BBCh Classic Road Race: The Hell of the North…of Bangalore
July is the windiest month in Bangalore with wind speeds reaching 40kmph. A 132.6 km race in the outskirts of a town is a battle with elements. A 132.6 km race in July in north Bangalore, where even SUVs feel buffeted by winds: now that’s a punishing challenge devised for the most masochistic sportspeople of them all: endurance race cyclists.
The good folk of BBCh delivered a classy race for the discerning. People had travelled from Mumbai, Delhi, Hyderabad, Chennai and more, to stand and be counted at that start line. There is definite snob value to being present at this race, as was evident in the unprecedented 170+ entries, making this the biggest Bangalore Classic Road Race till date.
The race categories du jour: Elite and Masters: 132.6 kms, Women, U-18, Amateur, and the new and new rider friendly category - Non-road bike: 72 kmsBikes of all shapes and sizes made their way to the start line, nervous energy shimmering in the air.
All the races were going to be a mass start, so jostling for space and right positioning in the bunch would be decisions riders made and remade while they relentlessly pedalled and emptied themselves out on the tarmac.
The race is the playground for a broad cross-section of people: corporate movers and shakers who treat the race with the same methodical deliberation and razor-sharp execution as they would a business strategy; athletes and coaches who have refocused energies into growing themselves and others in the sport; college students who have travelled halfway across the planet; PhDs, not as nerdy as you’d like, with two of them taking away podiums; and more.
The elite category race takes the cake on sheer endurance abilities. These guys have put so much time into training and races, that they do back stretches, navigate through the pelton to drop back for the feed vehicle, and weave through each other, with the grace and lucidity that makes it look ridiculously easy (heh, it’s not!). This demonstration of ballet-like grace while navigating a bicycle with probably a foot between riders, wheel to wheel, and 2 others jostling your elbows… that’s what separates the boys from the men.
Among the most dramatic stories of the day were the fight for the master’s podium: two top contenders came in with a stomach flu and a nasty cold. Vivek Radhakrishnan, stomach flu notwithstanding, rode on, going from setting the pace of the race to dropping out. In his own philosophical shrug of words, “It’s game over when the tank runs dry.” Bikey Venky, losing ground after a pee break, got back into the bunch with the help of teammates Vivek Bhateja (who burnt out, in the effort), and Mohan Kumar, (probably the Clark Kent name of some endurance superhero we don’t yet know). He battled a nasty cold and fought to the finish line thinking he was placed second, only to be very pleasantly surprised to be first.
The drama was unfolding elsewhere as well: further ahead in the open category, a spirited solo breakaway by Veloamici rider Karan Kumar became a serious threat to the chasing group comprising of the defending champ Aman Punjani and two-time national MTB champ, Kiran Kumar Raju. Thus far, they were running a near perfect tactical masterpiece of working together till the final few meters and then deciding between themselves on the sprint. Was this plan now in danger?
The duo learnt with around 30 km to go that they were almost 2 minutes away from Karan, it was time to throw caution to the wind, literally. Over the next 20 minutes, they did what had to be done and about 6 km to the finish, they made up the difference, caught up, and passed the fading Karan, who was now paying the price for breaking away with almost no water and battling the winds alone.
What makes this sport beautiful are moments such as Kiran and Aman passing Karan after almost 30 minutes of brutal effort, but both turning around on their bikes, and giving a thumbs up to Karan, and beckoning him to keep going, before racing on.
The Amateur category is primarily populated by people who are in training, have good road bike skills, and aim to get into the elite category. The teams that came together for this race, worked together, staving off strong contenders by constantly attacking and weakening them, and then taking the top spot. This is the kind of race that prepares riders for bigger challenges and learning the code of behavior in the peloton. The bravehearts that took the podium were Dilipan Raj from the cheekily named Team Mongrels, and Pranay K and V Sailendranath from Maxwell Trevor Cycling Academy, Hyderabad.
Noteworthy here is also the BBCh practice that anyone making it to the podium automatically move to the Elite category. This makes sure there are no podium hogs and they are not limiting their ambitions with a win.
A dozen women signed up to race, making this the largest contingent to this race to date. The race had people of varying abilities and levels of training, and the most wondrous thing about this group is the genuine warmth with which the tenured riders greet and appreciate the newer entrants.
Lena Robra, the smiling assassin and a staple at the women’s podium, just fresh off a cross-planet plane ride, took the top spot. Ultimate Frisbee star and national athlete Karthika Rajaram came in second, and Nithya Srinivasan came in third. The many many women who rode on in the battering winds, with pain and grit taking turns to flit across their faces, well into 11 am – here’s hoping their tribe grows!
11 youngsters, too young to vote yet, signed up to ride 72 km competitively. Yep. Read that again. Those of you lamenting that Gen Z is glued to their devices… rest assured, the only devices these spirited youngsters were glued to were their Garmins. The future of cycling: secure!
In a move to bring more aspiring cyclists and weekend warriors into the fold, the non-roadbike category was created, and boy, did it work! What is normally the field of lightweight road bikes only, opened up to welcome MTBs and Hybrid bikes, racing in a category of their own. 15 riders turned up to enjoy the long ride on their trusty, upright (and often downright heavy) steeds.
Through the warming scenes of teams working for their riders, individuals flung away from their teams working with each other symbiotically, one thing was evident: the biggest battle in this race wasn’t bike vs. winds or peloton vs. breakaways... it was each rider vs. their own head. It can be a lonely place with the long road ahead, strategies gone awry, water in the bidon growing scarce… and a voice inside the head springing up doubts. To those who braved that voice, and to those who listened to that other voice – the voice of reason, and lived to race another day, chapeau!