I had found a wheel.
My heart must have burst a minute ago, my legs were definitely full of molten lead, my lungs were quite possibly bloody rags by now, but yes, I had found a wheel.
“Dammit! Why hadn’t I shifted to a larger cog?”
The race in the elite category had just begun.
November 19, 2016. The day of my last road race for this season and, well, not my day. I was fresh back from home– two weeks off the bike, fat, sluggish, and with my legs in cryo-sleep. The route recce the preceding weekend had involved a fueling foul-up with some rather embarrassing consequences, and I knew as I attempted to assemble my bike with cold-numbed fingers, and peered shortsightedly at the other elite riders through the thick fog, that I would be lucky to simply finish the race. I
“Gosh, I definitely should have stayed where I belong…”
2 km to the U-turn
I did something I would never have dared to while riding in the amateur bunch. I yanked a bottle out of its cage and squirted water into my mouth. Riding in the elite peloton was definitely something else (Yes, this was my first elite road race. Yes, I’m a rookie. And yes, I know that.). Everybody. Held. Their. Lines. Everybody. Gave. Signals. Wow!
The pace had not exactly been scorching so far, and I had spent a fun hour chattering away with Ajjay Kamble from Chennai and moving up and down the group looking for the other Ministri boys. Anantha and Shankar seemed to be pulling up at the front, with people like Craig, Naveen Raj and KKR always hovering around the second and third positions. It was obvious that the moment we rounded the U-turn, they were going to take off like acetone-soaked cats; and when that happened… well, I didn’t want to think about when that happened.
It was utter bedlam. I possess this mysterious power of being at exactly the wrong place at exactly the wrong time and, well, I duly found myself near the tail of the bunch, stuck in the biggest gear and muttering obscenities as I struggled to meander my way through the chaos. I could see a small group of riders about 100 metres ahead. A split-second lapse in concentration had cost me the chance to gun for the ‘star-studded break’, and I was not happy about it.
“Pffft… Not another time trial!”
3 km past the U-turn
I was redlining. My heart rate had never dipped below 180 bpm in the last 3 km. I needed to find shelter, and quick!
I put all I had into a sprint to close the 20 metres to his wheel.
I was safe for a bit.
5 km past the U-turn
I had had to sit behind Raghu for three full minutes before I could start working with him. We had jumped on the wheel of another rider as he hammered past us and had convinced him to work with us. We had picked up Pramod and Vivek (Bhateja) shortly afterwards, and the strength of our chase group had gradually grown as we swept up more and more riders who had been dropped. A few of them seemed to have been considerably weakened, but everyone willingly did their turns. The whole situation had a somewhat apocalyptic feel to it ( I don’t enjoy getting dropped. No sir, I don’t.), but the throb of my bruised ego had subsided enough for me to start enjoying the race.
“Hey! Wait a second!”
I noticed a group of riders a small way ahead as I moved up for my turn.
“Guys! We need to catch them! Come on!”
I raised the pace a little.
8 km past the U-turn
I surged after Vivek as he accelerated. I could see Nikhil, Vinesh and a few people from Spectrum, in what surely was the first chase group, about 50 metres ahead.
“Almost there… just a little longer… hang in there…”
Aaand we had caught them!
“Whew! That was fun!”
My race was uneventful post this moment, except for responding to a few sporadic spurts of acceleration. The group was full of banter, and Vinesh and Vishwesh seemed to be taking an inordinate amount of pleasure in egging Rajat (from Pune) on into putting out intermittent bursts of speed. Imagine being picked on by a 17-year old kid! *rolls eyes.
We stayed together till the base of Nandi, until both of my legs seized up and I had to slow to a crawl while the others took off. I somehow managed to finish the race in 3 hours and 10 minutes- about twenty minutes after KKR.
I felt a slight rush of pride as I sat slumped on my handlebars and massaged some semblance of life back into my legs. I had just realised that I had finished all the races I had signed up for this season! The pride is probably misplaced because I’ve never won anything, but hey, I’ve had one awesome year getting progressively fitter and faster!
Lord Venky’s blog describes all the heroics that were going on up ahead while I was chilling in the chase group.
I got to make it to the breakaway next time. The video was charged with raw adrenaline!
Until next season, then.