter disbelief that I actually went past a few strong riders and finished at the top of the master's podium. I was punching air in elation but was still wondering if it was real. The cramps in the legs as I continued past the line told me it was no dream and that I was painfully and yet joyously awake. It was indeed my first win!

Vivek Radhakrishnan finished 2nd with Ronny finishing 3rd. Rajanikanth, riding for team Wheelsports finished 4th on the Master's podium.
Master's Podium.. Product of a great team work!
The Open Fight!
The action at the front as I later learned was pretty intense as well. It unfolded with the very early break of Sangamesh and Manu and the chasers in the form of the second break that formed immediately after the U-turn with Naveen John(NJ), Santosh Mane and Sarvesh. In the chase group after working with the guys for a while, NJ managed to ride the other two off his wheel and then began to bridge up to his teammate Sangamesh.
NJ doing what he does best, driving the break and riding others off his wheel.. Photo: Arun Kumar of Light Trails 
By the time he made it to Sangamesh with less than 10km to go, Manu who apparently worked too much during the way out got ridden off his wheel by Sangamesh. So, it was smooth sailing for the duo from SKCT to the line. The third chase group that formed with a couple of riders each from Team Wheelsports, Globeracers and SKCT, finished a couple of minutes behind the leaders with Asif Attar and Laxman Kurni fighting it out for the third spot on the podium. Asif finished third and Laxman fourth.
NJ does it in style with Sangamesh! 2 in 2 so far this year for NJ!  Photo: Arun Kumar of Light Trails
Men's open podium!
Women's Race:
Spectrum Racing's Vicki Nicholson won the Women's category by a good margin. With the other women riders from team Wheelsports and SKCT marking her, she had to work with her teammates to not only try and stay with the peloton but also lose the competition that's tailing her. When Hari Menon who was doing his domestique duties burnt himself out in the process of riding the other women riders off their tail, we got the information through our support team that she was alone riding against the winds and sent Mohan back from our group to help her. She finished the race in 2:51:52 with Gitanjali and Saheera Attar of team Wheelsports finishing in 3:08:41. Fariyal Jamadhar of SKCT finished fourth in 3:38:47. 

Cat2 Race:
Piet Moeleker won the Cat2 race. He would have been second place in master's podium if he were to register in Master's as he finished just behind me. I didn't even realize that he was in the race until I heard that he finished behind me. He rode that smartly completely hidden from the front. Anoop Kutty of Trivandrum Bikers Club(TBC) who came down from Trivandrum to participate in this race, finished 2nd in Cat2. Although he is a little disappointed to have lost the peloton 55km into the race, it was a good performance from him in his first big mass start race to finish in 2:50:37. Sudeep Rao finished 3rd with 2:51:03.
Cat2 Podium!
It was a fantastic race not just because my team, Spectrum Racing, and I had a very good result but also for the classic way the race action unfolded. It was a great outing for SKCT as well with 3 positions in the top 4 in open category and one in master's. Although one of the other top teams, Globeracers had a good race with their riders having good representation in breaks and eventually managing to put their best rider on Podium, team Wheelsport missed out in the top action in this race with their best rider, Sreedhar Savanur not making it to the start line. Team TrekFirefox was a no show except for the team's local rider, Sarvesh Arya who fought a lone but brave battle, in vain. More representation from the other top teams would have made the race even more interesting at the top.

For me personally it was a great result and a great learning experience. The take away from the race for me was to stay positive and mentally alert. A lot can happen in a race, especially over 100km. Things can change either for better or worse, in fraction of seconds and if you manage to hang in there, you might give lady luck a chance to help you out. You never know!   

Race Organization: 
It was outstanding. The organizing team has done a splendid job of getting the race rolling on time. Almost first time in its history, BBCh race has started on time, i.e., with only a 5 minute delay from a professed 7am start. With so many registered riders coming in from far off, to pull it off on time was a great thing. That was largely possible because of a few process changes they have made based on the feedback from the last race. They made the online registration compulsory and eliminated the spot registrations completely. They also made the indemnity form online and eliminated manual signed forms. This meant they only needed to spend time for distributing the bibs and briefing the riders on safety before flagging the race off. By including a cut-off time of four hours for the race, they ensured that another constant grouse for many, i.e., the podium delay was also taken care of this time. By 11:20 am they were able to get the podium sorted and announced.

There were crashes and other minor glitches but they were taken care of by the mobile volunteer and medical support teams. Some results complaints are still there with some of the rider bib numbers being missed at the finish line and they are sorting the complaints out. 

It was a difficult course with a lot of rolling and headwinds on the way back. Lots of riders struggled to make it back once they lost the bunch early on. The results suggest only 55 out of 97 starters managed to finish in time.

You can find the updated results here

Brilliant set of photos from Stalin of RollingShutterz are here.

