For an outsider looking in, cyclists are one and the same. Crazy people perched on a tiny saddle, pushing away on those pedals. Yet, there are a bazillion different genres of pushing those pedals. Randonneuring in India has picked up significantly in the last few years, with a brevet being held in almost every corner of the country.
We chat with Nitin Yadav, an avid cyclist who took up randonneuring just a year ago and recently completed his first 1400 km brevet.
NY has been cycling seriously for the last 9 years, yet for a number of reasons never got into randonneuring till a year back. When the bug bit, it bit hard, he was an addict. Riding in the brevets conducted by the team of Noida Randonneurs was an added push, as they do a stellar job of organising the rides. The cycle tours and his regular everyday rides were good, but he was missing the sportsman action he enjoyed since childhood. The pressure, planning and execution of a brevet was the perfect manner to get the sports juices flowing.
Why the Noida Randonneurs?
Most of NY’s brevets have been organised by the Noida Randonneurs. He tells us why:
They are one of the best. They really take care of each and every detail. How to host it, where the luggage drop points should be. If you miss the luggage drop points, then what are the options you have to stay. I love they operations. It is flawless. They really take care of their riders.
They knew at every point who was where and taken a break where and the location, each and every detail. The organisation is very good. That’s why I prefer riding with them most of the time.
You cannot just get out of the house and start riding 1400 km. If you do, you will suffer. NY’s preparation for the ride began 6 months prior.
Training specifically for such a ride ensures you smile till the last mile. NY’s biggest problem as an ultra-cyclist was his excess weight. So that automatically became his first goal. Riding randomly and hoping you get fit isn’t the path to cycling nirvana. The second goal was to train to a proper structure and evaluate the progress.
Along with his training partner, Vikas Garg, NY went on a training spree. A week of planned training would see HIITs, Sweet Spot rides, stretching, planks, core workouts, recovery rides etc. The results were immediately visible. The ride quality improved along with a controlled heart rate. Speeds also went up, which isn’t the most important thing in a brevet, but you never say no to increased speed!
In the 6 months of training, not only did he become faster, but lost 22 kg in the process as well, which helped boost his climbing ability.
Training alone isn’t enough.
“Strategy is very important. Training and strategy go hand in hand.”
Unlike a lot of randonneurs, NY, doesn’t believe in planning the entirety of the route in one shot. Irrespective of the length of the brevet, he plots out his chart between the time stations. This makes it easier to manage, as his goals are broken down to 150 km sections rather than a more daunting 1400 km. Once he reaches a particular time station, he thinks about the next.
The other advantage is that, if something goes wrong on the first day, you still have flexibility to make changes. Which is rather difficult if you planned out all four days in advance. Then the rider gets stuck if the plan starts falling apart in the beginning, since he will have to rework the plan while on the road, under pressure and with exhaustion creeping in. Not the best frame of mind to be making decisions!
He does a detailed study of the route in advance, making a rough plan, with enough buffer and flexibility for things to go wrong and still complete the ride with relative ease.
Wait and watch your weight!
22 kg. Wait. What? Damn!
Losing that much in just 6 months in a healthy manner is incredible. What is the secret?
Losing weight had more to do with a change in diet, rather than the hard training. He switched to a low carb, high fat diet and is now an advocate for intermittent fasting. All his blood reports are absolutely normal and losing weight was just the icing on the cake. Provided the icing is made of fatty cream and has no carbs! He feels his energy levels are at an all time high and recovery time at an all time low.
If you are wondering, whether you can do it as well, according to NY, sure you can. He is 46 and achieved this. In fact, he is also helping 13 other cyclists on their weight loss journey, who are now showing positive results.
In his quest to lose weight, he discovered that for ultra-cyclists, carbs are not as important as fats. Carbs get consumed within the hour and once again the rider will have to replenish his supplies. Fats on the other hand take longer to burn and allow the rider to spend hours on the saddle with just adequate re-hydration.
A conversation with a nutritionist in the Sports Institute of Australia corroborated this diet plan for endurance cyclists. NY then went about switching his diet over two and a half months. Experimenting to see what worked for him. He started off with riding a couple of centuries without eating anything in between. Riding in the fat burn zone, he could easily ride without bonking. In fact his fastest century of 2 hours 45 minutes, which is pretty fast, didn’t require him to grab some grub.
Food for thought and the ride as well!
The low carb, high fat diet isn’t just limited to training, but for the actual ride.
