Road to Paris: Registration, Preparation, Visa and Bankruptcy

Pre- Registration and Registration


 

The registration for the 19th edition of Paris Brest Paris was to be held on August 18, 2019 and to accommodate the huge number of riders, the process consisted of two parts:

  1. Pre-Registration:
    which involved completing any BRM in the 2017-2018 randonnuering season. I had already completed a Super Randonnuer(SR) Series in that season.
  2. Registration: 
    which involved completing an SR Series in the 2018-2019 randonnuering season. I had completed the 400 and 600 BRM’s in the month of December 2018, and finished the 300 and 400 BRM’s in early 2019.

Upon Krishnamaneni Rajesh’s advice, finishing one of the longer Brevets i.e, 1000 BRM in October 2018, got me the chance to pre-register early. As you can see in the image below, riders completing 1000/1200 km got me a headstart in securing a spot in the queue. I was the 153rd rider in the world to register after paying 2,600/- as part of the pre-registration fee.

 

PBP Preregistration dates.PNG

(Pic Courtesy : Paris Brest Paris Official Website)

Brevets, BRM’s, Super Randonnuer series, etc.
Confused what these terms are? You can get a quick recap from my previous blogpost.

All the pre-regsitered riders had a window of time till the end of June to finish their SR series. Our qualifying rides were then validated and the preregistrations were converted to successful registrations in the months of June-July after paying another 14,000/- as part of the remaining registration fee and we were then provided an inscription number.

My rider number was I014.
I being the time slot of 6pm
14 being the 14th person of the wave. 

The riders had the option of choosing from the 80, 84 or 90 hour categories. First time riders usually go for 90 hour category and I was not keen on being an exception. 90 hours it was. The start times are as below:

PBP Start times.PNG

(Pic Courtesy : Paris Brest Paris Official Website)

The Preparation


 

Paris Brest Paris is a different ball game altogether with 25-40% more elevation compared to the rides back here. It would be foolish to be under the impression that just the Brevets in India are an adequate preparation.
For me, a proper planning would include:

  • Strength training regime to have a strong upper core
  • Technical Know-how in case of a mechanical failure with fixing a puncture being the bare minimum to handling spoke and saddle failures.
  • Training Regime including Cadence and Hill workouts along with Intervals.
  • Mental strengthening through meditation and mantras.

— excerpt from my earlier blogpost here

SR Series, Cykul Ride and Fleche

After torturing myself in the 1000 BRM, I skipped the early 200 and 300 BRM’s and started the Brevet season with 400 and 600 BRM.

Short Glimpse of how the rides went.

400 BRM || Dec 1, 2018
This was an easy paced  and a more enjoyable ride with the Scultura. Rode majorly with Ahamad amidst a quick nap alongside Vishaal at Armoor ATM 🙂

 

 

600 BRM || Dec 15, 2018
This was an intense race finishing just under 2 minutes. Love the parathas with Malai right at the turnaround point. Rode majorly with Vishal and Sunil with sprinting for the last couple of kilometers which reminded me of how I finished in a similar fashion in the last 600 BRM almost an year ago.

screenshot_20200426-151512~014229263048012237300..png

 

Cykul Republic Ride || Jan 20, 2019

I had done only leisure rides and brevets until now. I set a target of finishing 100kms under 4 hours on the rolling Shankarpally route but ended just outside the 4 hour mark.
No complaints after seeing my picture in the next day’s newspaper.

 

Times of India Clip.PNG

 

300 BRM || Jan 26, 2019

This was a solo faster-paced ride with minimal stops. There was a huge downpour right after I had finished the ride.

300 BRM.jpg                                               (With Raja Sabareesh and Rajeev Kalva)

 

200 BRM || Feb 9, 2019

Forgot to pack my helmet and a delayed start by 1.5 hour. Rajeev Kalva, organiser for the ride helped me with his. Another faster paced ride with minimal stops. Ended up gassed post ride.

