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Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Indian Terrain Tour of Nilgiris 2015 - Day 8 - Valparai to Pollachi

A Beautiful Ride to End An Amazing Tour!
The ride from Valparai to Pollachi is the last ride for the Indian Terrain Tour of Nilgiris – 2015. After a tough but incredibly beautiful ride from Palakkad to Valparai, it was time to wrap up another awesome addition of Tour of Nilgiris with an easy ride to Pollachi from Valparai.

We started with an 11km loop around Valparai through some really beautiful tea estates before getting back on the same route we took yesterday to get to Valparai. After about 17kms of riding most of which was uphill, we got onto the downhill section. During the uphill section, I was riding with Shreyas Kumar from Karcher, one of the official prize sponsors for the tour.
Shreyas joined us for the last three days of the tour!
However, once the downhill section began, it was difficult to keep up with him.
I tried to follow him for a couple of kilometers but I noticed that many of the curves and hairpin bends were wet and I did not want to take any chances. So, slowed down and started going slowly. Krish Agarwal from Hyderabad crossed me and went ahead. 

After a while I saw Viju and noticed that he had a bit of scraped elbows and knees. He apparently crashed trying to avoid an oncoming truck out of a blind corner. Luckily he was just fine apart from a few scratches but his wheels were out of true. He had to disengage the brakes and ride slow until he had the official mechanic on the tour true the wheels for him. He is a very talented rider but these things could happen to anyone and utmost caution is necessary riding downhill.
Jaideep and Joost descending at a calm pace!
After a few meters, I found Krish Agarwal on the road being attended by volunteers. He apparently washed out on a curve. He was attended by the Sita Bhateja ambulance and the Spectrum Physio staff immediately. He seems to have a dislocated shoulder but was thankfully fine otherwise. He doesn’t remember how he crashed but that is not very uncommon.
Exploring local food joints has always been a big part of the tour for me!
After a few more kilometers of downhill, we reached Attakatti, where the competitive section ended yesterday. We again got into the ‘Hotel New Restaurant’ and wiped out all the vadas, onion dosas, ghee roast dosas, egg dosas, idlies and whatever they had to offer. It was the same restaurant where we had fish for lunch yesterday. The food in that tiny restaurant is quite amazing. We rounded it off with a couple of tumblers of coffee each but were contemplating if we can wait for a bit longer so that we can finish lunch there before we go.
The beautiful Valparai switchbacks that we climbed yesterday and descended today!
After reluctantly getting out of the restaurant, we started riding downhill on the CS section of yesterday. While suffering during the competitive section yesterday, we hardly noticed the scenic beauty of the climb. But as we started descending, two eyes were not enough to take in the spectacular views of the valley with the Aliyar reservoir below. We kept stopping at almost every bend in the road because we found the view from there to be more spectacular than the one before. We must have taken more time to descend today than we took for climbing up it, yesterday.
The beautiful sight of Aliyar reservoir from the Valparai climb!
Finally we reached the Aliyar check post where we had the second support station, 35km away from the hotel. Initially, my teammate Gaurav Duggal and I at Spectrum racing teamed up with Viju and Sumit of OldCranks from Delhi and wanted to participate in the fun Team Time Trial that was organized for 5km from there. However, we decided to not participate and instead race to the hotel so that we could get first chance to wash up and get ready to celebrate the end of another awesome tour.

It just took a strong push on a slight incline by me to get Sumit going and he began to drill it against the headwinds as we crossed rider after rider and reached Shakti resorts outside of Pollachi. With the tour wrapped up we washed up and got ready for lunch and presentation ceremony.

The Results:

Nils won in under 35 category by a huge margin. That, of course, is not a surprise. It was his third consecutive win at TFN starting with his first in 2013. The fight between Rajat and Vinayak was very exciting with both the youngsters giving each other great competition. Going into the last competitive section, Rajat had a lead of 1:56 on Vinayak. However, on the last CS on the long climb in Valparai, Vinayak did an amazing climb to not only cover that deficit but also take a lead of 7 seconds to take the second spot. He is the fastest Indian on the tour followed by Rajat. It is so heartening to see the youngsters shine on a stage like this. Rajat, at 21 years, has a huge potential to grow stronger and evolve into a much better cyclist in future. 

