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.
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.
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.
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.”