In a race like the KMP 100, in which NY participated, he needed a lot of carbs, since at that point of time, he was still on a carb diet. Racing is also a much faster paced, higher intensity riding style, which automatically demands the intake of carbs.
NY being more of an endurance guy, this wasn’t a problem. He started with short 50 km rides and increased the mileage from there. The pre-ride meal would consist of cheese, ghee and other high fat foods. The result of which was, he didn’t need to carry chocolates, gels etc. for consumption on the ride. He has just three major meals and is good to go for a full brevet ride!
On a long brevet, beggars can’t be choosers, so he eats what he gets. Which a lot of the time translates to dal makhani and extra ghee/ butter on the rotis! One of his traditional dishes back home is choorma, which doesn’t spoil easily. So he carries three balls of choorma loaded with ghee in his jersey pocket and eats that instead of roti at dhabas. Each ball of choorma being the equivalent of 3 rotis. The choorma ball experiment was done before the 1400 km ride and it worked out perfectly.
An important point NY makes is, do all your experimentation well before your ‘big’ ride. You don’t want to find something which doesn’t work while on the ride!
NY had this to say about the mental aspect of riding 1400 km:
Once you are on the saddle, it is a feeling of meditation. You don’t think of anything else, you are just riding.
The Man’s Machine
He uses two bike a Scott Scale MTB for doing his mountain rides, including his preparatory rides in Spiti and Ladakh.
For the brevet, he has a Trek Domane 4.3, a carbon bike with a Vittoria wheelset. The bike prepped up with all the paraphernalia required for the ride weighs in at around 9 kg. Though the Domane is an endurance bike, he has shifted recently to a Bergamont Grandurance 6, which he will be using in future rides. NY feels he uses his bike a little roughly and an aluminium frame would work better for his needs.
He plans to do many more ultra rides and feels the new bike, which is more touring oriented, will serve his needs better.
Camaraderie or Competition
Brevets aren’t a race. It was never meant to be. A few people nonetheless do like to ‘race’ a brevet.
NY believes that brevets have both kind of riders. Those who will stick with their group of choice for the entirety of the ride, come hell or high water. And then they are those who will try hard to finish first, with only the thought of their finishing position.
He believes the best way to go about it, is to find a rhythm once on the road and if there is another rider with a similar style, then it is prudent to ride together. Deciding in advance to ride with someone who has a different style can be catastrophic for the ride and the relationship as well!
NY recounts an occasion when he had stopped to help out a rider with a breakdown:
I remember when we were doing SR6, there was a guy who had a serious breakdown and it couldn’t be repaired on the road. Me and my partner stopped and enquired. A passing local told us that there was a bike shop nearby. We were quite tight on time, as the next time station was to shut down. So we gave him an option, this is the time-frame and distance to be covered. We could wait with his bike for that long, he could go with the motorcyclist get it fixed and come back by then. If he couldn’t make it in time, we would leave. So that guy went, came back, and we left and successfully made it to the time station.
Age no bar
In endurance riding, age doesn’t trump experience. Young hearts and legs need to be tempered with grey hair!
People often learn endurance riding the hard way. NY tells us of the many occasions where he has seen a newcomer to the sport, sprinting from the get go and then resting on the side soon after having coke shots! An experience or two of the sort, and riders quickly learn what endurance riding is all about.
NY recounts the actual ride from Greater Noida to Dalhousie and back:
I was riding 1400 for the first time. Before that I had done a 1000. So I had a fair idea. Previously I had done an SR in 6 days with Noida Randonneurs. Which again was a 1500 km ride.
I had an idea of what would be the wear and tear. How to recover, how to ride.
I usually don’t look for the SRs but for the long distance rides. 3 weeks before I did a 600, to get an idea of the ride. I really work on the data, when doing such a long distance ride. Monitoring the heart rate and knowing the amount of time for recovery if I push beyond that heart rate. I would have everything on the meter, to ensure that I never crossed the red line. Recovery is my priority whenever I am doing an ultra ride. That’s what I keep in mind when I started randonneuring.
Basically, I would keep a nice gentle pace, where my heart rate wouldn’t cross 140-150, a Zone 3 ride. You recover much faster like that. When my legs were fresh in the first two days, I wanted to cover maximum distance. The drop off point for the first day was at 350 km, I was sure that I could cover 450 km on the first day. So my target was 450-500 km. My plan was to hit Pathankot on the first day itself.
We started at 5 am, by 1 we had already crossed Jalandhar and we were stopped by the police and told that the road ahead wasn’t safe. We therefore took a break. The road ahead was unsafe because there were chances of robbery and petty thieves. On the police’s recommendation we took a break and stopped at a dhaba. There we took a 2-3 hour break. At that point we had done 430 km, short by 20 km from my target. Which was fine.