In Master's category(35-45), I have managed to retain my lead and slightly build on it to retain the Blue Jersey for the category. Preet Singh and Sumit Kumar also retained their positions at 2nd and 3rd in Master's with a consistent show through the races. 

In 45Plus category, Richard Muller was the fastest in the category on Valparai too and retained the Blue Jersey. The podium battle for 2nd and 3rd which has been quite close through the various stages settled with Russell nailing the Valparai climb on his 70th birthday yesterday and putting an additional 2:11 on Aijaz Ahmed. Aijaz finished 3rd overall with an impressive show just 10 months after starting cycling. Great bunch of guys. 

In women's cateory Belinda took the Blue jersey with a comfortable lead. The ever smiling psychiatrist from Goa is an awesome package of endurance and positive energy. Divya Chandran, has been riding the tour to raise cancer awareness among women by giving out cancer educational material through all the towns and villages through the 3 states that TFN has gone through. She has finished 2nd in GC with consistent riding through out. Chaua Bee Geok Kazay of Singapore finished third in the category.
                                                                                                                                      Big Thanks To The Volunteers!   
This brings to an end another amazing tour. The volunteer power has been as awesome as ever. The way they took care of every aspect of the tour to enable the riders to just ride and face the challenging terrain fearlessly. They are a big part of the success of the tour.

For me, it is the most satisfying of the tours for obvious reasons. It is a privilege to and a proud moment to be wearing the blue and red jerseys. This win is dedicated to my team skipper at Spectrum Racing, Dr. Arvind Bhateja, who was unable to join the tour due to a pelvic fracture that he sustained in a crash just weeks before this tour. I am sure he will come back stronger and participates in the tour next year. Thanks everyone for a great tour. The Biryani Express had a great time!  
The Biryani Express salutes TFN! :)
More pics can be seen here.

Also Read:
Day 1: Bangalore to Mysore     
Day 2: Mysore to Madikere
Day 3: Madikere to Sultanbatheri
Day 4: Sultanbatheri to Ooty
Day 5: Rest day in Ooty
Day 6: Ooty to Palakkad
Day 7: Palakkad to Valparai                                                                                                                                                                                  

Indian Terrain Tour of Nilgiris 2015 - Day 7 - Palakkad to Valparai

Palakkad to Valparai
The ride to Valparai on TFN Day 7 today is the last tough ride for the tour since tomorrow’s downhill ride to Pollachi is more of a procession stage ending with the presentation ceremony. Today also brings the last competitive segment of the tour this year that decides the podium places for all the categories.
At the flag off, Venky with Venky! :)
The first 20km of our ride out of our hotel in Palakkad retraces the route we took yesterday from Ooty. It was a slight uphill with headwinds. We realized why we were that fast yesterday while reaching Palakkad. We wanted to take it easy till SS2 where the last competitive segment starts. We were going at a pace that allowed even a kid on his single speed MTB to give us company for a while.

Once we went past Meenakshipuram, the scenic beauty went up a notch. The stretch is aptly named Sundarapuram and it was lined with trees on both sides that offered us a tunnel view and cool shade. After that we went through Annamalai tiger reserve, Pollachi range for a bit. We reached the support station two near Aliyar water reservoir check post(68km mark) quite early. Nils and others who got there an hour back were still waiting there. They could not start the CS as the volunteers were apparently showing permission letters to forest officials so that they wouldn’t stop us from riding the climb which falls under forest zone.
Pranay heading towards Valparai!
While we waited there, we bought fresh honey from a mobile honey vendor who was squeezing the honey out of honey combs right there. As the pre-race nutrition goes, honey dipped bananas is not that bad I think. After a few minutes of resting under the shade, we got a green signal to start the CS.

The Competitive Section:
I was one of the first few riders who started riding the competitive section. After wasting a few seconds trying to cleat-in, I was off. The first 2.5km of the 11.7km race segment is the flat approach to the actual climb. I started out in the big ring and was going at a decent pace. I didn’t want to start out too hard and suffer on the later part of the climb. So, I was watching the power numbers and was pacing myself. I had an aggressive goal to begin with but I also wanted to back off a bit if it felt too difficult. Last year, I took a little over 42mins for the same section(this year’s segment is slightly longer). So, I was aiming to go sub-40 min for the section. More than the time target I was more focused on my power target and was hoping if I managed to maintain that power for the duration of the climb, I will reach my time target as well.