200 BRM Jan.jpg

 


Fleche 380km
|| Feb 23, 2019

This remains one of the most enjoyed Audax rides I did in India. Ahamad H, Karthik and I formed a group and rode to Chirala Beach through a longer route. We rode for 24 hours starting 6am on Saturday till sunrise on Sunday just when we reached the Sea Breeze Resorts. We had a lot of fun at the beach post lunch till evening. Looking forward to more group rides like these to places like Gokarna, Goa, etc.

https://www.instagram.com/p/BuZPierFVmQ/
(Click for the Fleche Video)

200 BRM || July 21, 2019

This was a very easy paced ride. Rode the first quarter of the ride with Brunda Oblum and Karthik Vuda and remaining with Ashish Nukala. I realised I still had not recovered from the 1000 BRM 20 days back as I had severe discomfort while climbing the Anantagiri. Decided to take it very very easy for the remaining 20 days.

 

 

Though I greatly enjoyed my first SR Season in 2017-2018 owing to the novelty and larger number of participating riders, there was a slight dip in that feeling while doing the SR Series in 2018-2019 season resulting in me deciding in not taking part in the other brevets of season. And, with the road bike coming in I was craving for more speed. And as luck would have it, that’s when HRC races were started being organised.

 

HRC Races

This might not be the right breakdown but, I could broadly classify cycling into – the more leisurely paced randonnuering and the competitive racing. Indian racing scene has seen a rapid climb in this decade. Our own Parashuram Chenji has been on the podium at the National Championships.

Though we previously had the Hyderabad Racing League(HRL), which seemed to have been pretty popular with many races being held on, I’m not really aware of its history.
But now, the Hyderabad Racing Circuit(HRC) is a community racing scene spearheaded by Khiyar Pasha, Akash Panda and Prajwal Pingali with the support of The Bike Affair. Races were being held every 2-3 weeks and we were having a blast.

By the end of it, I had come out as a more faster, stronger and most importantly, a better informed rider.

Here’s a short glimpse of the rides I participated in.

HRC- Handicap Race 72KMS || Mar 9, 2019

First Race where I teamed up with Kiran drafting and leading till 80% of the race but then struggled and got dropped. The key quality of holding on till the end of the race was needed to be built.

 

Hyderabad Racing Circuit – ITT 40KMS || Mar 23, 2019

First time when I crossed the 30kmph mark over a significant distance. Felt really good.

HRC Movie Towers Classic || Apr 14, 2019

We were a group of 10 riders until a bunch of cows interrupted and divided us into two groups. Not being on cleats, I easily manouvered onto the sidepath and got back into the first group. There was a significant gap between the first group of 4 and the remaining riders. If only I could have held onto the intensity till the end, I might have finished in the top 3. Met Sam and Yashwanth that day 🙂


HRC – Handicap Race 28 April’19
|| Apr 28, 2019

HRC – 2 Person Team Time Trial (Merckx style) || May 12, 2019

Teamed up with Kiran. Had a blast though didn’t go full out.


HRC – Handicap Race 26 May’19
|| May 26, 2019

HRC Movie Towers Classic || June 2, 2019

This event was the ultimate road race in Hyderabad with National Champion Naveen John joining other top riders throughout the country. Had a lot of fun racing that day.

HRC – Handicap Race 23 June’19 || June 23, 2019

 

The Big Brevets

1000 BRM || 2018

With just 150kms of mileage and within 10 days of purchasing the road bike, I jumped in onto the 1000 BRM to get the early pre-registration. Putting aside the mechanicals and weather, everything went wrong with my body. I had severe diahhorea from the first night itself. Couldn’t eat anything for the whole of 2nd day as I was vomiting out whatever went in, crapped in my shorts the 2nd midnight, realised I had Shermers neck by the 3rd evening. Somehow made it through in the last hour after placing tubes in my balaclava to support my neck. Raja Sabaresh’s message at the end of the ride is something I deeply cherish.

