Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Cyclone Challenge and the Giant Miracle

I did have a busy ‘business’ trip this summer; sample this:
Monday 1st June – Landed at Newcastle
Wednesday 3rd – heard about the Blaydon race at the NH3 run
Friday 5th – saw a poster for the Cyclone Challenge at client office
Saturday 6th 4pm – push in a last minute postal entry into the Cyclone race
Monday 8th – Promised a spare number to the Blaydon race & a bike for the Cyclone challenge
Tuesday 9th – Run the Blaydon race
Wednesday 10th – Run with the NH3 at Totem pole’s
Thursday 11th – Pick up bike from client manager’s home
Friday 12th – Get bike serviced & register for the race
Saturday 13th – 62mi ride in the Northumbrian countryside on my Giant Bike
Sunday 14th – Reflect on the busy week that was ;)

Maybe it was nowhere close to being miraculous, but each piece fell so neatly in place and before I knew it, I had participated in a 100k race in what would, eventually be, my bike!!

I never have been a destiny’s child and always had to earn every reward, but this time around I couldn’t have made it without a lot of help.
I would have missed it, if it hadn’t been for a poster at cafeteria at work.
I would have missed it, if, after seeing that the online reg was closed, I did not write to the organizers.
I would have missed the postal registration, if the organizers office was a distance away (with some few hours, no postal service would have delivered the form that quick). It was a mile from my hotel.
I would have missed it, for the want of a bike and Newcastle didn’t have a store where I could hire one.
I would have missed it, if the only biker I knew at work – Tony was at work (he probably has a MTB not suitable for the race). But Tony was on a 2 week vacation.
I would have missed it, if had heard about Tony leave from anyone else but Tim, coz when Tim heard why, he said he could possibly have a bike at home that I could borrow!
I would have missed it, if it wasn’t one of “those bikes with thin tires, and funny way to change gears” (aka road bikes!)
I surely wouldn’t have brought it back with me, if Tim was a biker himself, or if his girlfriend insisted he become one or if British Airways didn’t allow free carriage for sporting equipment, or, most importantly, if Ananth hadn’t told me this 2yrs ago on a Nandi ride!

Presenting… The Bike
It was indeed a “bike with thin tires, and a funny way to change gears”. It was a 2006 Giant OCR3 series – a mid range, budget road racing bike, with triple chain rings in the front useful for climbing. It has an Allux frame, carbon fork, 24speed Shimano Sora shifters, Shimano Sora in the front and Shimano Tiagra at the rear derailleur’s. It’s a XL 58cm and at 10kgs it weighs close to nothing. I did have to spend a bit at Cyclogical to get it road worthy and a little more to pack it later for the air travel.

The pre-race Registration was at Leazus park on Friday evening. It was not quite the gala I had expected but was nevertheless buzzing with bikers participating in the Criterium races clocking those fast laps around the park. For an event that was touted as “one of UK biggest”, the lack of bike stalls was conspicuous. At the counter, a SI-card was strapped around the waist and was to be kept that way till the end of the race. I also got my first bike number - 1835

The Race (link):
I had gone through the Google maps directions using street map, a number of times to make sure I don’t get lost the following morning in getting to the Falcons Rugby Club. Even as I entered the stadium, I saw a peloton riding out of the stadium and immediately felt the adrenaline rush. The start was well organized – some 2000 bikers were starting either the 62mi or the 100mi races in a space of 2hrs. Some 20bikes were flagged off every 2mins after dipping the SI-card in the timing slots. It looked like I was the only Indian rookie around, also arguably the only one in non-skin-tight shorts, without cleats or water bottle, but still carrying a camera!

The plan was to stay with the peloton or paceline behind someone to catch the draft. But the group spaced out in no time. As Leadlegs says in his blog:
“Now and again the small group we started out riding with, …, was swamped by a faster group that zipped all around us like hungry piranha attacking a carcass, before moving on to the next victim. It was a bit intimidating at first but I soon got used to it.”
As soon as we were out of Ponteland we were left with beautiful countryside to deal with. I tried to make small talk with fellow bikers for awhile. There was also a nagging patter from the front of the bike that I attributed immediately to the only critical area in the front – the fork or the quick release. It was just the clattering noise and I hadn’t made up my mind to stop and look for the problem. An Irish biker came up quietly behind me and pointed out to the reflector tapping against the brake cable and welcomed me to the ‘noiseless world’.
And from then on, there were no problems with the bike whatsoever.

My first off-saddle point came as early as 22mi or so, just before the Forestburn timing station. I didn’t shift the gears at the right time and the cadence had dropped putting in too much strain on the quads on a steep incline.

The timing station (which I reached in 1:22hrs) was stocked well, and I gulped down lots of water, a chocolate bar and some bananas. I also pocketed a couple of bars to sustain me till the next station, which according to the map, was about the same distance as the first.

So I had started out expecting to be out of water for about 1.5 hrs. I also knew that this section had the most climbs and very undulating. The 62milers separated from the 100milers about here and there was a much lesser crowd from here on…

I took many of the climbs either very easy or off the saddle, jogging alongside like a loser. After 1.5hrs, I began to expect the aid station sometime and was tapping into the reserves of my body fluids. The combination of no water and jumping off the saddle expedited the incidence of cramps. I can manage calf cramps, but the cramps in the Quads are the worse and I dread them.

After about 2hrs, I had started to hallucinate, looking far ahead to spot any signs of colorful paraphernalia of the water stations. I had started to curse the organizers for not making this clear in the map. It was clearly mentioned that there would be 4. I had started to wonder how close the remaining timing stations would have to be, to accommodate 3 more. The other riders simply zipped by with customary “Are you alrites”, but didn’t wait enough to hear my “not really”s. By this time I had started to question my wisdom of entering into the 62mi event. And the lush green landscape? I didn’t notice much.

The Ryals:
So, in this state of desperation, I look around the bend in the road and there is this “the fearsome climb of the Ryals with its 30% middle gradient” as described by the organizers. There was no way in bloody hell I was going to get on top of that on my bike. My optimistic side was still expecting a water stop right on top like a reward. But barring some photographers (for whom I got on my bike again to get this pic) and some resting bikers, there were none. But I was surprised by the number of bikers who attacked the Ryals, to the top of the first one and then continued on to the top of the second!!

And finally when I had made up my mind to crash into the next pub that I saw, the tents of the timing station at Stamfordhm came to view. I had gone 2:53hrs, the toughest section of the race, without water!

I rested there for awhile and was also forced to rest someplace midway. Although this was the easiest section -12mi and downhill most of the way, I took about an hour to finish in 5:17:47hrs overall.

Post Race:
The final standing put me in position 520 among 825 finishers. Not great, but I must have won the “longest without fluid” category hands down, if ever there was one. I picked up the goody bag and a simple cotton tee, some chips, coffee and the timing certificate and sat down at the exit to enjoy the spoils.

Well, if you thought I did ok, you should check the blog link which I chanced upon… about how 10yr old (yeah 10yr old!!!) Josh finished just 11mins after me. Woah, lotsa catching up to do there, I am about 19years behind!
Time to get back to work now…

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