Breakaway 101

38 kmph.

39…40…41…41…42…

I resist the urge to pull harder as the gradient dips. We go way back, this stretch of road and I, and the memories are mostly of the unsavoury kind. I scan my numbers carefully, and tense for the attack that I know would come in a minute.

I zoom through the trough at the head of the train, and drop a gear as the ramp says hello to my legs.

46 kmph… 49… 50…48…

And it comes.

I hear the tell-tale rhythmic skrish-skrish of tyre on tarmac. Someone is off their saddle.

“Heh.”

I get on the drops as Murali zips past, followed by Phani and Sarvesh and whoa, Azzy!

“Aha! So you caught up.”

Before I know it, the gap is twenty metres.

“Scrawny buggers.”

I begin cranking the juice out of my legs, and I’m on to Azzy in a flash.

“CLOSE THE GAP!”

But he is already depleted.

I lurk in his draft for five seconds as my legs recharge.

“God mode: Engage!”

I quietly rejoice as I settle on Murali’s wheel and wait for the long false-flat that I know is only metres away. If I know these boys, there’s a big one coming.

And it’s Sarvesh. We’re all off our saddles in the blink of an eye, all guns blazing, and Phani  closes the gap.

Sarvesh goes again. I follow Murali as he clings on to his wheel.

He shoots forward one more time, and this time it’s me who bridges.

He goes again.

“Gosh, what’s this kid made of?”

I survey the other two, but they seem unwilling to respond.

“Ah, chuck it! God mode: Engage!”

I glance back from Sarvesh’s wheel.

Nobody.

He looks at me out of the corner of his eye.

“Let’s hold them off till Upachar.”

“Another TTT, huh?”

I sink into my private world of pain, where each second is as long as an hour, the only sensation is a dull, smouldering ache, and the only sound the rush of the wind in my ears.

“Come on, we’re gaining on them!”

I dig a little deeper as I move up. We can’t be far now…

“Good effort. We’ve likely put over a minute into them.”

I clumsily squeeze the hand Sarvesh extends at me as the edifice of Nandi Upachar looms out of the fog.

“So THAT was a breakaway.”

Roadie scum goes M’tubbing

The sun shines warm on my neck, weaving magic as it filters through the greenery surrounding us. It is a crisp blue morning- slightly cold, with an occasional, rather austere, breeze. The tarmac looks enticing- beautifully dry and smooth. But today I am going off it; on a sluggish orange bike which with its too-small chainrings and morbidly obese tyres, is the polar opposite of my regular steed.

I must be nuts.

I roll down into the field after Peter, my stomach in a tight knot. Branches whip my knees as I follow the faint trail of dust his tyres kick up, my nostrils full of the smell of the earth. He drifts through a corner. I rise up in my saddle, feathering the brake levers, and…

Wow!

I can roll over gravel without skidding! I can power over ditches without flying over the handlebars! I can drop from a height without breaking my wrists! It’s a bit of a culture-shock, and idiot-grin fun!

I feel invulnerable.

The easy skill with which my companions manoeuvre their bikes amazes me. I, however, possess all the grace of a steamroller, crunching over gravel, dirt and bushes with the sheer brute power of my roadie legs.

But you cannot possibly hope to get away with trying to flatten anything and everything that gets in your way, as a boulder soon teaches me on a climb.

“Eeek!”

I fly off my line into the thorny embrace of a bush as Hugo and Peter slowly pull away.

“C’mon-c’mon-c’mon…”

I leap onto the saddle, and extend my leg full-force. There is a funny screech from my rear tyre as it struggles to find traction.

“You can’t be serious!”

I lean back further from the handlebars, and kick again. The front tyre lifts off the track and the bush warmly declares its undying love for me.

“Too far back!”

I am more careful with my torso this time, and…

“Yes!”

I am rolling again.

I peer up the slope, and spot Peter and Hugo about halfway up. Can I catch them before they get to the top? I lean forward a little, just enough to ensure that my front wheel stays on the ground, and shift to a smaller cog.

“God mode: Engage!”

“Good climbing, man.” Hugo gives me a fist-bump as the two of them roll up to where I stand waiting for them. I suppress a chuckle as I resolve to put the 50/34 crankset back on my road bike for the next race.

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It is perhaps time to try out a few XC races. I think I am getting the hang of it. There is only one, minor, snag- I shall have to buy yet another bike.

Follow this link for a video from the ride.

Photo courtesy: Hugo

Yercaud boot camp: Day 2

It was sooo cool and cosy. I had no body, no limbs. There was only a fuzzy sense of existence, like I was floating on water. But shouldn’t it be a little darker outside?

AAARRRGH!!!!!

8 o’clock! 8 bloody o’ clock!!

Yercaud was going to flambé us to hell today.

I had been very conservative on the descent the preceding day, my skills having rusted on account of not being within 10 kilometres of a hill since the July of 2015. I started today’ s descent to Kupanoor the same way, in Scaredy Cat Mode, through a narrow forest-covered road flanked by a valley on the left and a sheer, green wall of rock on the right. The corners were tight and technical, the grades a lot steeper than the day before. One glance at the left was enough to tell me what one small mistake might cost.

Wow! That’s a long way down!

After following Lee for about four kilometres, something clicked.

The world moved in slow motion as a deathly calm stole over me. All I saw, felt and heard were the road, the road and the road. No conscious thought was necessary as my body settled into the rhythm of the corners, as if I had been doing it for years.

“Six-lean-turn”

I had gained thirty metres.

“Six-lean-turn”

Fifty metres.

“Six-lean-turn”

I could no longer see any of the others, and no sir, I was not going to wait. The thrill of hurtling down that slender, sun-drenched pass had gone straight to my head.

“Sage Mode: Unlocked!”