 

1000 BRM || 2019

I had got most of equipment by this time, except the saddle bag(thanks to the fast Ali Express Delivery) and this was the time to try and test it out. I rode mostly alongside Praveen Vemulapalli who was pretty fast and hosted us for dinner at his home. The climb of Maredmalli is something which I long to do again, shouting my guts out while climbing and not stopping anywhere throughout the ascent(and also ending with the KOM for that particular ride). During the course of the 1000 kms, I was completely drenched in rain for the whole of midnight till Badrachalam, got lost for 20kms, made a checkpoint just in time, had 4 falls due to the cleats, almost broke my saddle and handle, time trialed holding my handle bag against the Vijaywada headwinds, had fights with a hotel owner, sprinted till I collapsed at the Suryapet checkpoint, again sprinted my guts out for the last bit of the race.

This Brevet gave me more than enough confidence to tackle the big one ahead.

 

Training Rides and Strength Training

In between all these major rides, I was doing various kinds of workouts from Hill workouts to cadence to Intervals and also joining many group centuries rides and doing mockup Rides in the rain and at night.

This was supplemented with strength training at the office gym during my evening break for at least 2 days over a six month period.

screenshot_20200426-152212~01~01861465070163876839..png

 

Mileage

Starting from the first ride since the day of purchase (Oct 7, 2018) to the first couple of rides in Paris, I had accumulated close to 7,500 kms of mileage after ~ 115 activities averaging 10 activities a month. In retrospect, a good benchmark should have been 10,000kms with at least 20 activities a month.

Equipment

Cycling being an expensive sport, I had to make a couple of eliminations and smart choices to prevent the already overshooting budget to going out of hand. I forgoed buying a go pro and borrowed Vishu’s old Iphone6, borrowed head and tail lights from Rajeev Kalva and Ranjit ji against spending an additional 15k on them, and convinced Prudhi from Yellow Jersey to reimburse money close to 7000/- for unused tyres and tubes.

  1. Shoes, Cleats and PedalsI had done both my SR Series on flat shoes and I didn’t find a need to buy them.
    Out of other arguments like ‘You’ll go faster’, two which swayed my way into buying the Giro Savix shoes-
    –> the connection with the bike
    –> the working of additional muscle groups in the legs.My friend Megha who was coming from the US, got me Look Keo 2 Max pedals which had the cleats as an add on.
  2. ClothingI packed in 3 jerseys.One from 2Go. The other two were Hyderabad Randonnuers Club jerseys.
    Raja Sabaresh forwarded a couple of links to thermal layers and when I opened them, it was 10k. An additional ten thousand for a shirt? Maybe buy it in the next PBP
    So I packed in 2 nylon and a cotton t shirt along with BTWIN raincoat which would also serve as my wind cheater.Bib shorts were expensive too. I packed the Gambit shorts from TBA and got the black bibs from USA. Vamsheedhar Bezawada got me the black bibs, leg warmers, bar tape, extra cleats, Continental GP tyres, overshoes from USA.
  3. Tyres and TubesI had been using the Panaracer tyres till the 1000 BRM in July after which I shifted to Continental GP 5000 28c. I preferred 28c as it gave me additional confidence of not having a puncture though at the expense of speed. I haven’t had a puncutre in all of the rides and Brevets I have done so far. Will this lucky streak carry till PBP? Let’s see!!
  4. Eyewear and Lights

    My friend’s brother got me a pair of Glasses fromRajeev Kalva helped me tonnes by lending the phoenix lights and batteries which would have costed me close to 10,000/- . I had to buy an additional set of batteries.
    Ranjit Ji and Rakesh from TBA helped me with the tail lights. They were a beast needing only one replacement throughout.
  5. Bags and Bottle CagesI loaded my bike with 3 bags- one sadde bag, one top tube bag and a handle bag with a drop bag at the 445 and 785 km to access the spare clothes and nutrition.
    I also attached twin bottle cage holders as I had to endure long stretches of water unavailability during my brevets.

screenshot_20200426-151638~015306489839159416208..png

 

Bike Fit

With the cleats coming in, and also the memories of Schemer’s neck hauting me, I had to get a bike fit done. Krish from TBA is one of the best bike fitters in the metros. I had two big sessions on weekends and a couple of other sessions over the following week.