I was maintaining the power well until I hit the hill. I decided to keep going in the big ring on the climb as well. I have not been training for spinning up the hills and hence decided to use low cadence muscular endurance way to maintain power. After two days of living on curd rice and avoiding all the mutton, desserts and all the great food the Ooty hotel had to offer, my tummy troubles calmed down and I was feeling a bit better today. Yesterday’s ride to Palakkad after the rest day in Ooty also helped to loosen the muscles and remove the soreness and pain in the legs from the Kalahatty climb.

I was feeling relatively stronger and the legs were moving alright. The numbers were looking good. But, I knew it is a long climb and it is important to keep focus on pacing. I was focusing on my pacing although the scenic beauty of the valley, with the reservoir down below was amazing and quite distracting. It was hot and the sweat began to pour down in streams. I opened the jersey halfway hoping to cool the body by allowing the breeze in. Nils caught and passed me as if I was standing still. As he passed me he said, ‘Come on Venky. Last one.’ Yes, one last push. Enough suffering for this year, I thought.

20 mins into the ride, the energy began to flag a bit and I quickly downed a gel and gulped some water. I caught up with Richard and went past him. The heart rate was in the red zone but it was just about a matter of few more minutes of suffering for the tour. It is about retaining the Blue Jersey. If that is not motivation enough for me, nothing else will be. So, I continued to suffer and continued to push as hard as I could. 
Vivek crossing the finish line in the CS!
Ready to fall off the bike, I crossed the line after about 41mins. It was almost 2mins improvement from last year. I have to wait and see when they announce the results if I am able to keep the blue jersey for masters. Results will be announced during the presentation ceremony after the ride tomorrow.

The Amazing Beauty of Valparai!
After the CS ended at Attakatti, a few of us quickly jumped into the ‘Hotel New Restaurent’. They served hot rice and sambar with a few curries and delicious fried fish. It was a super recovery food after the race.
The delicious meal after the CS!
Once our bellies were full, we still had to ride some 15km climb and 10km downhill to reach Valparai. We quickly got onto our bikes and started moving slowly. 
Just one of the many amazing views!
The scenic beauty of the place just blew our minds and we ended up stopping at almost every turn to take lots of photos to take the memories of this amazing climb with us.

Time to pose! 
It was easily one of the most scenic climbs we have ever ridden in. The 25km climb is simply amazing!

How Will You Spend Your 70th Birthday!?
Russell Bell the British rider from Goa signed up for TFN and sent in his profile for the registration. When we saw him ride on the first day, we knew he was an experienced rider and wondered how old he was. With a sheepish grin, he revealed that he was 69 and he had to put his age as 52 and send in an old photo of himself so that the TFN organizers wouldn’t reject his registration request. 

The veteran with a 40  year experience in riding bikes started cycling when he was 30 years old and worked up to Cat2 by the time he was 33 years old. He later moved to Goa and has been living there for the last 20 years. The way he still rides the bike is pretty inspiring and he stands second in 45Plus category.
Russell Bell and Aijajj Ahmed, 2nd and 3rd in 45Plus Category!
He turned 70 today and we celebrated his birthday with a big cake from TFN.

His close competition in 45plus category was the 52 year old runner, Aijaj Ahmed, who started cycling early this year as running was hurting his knees.  This long time runner works in an offshore oil rig as an engineer and is away for a month and is at home a month when he gets to ride. Both the riders are such endearing and joyful characters and excellent riders. 

What's Ahead?
Tomorrow's 75km to Pollachi is more of a relaxed downhill ride after the initial 15km of climb. At Pollachi we will clean up after the ride and have presentation ceremony and then head to Bangalore by bus. Can not believe the tour already coming to an end. Looking forward to the results tomorrow and hoping that I'm able to retain my blue jersey.

More photos from the day can be seen here.

Also Read:
Day 1: Bangalore to Mysore     
Day 2: Mysore to Madikere
Day 3: Madikere to Sultanbatheri
Day 4: Sultanbatheri to Ooty
Day 5: Rest day in Ooty
Day 6: Ooty to Palakkad
Day 7: This post    
Day 8: Valparai to Pollachi  

Monday, December 21, 2015

Indian Terrain Tour of Nilgiris 2015 - Day 6! Ooty to Palakkad!

