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.”

Magic!

A  gust of wind buffets us as the truck lumbers past. I tighten my grip on the drops and focus on Vinesh’s wheel. Is an attack imminent?

I wait, eyes trained on his legs, watching the way he sits on the saddle, counting the seconds ticking by while the truck draws steadily away. Any moment now…

And before I can begin to process it, it comes. Savage. Almost inhuman in its intensity. The burst of acceleration catches me off-guard. Oh, no! I’m about to get dropped!

But my body surprises me. Before I know it, I’m out of the saddle, sprinting all-out, barely clinging on to the draft. It feels like magic! My breath rattles in my chest as I feel a familiar sizzle in my legs. Vinesh glances out of the corner of his eye.

“I’m here!”

He returns to his hammering.

I sneak a peek at my Garmin. 54 kmph… 55… 56… When was the last time I saw these numbers on a flat stretch?

Vinesh glances back.

“Still here, dude.”

He finally slows down as we reach the slipstream of the truck. I crawl out from behind him, jubilant in spite of my heart threatening to tear itself apart , and cough,

“That-puff-puff-haack-brilliant!”

I’m getting there. 🙂

I AM A MONSTAH! :P

7:15 a.m.

“Easy stretch, Shaunak. PULL!!I heard Phani yell from somewhere behind me. I felt like chucking my bottle at his head. I was already doing 42 kmph.

How much faster does the dude want to go?

7:25 a.m.

My legs were on fire. I hated this ramp, hated the fact that I weigh 68 damned kilos, hated the GPS meekly showing my heart doing 180 bpm, and I especially hated the Velominati and their goddamned rule 5.

7:28 a.m.

Oh, no, no, no, not AGAIN!!”

I watched glumly as Phani and Pavan slowly pulled away. My legs were empty.

I slowed down a tad and began my search.

7: 35 a.m.

Picture abhi baki hai mere dost!” I cackled, neatly inserting myself into the slipstream of the huge, lumbering truck.

Whoa! It’s a lot faster than it looks!”


7:55 a.m.

Fooooood!!!!” 

I dug into the idlis with all the ferocity of a starving wolf. Getting dropped formed no part of my plan for the ride back from Nandi Upachar, with my guns seeming to have loaded up again while motorpacing that truck.

If only I manage to stay on their wheels till that ramp...”

 

8:15 a.m.

“Yes!!!”

I punched the air as Phani eased up the pace a hundred meters from the toll plaza. I’d stuck to his rear wheel like a stubborn wad of chewing gum. Chortling, I accelerated to 35 kmph for my turn at the front. My legs were burning, but it was nothing I couldn’t handle.

8:30 a.m.

I cursed under my breath as Phani signaled for cover on the Decathlon Anubhaba ramp.

This was a sprint if I had ever smelled one.

8:31 a.m.

“I want to slap him when he does that!” Pavan grumbled. Neither of us had responded to Phani shooting past us, cackling like a poltergeist, in an explosion of speed.

I roared with laughter as I swung into his draft.

“Give me another two months, and you’d want to slap me as well!”

8:50 a.m.

I whooped as I rolled to a halt at the base of the flyover at Hebbal. I’d stuck with the monsters all the way through, and the GPS showed an average speed of 35.7 kmph!

“Wait! Doesn’t that make me a monster as well?”

From Pavan’s grim assertion that he’ll take no more shit from me and the thumps on the back from Phani, HELL YEAH!! 😀

I’ll ask the question again, what’s the best thing about road biking? I had left it hanging last time without providing a solid opinion of my own. I had not known back then what gave ME the high. After the ride last Sunday, I think I know. 🙂

Stiff as a board…

Amazing photo, right? Believe me, it’s even more amazing to be in the thick of the action. Throw in the faint hum of the tyres on the tarmac, diced up by the roar of the wind in your ears; add to it the flowing rhythm of the paceline, simmered with a splash of adrenaline, and boom! The result is beyond compare.

Well, the ecstasy was rather short-lived for me that day, owing to my spectacular six-foot shoulder-slide in a tangle of limbs, metal and embarrassment. I was embarrassed, yes. Hurt, yes. But not afraid. There’s something about the camaraderie of the road that keeps you from being afraid. Crashes happen! When they do, you merely scrape yourself off the road, shoot a sardonic glance at the strips of missing skin, gingerly probe the bruised ribs, grit your teeth, tell yourself to harden the f***k up and ride back 60 kilometers in a haze of pain. A new contusion announces itself every  bleeding hour, the following morning arrives with a fanfare of pops, groans and muttered oaths of “Never again!”. But what the hell! You get rolling the very next day, a little more careful, a lot wiser.That’s all there’s to it!

Quitting the sport is not really an option. There’s too much happiness out there.

Back to science-induced blogging hibernation. And however tough I may act now, I’m reluctant to race until I’ve submitted my thesis. That tetanus shot hurt worse than the crash!

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.