Krish adjusted the height of the saddle and also the reach of the handle. I was always trouble with the pull in my quads when going fast and pain in the lower back within an hour of riding.
The diagnosis was that my harmstring flexibility was worrisome and he suggested a couple of exercises to improve it. Right after the bike fit was the 1000 BRM which turned out pretty great without any past instances of pain at the quads, neck and lower back.

screenshot_20200426-151715~017611389211738707541..png

 

Nutrition

Unived
This was kind of a no brainer as they produce the best endurance gels and hydration mixes.

BCAA and Whey
Rajesh Krishnamaneni advised on getting 2 scoops of Whey and 4-6 scoops of BCAA for the day. I got the Xtend BCAA powder and got some whey protein from a friend

Yoga Bars
Though they feel dry in the mouth, I got a lot of yoga bars.

MTR Instant Mixes
And also many packets of MTR’s instant upma, poha and rice.

Chocolates lot of them!!

 

Resources

  1. Whatsapp Groups
    Two groups in particular. One was PBP Green group and the PBP Hyderabad Randonnuers Group. I made a separate group with me as the only participant and started forwarding only the important information amidst the banter to this group.
    With the date closing on, this was a good place to cross check things.
  2. camp only guy channel
    He’s probably the only randonnuer who’s made a 38 part series for PBP aspirants covering wide range of aspects like the choice to bike to food to carry.
  3. Podcasts
    Huge shootout to Harsha and Gokul for the 2 podcasts with Krishna Kunnam and Rajesh Krishnamaneni on Alpi 4000 and the PBP podcasts on the Indian Cycling Podcast. It completely blew my mind with the level of preparation and technicalities needed. At the end of the episode, they also shared a checklist of things which was very informative to say the least.

I’ve started putting in all the resources and links into a document for any  future aspirants or a casual visitor. Will be soon sharing the link here

Bike Packing

After quick check on the bike after its service, we went ahead with the packing.
The TBA Team packed my bike really well. Chicha was the person who would be transporting our group of bikes from the store to the airport in his trolley saving us a lot of trouble.

screenshot_20200426-152015~015518984085420419101..png

Entertainment

Apart from all these, I had purchased a 128gb memory card and put in a lot of songs, podcasts of Dan Carlin’s Hardcore History and popular episodes of Reply All and This American Life. I also downloaded a couple of popular comedy movies as well.

Group Picture.jpg

(An evening to celebrate the brave attempt)

Travel and Logistics


 

Ashish advised me at the start to not depend on anyone and do everything as soon as possible. He’s been a great help in sourcing all the information, documents and formats.

Itinerary

Keeping the acclimatization, Schengen visa, my leave plan and the holidays (Independence Day and Ganesh Chaturthi) in mind, I planned my vacation like this:
August 14              :     Hyderabad -> Paris
August (14-17)      :     In and around Paris
August (18-22)      :     The Paris Brest Paris 2019
August (23-26)      :     Switzerland
August (27-29)      :     Prague
August (30-31)      :     Rome
September 1         :     Back to Paris
September 2         :     Flight to India
September 3         :     Reach India Early morning and back to office.

I had a lot of thoughts over which cities/countries to visit post the ride going and I went through many reddit posts, youtubechannels and travel bloggers and finally zeroed in on:

Switzerland: Anusha Vasireddy was a big influencer here. She had been to a 3 month on site visit the previous year and promptly gave me a 3 day plan on the places to visit.
My distant cousin was also here and he was more than happy to accommodate him.

Prague: Well, it was either this or Amsterdam, both of which were huge party cities.

Rome: Though not a huge buff, history remains one of my favorite subjects and Rome was a must visit. A friend was also studying his masters here. Nice Reunion?

 

Flights Tickets

Acclimatization was a fancy term I started hearing from other riders. It basically means that one has to get adjusted to the change in environment.

3 major things I got to know:

  1. Paris time was (GMT+2) i.e 3 1/2 hours behind us.
  2. The sunset usually happens around 9pm and the sunrise around 7am, so it was an additional 3 hours of good light which would greatly aid during the ride.
  3. There was presently a heat wave going on and it might significantly affect the ride.