From there we started around 430 am. That day we had to report to Pathankot, and from there we had to go to Jammu. 20 km before the city was the checkpoint. We didn’t stop at Pathankot. We just got our cards stamped, took an hour of rest and left. By 3 we were in Jammu, from where we returned to Pathankot. While riding we realised it was very hot during the day. I got a partner during the ride. We rode together. I told him, let’s not rest at night, let’s take a power nap and start climbing. Its colder that way. Otherwise you start climbing in the day, you will be screwed.
We started around 230 am to Dalhousie. It is not a very difficult climb. It was easy for us because the guy riding with me was practising for a long time. Even I was doing a lot of practice. Before this event, I did a Spiti ride and Manali – Leh ride back to back. So I was quite comfortable with the climbs. We started at 2 and reached there and by 8 we were back down. Then we took a 2-3 hour break and started for Amritsar.
At 12 we crossed the Pathankot checkpoint. It was a 110 km leg before we called it a night in Jalandhar. At that point we had covered 1000 km, a day before the cutoff. We were well within the cutoff, which was never a problem for us. At night itself we got our cards stamped and slept for three hours. and started off at 2 am towards Delhi.
We were riding slow and easy, having already done 1000 and had two days to cover the remaining 400. We started and had breakfast after Khanna. Till Peepli we took a lot of breaks, having juice and enjoying ourselves. From Peepli we had the feeling of the home run. From there we had around 250 km left. Then we started pelting it. We were riding around 37-38 kmph. Karnal was our last physical check point where we had to get stamped. At that point I wasn’t feeling like having lunch, we had built up a good rhythm, and also had a light tailwind. We didn’t stop there at all, except to get our cards stamped.
Our last checkpoint was the selfie point which was Bollywood dhaba on the Delhi border. We reached there around 6 pm and had a coffee before heading on, hitting Delhi in peak hour traffic. We crossed Karnal bypass, then ITO, Akshardham bridge, then the Mayur Vihar road. Throughout we got traffic. It finished in Decathlon, Greater Noida. From Pari Chowk we had 6 km to go to Decathlon. Those 6 km were never ending.
We finished in 87 hours and 35 minutes and a day before the cut off time. There was a guy Liju from Kerala. He was two hours ahead of us and he was riding alone. He is a superb rider. His nap time was very little. We were sharing a room on the last evening. He started two hours before us and that advantage he carried through to the end. He planned it well and executed it well.
Making your own luck
The Harder I work the luckier I get – Samuel Goldwyn
When you work hard, you tend to get lucky as well. NY was fortunate not to suffer a single mechanical through the 1400 km. Which was in stark contrast to his 600 km ride a few weeks before, in which he suffered 6 punctures and two tyre bursts!
NY feels ready to ride many more ultra brevets and races as well. His weight loss and proper training has given him the confidence of doing well in the future.
Cycling as most sports, is a drug. After completing 1400 km, he is already thinking up bigger challenges to complete!
The holy grail, Paris-Brest-Paris, or PBP as it is more popularly known is held once every four years. The next being 2019. NY with his 1000+ km ride has already qualified for the pre-window for registration. He will need to do an SR next year to be eligible to participate in the PBP, something he looks forward to doing. The 8500 metres of climbing which he did in this brevet, has given him a good idea of what to expect in the PBP.
Advice for someone looking to get into randonneuring
From never having done a brevet, to completing a 1400 km well within time. It was an incredible journey of learning for NY. He shares his thoughts on how others can successfully do the same as well:
Right now brevets are picking up quite a bit and a lot of clubs are taking part in it. A lot of people are getting into it because some friend of theirs is doing it. But they really need to find out if they really want to do it. I have friends who don’t want to do it, because they don’t feel it is safe, which is fine.
A lot don’t prepare for it. It is very important to have saddle hours. Because on a brevet, you have to spend a lot of hours on the saddle. Suffering is more if you only do weekend rides, only 2-3 hours and then you are riding throughout the day and night to finish in time. Some amount of preparation is very important to enjoy. If you are riding and suffering, then there is no point. If you are riding and enjoying, then that is the best way of doing it.
That’s the idea behind brevets. To explore the unexplored, to go on an adventure, to meet the locals, talk to them, take a break. You need to enjoy that part. If you aren’t prepared, you will miss out.
People should invest more time into training and then get into it.