9:00 p.m., September 17, 2016
“Dude, you can’t be serious.”
-“You bet I am! I never joke about food.”
I watched with disbelief mingled with amusement as Vinesh proceeded to scoop king-sized dollops of ice-cream into the bowls.
“That’s a strange way to carb-load…”
5:20 a.m., September 18, 2016
I stifled a mega-yawn as the car inched forward in the queue at the toll. I had been hoping to catch some shut-eye on the way, but…
“Boy, does the parakeet ever stop?”
I heaved a sigh, resigned to my fate of being treated to ‘The Life and Times of Vinesh Chawla’, and leaned back in my seat to quickly go over our preparations for the time trial:
- Monster teammates: Check!
- Squeaky clean bike: Check!
- Sparkling (somewhat) drivetrain: Check!
- KOM with roller fatigue: Check!
- Flying off the rollers: Check! (Do not try at home.)
- Mojo: Check! (Even if you can’t ride well, you gotta look good. On the bike and off it. No excuses.)
- Rejecting gay taxi driver: Check! (Too much mojo, apparently. Don’t ask.)
- Energy gels: Check! (Probably redundant with 1 litre of ice-cream in your system, but anyway…)
- Death Rays: Check!
“Cool! All set and ready to roll.”
Or was I?
The sight of Naveen Raj warming up on his time trial bike, resplendent in the SKCT skinsuit and with what looked like the cranium of a dead alien perched on his head, had given me a bad case of the willies. Gosh, I wasn’t even wearing shoe-covers!
” We’re so about to be destroyed today!”
I rolled down the road to smother the wriggly feeling in my gut, and immediately wished I had not. There sat Anantha, warming up on his turbo; the Terror Trio of Craig, the Lord and Dr. Bhateja were zipping up and down the road; and gosh, was our team the only one that didn’t have aerobars?
“Damn, I probably should have stayed in the amateur category.”
7:40 a.m., Kilometre 0
“Three… two… one… GO!”
I quickly settled behind Vinesh and glanced back to make sure Mr. M was on my wheel.
“Steady… steady… ON!”
“Come on, Bharat Benz, get us up to speed.”
I moved up for my turn, relishing the faint hum my spokes made as they cut through the air. Our transitions had been smooth so far, and my legs were fresh and awake. With the amazing weather, the cool brightness of the morning and the satisfaction of an well-executed team effort, this promised to turn out to be one heck of a day.
Naveen Raj powered past us, with Anantha clinging on to his wheel.
I watched, with bemusement that was mutating lightning-fast into horror, as their support car rumbled past us, drew level with them to pass instructions, and slowed down, with us right behind it.
“What the f***k, mate?”
I watched with savage satisfaction as scorching blue flames engulfed the car. My Death Rays had been right on target. I hammered past my victims as they disintegrated into atoms, lips twisted in an evil-galactic-warlord smile.
(Okay, I was kidding about the Death Rays. The car fell back after being bombarded with some truly innovative swearwords from my teammates, and kindly waited until NR and Anantha had built up a larger gap before streaking after them. A regrettable incident, since we lost speed and time in the ruckus, but I suppose it could have happened to anyone.)
“@#$#%! *&$^#@#! @#$%$…” (Unprintable Hindi)
“What the hell is Bharat Benz honking at?”
I peeked out from behind him.
I swerved right just in time to avoid smashing headlong into the huge buffalo, while Vinesh shot off towards the left.
“@#$#%! *&$^#@#! @#$%$…” (More unprintable Hindi, but a different voice)
I glanced out of the corner of my eye, mirth bubbling up from the pit of my stomach.
“Mr. M? Not bad!”
We had lost more time.
“PUSH, PUSH, MAAAN!”, the yell barely made it through the rush of the wind in my ears. It felt like I was trying to push my way through a solid, but invisible wall.
I caught a glimpse of Vinesh slotting in behind me.
10. Human sacrifice to the wind god: Check!
5 km to go
This was beyond ridiculous. Every fibre in my legs burned. The winds were unrelenting. Each pedal stroke was agony. I was nearly at my limit. Our pulls had long since stopped being evenly measured. The two of us pulled as hard as we could, for as long as we could. I had only a vague awareness of who we passed and where we were. All that mattered was the screen of my Garmin, which coldly displayed how the headwind was winning with every passing kilometre. I reached into my jersey pocket for my third gel, and felt my left leg give an ominous twitch.
“Please, not now!”
500 metres to go
My left leg had cramped.
“Vinesh, pull! Pull!”
“Can’t be far now…”
100 metres to go
I willed myself out of the saddle.
“Almost there, almost there, almost there… MADE IT!”
I collapsed back on the saddle, my breath rattling in my chest, and retched. Thankfully nothing came up.
“Well, that’s sure to have burned the ice-cream off!”
We had clocked an average of 37.4 kmph over the 49.3 km course, and were the fourth fastest team of the day- 1 kmph slower than Ministri Racing. The two teams on the podium had clocked over 41 kmph! I certainly have a lot of room for improvement.
Gawd, it was a hard, hard ride.
On to the next!
P.S. All the photos I’ve used here were taken by the ace photographer Chenthil Mohan. What a boss!