I had booked my tickets in the month of February with Emirates on make my trip with some hsbc discount coupons (courtesy:Pondiman). Emirates had a generous baggage policy of 25kg check-in + 7 kg cabin. The two way flightcosted me around 45,000/-. I could have saved 4000/- more if I had booked a couple of hours later when the prices had fallen.

Amateur Tip: Always check for tickets on skyskanner and try booking tickets in the early morning.

 

Visa

All the hard training, meticulously preparation and the flight tickets would have been a waste unless the visa is sorted.

A couple of things I go to know:

  1.  Schengen area: 26 European countres make up the Schengen area with a common visa policy i.e, if you get a visa for one of the
    schengen country like France, you can also travel to other schengen countries without the need of an extra visa.
  2. 3 important things would be proper purpose, sufficient bank balance and income slips+ IT returns . One has to give a convincing case to the visa officer officer and give him the assurance that you will indeed come back and not stay back as an immigrant after the visa expires.
  3. Some of the countries are more leniet in giving a visa compared to othes and France was not one of them.
  4. Unike the US Visa process, which has a face-face interview, the Schegen Visa was processed with the help of a VFS Centre.
    We gather all the documents and submit the application at the VFS center of the city and they transfer your application to the regional Consulation Office which is in Bangalore for people residing in the state of Telangana. They then scrutinise the documents and send the passport with visa stamped or else a letter of reason for rejection.

I started the process in June-July, gathering information from all the people who had got their visa already and frequent visitors/travellers Ashish Nukala and Krishna Kunnam.
Divya Tate of Audax India also helped with a lot of documents to further strengthen our application. Huge shootout to them in making me less anxious throughout the whole process.

I had to visit the VFS center thrice as the first time the name on my passport and the travel insurance didn’t match and the second time I had a longer wait but finally got the process done with it. Well, not quite so. I got a call from the Bangalore consulate that my application has some gaps with the accommodation but no additional information was provided. I went through all the documents and mails and realised my hotel in France had cancelled my reservation. So, I sent in an apology letter with the new hotel booking and crossed my fingers.

Received -> application is being considered -> dispatched -> received.
It was one beautiful day when I drove back home to see visa stamping praying all the while ‘God! Bas ek bear…’.

Accomodation

I spoke with one of the riders from Pune who was interested in sharing his accommodation with us covering the days of August 15 to August 22. 8000/- was the price and being on the cheaper side, I blindly went ahead. It was basically two hotels in that time span putting me through lot of pain and effort in shifting between those two hotels. I felt like an idiot for getting myself into this mess right before the big event.

Amateur tip: Make your travel accomodation as simple as possibe even if it costs a bit of extra money.

Currency and Forex Card

Ashish helped me here again. He’s been travelling a lot since his undergraduate days so I didn’t second guess any of the information.

  1. Got a HDFC Forex card from HDFC Bank, Hasmatpet loading 1000 Euros into it.
  2. Went to Gem Forex, East Marredpally for currency exchange. Took 50,000/- in euros and 19035/- as swiss francs.
  3. Dad gave me a couple of hundred dollars which were remaining from their recent travel to the US.

Expenses cum Bankruptcy

Wew! That was a big big hole in the pocket. I’ve consolidated all of them in this excel sheet for the curious. It was basically all the savings from my first year salary and previous internships.

Link to Consolidated Expenses

 

And We’re Just Getting Started


 

Thanks to this event, it was the first time I felt like an adult. Taking care of all the things on my own from tickets to visa to purchases and decisions, it was the first time my parents were not handholding me.

Finally, peddodini ipotunna
*winks awkwardly*

August 13, Tuesday

I finished all the work, KT’s to colleagues on my absence and emails on the progress of the tasks at hand and came back home. I slowly started to feel the pre race jitters. I had trouble digesting the curd rice I had and started puking chunk by chunk. Vishu and Akhil came by to drop the iPhone and help me pack the luggage. Mom was getting worried.

Is this a bad sign of what’s ahead?…

 


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