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Team Racing Fun!! SFS - Team Time Trial - Race 1

Student Foundation of Sports(SFS) had organized a fantastic road race in July last year. Having seen how professional they were in organizing the event with closed roads and all, a lot of us were keen on taking part in the series of Team Time Trial events that they announced recently. 
Was a nice team outing for everyone!

If a time trial tests an individual's mettle against the elements and the clock, a team time trial tests a team's collective strength and co-ordination in racing against the clock and the elements. 

Seven teams have started the race with a gap of two minutes between each with a lucky draw deciding the order of the start. The course was set to be two loops of Emerald Isle to Volvo and back on Old Madras road to make for a 50km team time trial. This was the longest race a lot of us have ever done as a time trial event if it was a team time trial. 

Team Work Above All:
With a race that long, it was all about pacing well both as individuals and as a team. Any mistakes at individual level or coordinating as a team will cost the team valuable time. The ideal scenario in a team time trail is that all the riders in the team are at similar abilities. But that hardly ever happens especially in the realm of amateur teams consisting of weekend warriors and a few more serious middle aged men juggling between training and the general stuff that life throws at them. So, managing the show despite those differences in the abilities and skills to ride as fast as a unit takes a lot of coordination and patient team work. 

The rules for this race stipulated that there be a minimum of 3 and a maximum of 4 riders with the timing of the third rider being counted as the team's time. Spectrum Racing's team A, which I'm part of started with our skipper Arvind Bhateja, Shankar Jayaraman and I. Arvind and I are more or less of similar abilities while the pencil thin Shankar is known to struggle a bit when the speedometer hits high numbers, especially on downhills.

We decided to stick to pace not more than tempo on the first lap and hit it hard on the second lap. Despite our best efforts, the first ~12.5km till we took U-turn at Volvo factory was the fastest(~40kmph) and we could only manage about ~39.3kmph evenly for the remaining 3 sections of 12.5km. The all too frequent shouts from Shankar and I as our skipper sped off at the front during his turns, didn't help the cause of maintaining 40kmph overall. 

Seeing him struggle a little initially, we asked Shankar to skip his turns while Arvind and I took longer turns with Shankar eventually coming to his own during the end of the second lap. As we approached the finish line and were giving it all, Arvind and I were drilling at the front and I gave a shout out asking Shankar to hang on as it is the third guy's time that counted. Shankar took it as a call to hit the front and put his foot down on the accelerator leaving both of us behind and cross the finish line a good 20-30 meters in front of us. He certainly seems to know how to peak at the right moment.

Team Globeracers who started two minutes behind us overtook us towards the end of the first lap itself. They finished just about 5 minutes ahead of us. They completed the 49.8km course in 1hr 10min 31secs at 42.3kmph. Spectrum Racing team A, finished second with a timing of 1:15:48 at 39.5kmph. The young guns of Team SFS finished third with a timing of 1:16:43 at 38.9kmph. We received nice medals and certificates from Shivaram Sports and SFS.

50km SFS - TTT results

Team Globeracers won it in style!

Spectrum Racing Team A finished second!

Chiddu from Cleated Warriors presenting certificates for team SFS which finished 3rd!

Flat Out!
Having decided to start with the minimum required number, if one of us happens to have a flat, that would be end of our race. Thankfully that didn't happen to us in this race. With in a couple of kms of the start, Alwyn Kumar of SFS was seen on the road side with a flat front tire while the remaining 3 riders, Andrew Jerald, Arogya Pradeep and Praveen Kumar rode on. Team ProCycle(Aditya Kaul, Ajjay Jaywant and Kumar Lama) was another casualty of the flat gods with their third rider Kumar Lama having a flat after a super fast first lap. They had to slow down but decided continue riding with the flat tire ending up a few seconds ahead of the last team to finish. 

One word. Fantastic. Team SFS did a fantastic job of organizing a superb race again. The start was slightly delayed(by 15mins) as the teams arrived late but once the race got underway, everything went butter smooth and the results were out as soon as the last team crossed the finish line. Every team which crossed the finish line got their own musette with bananas and bread and jam sandwiches for post race nutrition from Shivaram Sports. That was a nice touch that all of us enjoyed. Mr. Prasanna Krishana of Shivaram Sports also helped the race organizing along with Mr. Durai and Amarnath Jayaraman and the student force of SFS.

They have not collected any registration fee and a lot of the participants suggested that a donation box be put forth so that whoever is interested can contribute. The proceeds of such a contribution can be used for race costs and/or towards nutritional needs of the young team of student cyclists at SFS.

What Next?
I think more teams will participate next time. Those who are not part of any team surely can form a team with a couple of friends and experience the intricacies of racing as a team in these races. Watch out for updates on SFS FB page. Below is the schedule of races ahead on their current calendar.     
Schedule of TTT series of races from SFS!
Sign up and be there on 30th March for the next TTT. In the meantime, there is a BAR ITT this Sunday. Details here.

Photos from the race from my phone are here and from Mayumi are here.
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