Kupanoor was incredibly beautiful and bore an uncanny resemblance to the inside of the hot-air oven in my lab.


The size of the mountain that loomed over us caught me off-guard.

Whoa! We’re climbing THAT?”

I was a little scared, to be honest, especially given my record as a climber. But I’d fired a maha-dialogue at a lady friend, a few days ago, about how cyclists are tough as nails and tenacious as lobsters; and it was partly that and rule 5 combined and the mere fact that that hill was one hardcore *insert swearword* that made me hit it hard. I’m a badass. Period.

Two hours of agony, a lifetime of bragging rights!” was my motto that day.

 

Twig-man Leander prepping to eat the hill for lunch!

It was beyond agony. There was the heat and the pitiless sun that made me feel like I had second degree burns all over my body, there was the dehydration that made my mouth go dry in minutes, there was the boiling water in my bottles that did nothing to soothe my parched throat. There was the solitude that crushed my morale to a squelchy, gooey pulp. And then there were the worst of them all, the gradients that brought back, in a murky brown rush, all the excruciating memories of the 170 kg leg-presses at the gym. That crawl, up the tortuous grey slopes of that wild mountain, taught me new meanings of the word ‘pain’.

Here’s my ride data on Strava. I’d planned to do it at SST again, but my heart rate simply refused to go up!

Follow this link for an account of what we did on Day 1. This trip was a total success, as I surmised from the hand-clasp Sourav gave me and by the looks of how excited Leander was. Ankit took a wrong turn and had a lot more fun riding away at top-speed from a drunken man who wanted to test-ride his bike and, later, from a bull that I think wanted to test-ride HIM.

I felt a little sad while descending towards Salem for our bus back home, but I could not have asked for a better start to my holidays.

I’ll return to the hill someday when it’s a little cooler. And not just for riding. It’d be great to stroll down the road, find the spots where the views are the most magnificent, and just sit there quietly. There’s Heaven right there in all its resplendent glory. 🙂

Here are some photos and  a video from the day.

Yercaud boot camp: Day 1

I’m not a climber. I’m fat, my bike weighs a ton, and it has a huge-ass crankset attached which I can barely churn at 100 rpm on a flat road. But I guess I have suicidal tendencies, because when Sourav came up with the idea of attacking the two Hors Categorie climbs at Yercaud (A HC climb in the summer heat of Tamil Nadu can easily qualify as one of the most brutal methods of destroying your heart, lungs, legs and mind.), the first reaction I had was:

“When do we start?”

The when turned out to be at 3:15 a.m. on the 19th of March, which coincided beautifully with the beginning of my two-week exile from the lab (Boohoo! I’m weeping! NOOOTTT! I’m finally on a vacation!) Ankit turned up at the bus station bang on time, but where was our twig-man with the Dura-Ace Di2?

We called and messaged and swore and stamped our feet (almost), but there was no sign of life on the other side.

 “LEANDER WHEATLEY, YOU’RE DEAD TO US!!”

Well, not so dead. He woke up the following morning, realised (with horror, I hope.) that he’d kept his phone on silent mode, profusely apologised to us, called his girlfriend to a snappish “WHAT ARE YOU CALLING ME FOR? GO GET ON THE NEXT BUS!!”, and did as he was ‘advised’ (Lee, you lucky dog, you! *sniff*). All the better, since Ankit, Sourav and I could use the time it took him to get to Yercaud to squeeze in some extra hours of sleep. I had stayed awake the preceding night following a nearly popped vein in my brain, thanks to the bus conductor demanding 6000 rupees for the transport of our three bikes (He’d actually meant 600 but jumbled up the hundred and the thousand in translation. He can’t have been all that bright at school! Whoof!)

I had had a good look at the Salem-Yercaud climb from the auto to our guest house and, frankly, I was already in love with what I saw. My ‘skill’ at prose is insufficient to describe it, and I couldn’t possibly compose any form of poetry to save my life, so I’ll let the photos and videos do the speaking for me.

To be perfectly honest, you have to be there physically to feel the majesty of what lay before our eyes. The inadequacy of my vocabulary keeps grating against my ego.

The descent to Salem from Yercaud was exhilarating beyond anything I had ever experienced before, but there would be a steep price to be paid afterwards. 🙂

We began climbing back to Yercaud latish in the afternoon. I felt like I was being slowly roasted on a spit (Recall Bibhutibhushan’s description of an African summer in ‘Chander Pahar’. Imagine the boiler room of a steam ship if you can’t.). I could see Sourav and Lee about 500 metres ahead of me for eight kilometres, after which they were swallowed up by the folds of the switchbacks. I was now alone in my battle against gravity. Ankit was locked in his own struggle somewhere behind me. The heat was incredible. The water in my bidons had become scalding hot. Small sips followed by tiny squirts over my neck at regular intervals kept me going.

“Should I engage God Mode?” (I’ve described my God Mode elsewhere. It wipes my mind blank and brings my feeling of pain down to a minimum.)

I toyed with the idea for a while, and took a good, long look around me.

“Maybe not.”

I’d be doing a great injustice to the place if I fled within myself to escape the pain. So, amidst that heaven of craggy hills, refreshing verdure and sloping grey tarmac, fully aware of my screaming legs and burning chest, I climbed on.

Follow this link for an account of our shenanigans on Day 2. It was a lot harder and a lot more rewarding.  My apologies for the histrionics. I’ve been reading classics lately.

Here’s my ride data on Strava. I rode at the sweet spot of my power output, with occasional bursts on the hairpins. I’m happy that I never stopped, never panicked when half a dozen dogs gave chase, and especially that I never cramped. I HAVE gotten a lot stronger. 🙂
Follow this link for some photos from the day. There are some more videos (uncut and unabridged; pitifully short on time.) on my YouTube channel.