Yesterday's rest day in Ooty was so much fun. Everyone needed the rest after handling the brutal Kalahatty climb. The Highland Hotel at Doddabetta where were staying had so many facilities to have fun. 
Amazing view from our hotel in Doddabetta!
After the rider and volunteer photo shoot and the King/Queen of Kalahatty jersey(Red Jersey) presentations, everyone was busy in their own way of fun. Some were playing cricket while some took to Frisbee. Some took to cleaning their bike while others went out to Ooty town to get chocolates etc. The food at the hotel was fantastic and the staff were very hospitable. We really enjoyed our stay in Ooty.
Learning the history of tea during our visit to Doddabetta Tea Factory and Museum on the rest day!
We were flagged off from Ooty at 7:40 am after Nils gave a few tips on how to descend safely during the 50km downhill section to Mettupalayam. It was quite cold as we started descending. The sun was up and it was right in our faces as we were descending. It was a bit difficult to see against the sunlight. Since it was quite early the vehicular traffic was minimal and we were able to descend fairly quickly. Once we reached Kotagiri, it was less chilly. By the time we reached support station 1, it was almost warm and we dropped our warm clothes there. 
The tea shop at the first support station in the middle of the descent to Mettupalayam!
I decided to head down immediately since I prefer descending with no one around. The long downhill to Mettupalayam is pretty flowing and very fast. The feeling of easily gliding down the hill is like none other. While it is super fun, it is also quite dangerous due to the traffic. So, it is about finding that safe speed for one's skill levels and enjoying it responsibly.

I really enjoyed the relatively empty roads of early morning and descended at a fair clip. I reached Mettupalayam in no time. I decided to continue to the next SS at 69km mark and wait for Sumit and others. Richard and Vinayak were already at the SS2 and started riding ahead. I waited for Sumit to join and started riding towards Perur where the next Support station was located. 

The route took us through quite a few villages and fields. We stopped near a lotus pond near SS3 in Perur to take some pictures before reaching the SS at 99km mark. 
I always wanted to get a red jersey to match with my bike! :)
We wanted to quickly refill and head to the Kumbakonam Degree Coffee Shop that is at the 120km mark. But, Kiran Kumar Raju, our current National MTB ITT champion who was supposed to ride this tour but instead decided to join as a volunteer because of an injury, stopped us from going ahead immediately. He conveyed that the markers are a bit delayed and that we could lose our way if we were go ahead as the route involves a lot of turns etc. Apparently, Viju Verghese and Gaurav Duggal already lost their way in trying to catch up with Nils who went ahead. We decided to rest a bit instead of getting lost and riding more than the intended 155km for the day. It was quite hot as it is and we didn't want to ride any more than it was needed to get to our hotel.

Once we were allowed to ride, we quickly started riding. The 20km to get to the next support station strategically placed next to the Coffee shop, had some really bad stretches of road that rattled our bones. But we eventually reached the coffee shop and downed multiple cups of awesome coffee. It was all paid by TFN. 
The Singapore gang near the Kumbakonam Degree Coffee at SS4
After spending some time downing coffees, we headed towards Palakkad. The last 33km, we decided to ride fast as it was quite hot by that time. Sumit and Vivek joined me as we quickly made progress with the help of downhill and tailwinds on our way to the hotel. 

At the hotel we found Viju and Gaurav at the lost and found bin. They claim that they haven't lost their way but for us, they were lost right at the start and were found at the hotel.

Since the packed lunch we were supposed to have at SS3 and SS4 never made it to there when majority of the riders got there, we got washed up and raided KFC and McD opposite our hotel.
Look where we found Viju and Gaurav!! :)
It was a fun day.

What's Ahead!
There was no competitive segment today. It was just a fun ride to Palakkad after the awesome descent from Ooty. Tomorrow's ride to Valparai is a 108km ride with a 12km competitive section from 68km mark. It is the climb that will decide many of the GC positions for the tour. All are eagerly and nervously waiting for it. 

More pics from the day can be seen here.

Also Read:
Day 1: Bangalore to Mysore     
Day 2: Mysore to Madikere
Day 3: Madikere to Sultanbatheri
Day 4: Sultanbatheri to Ooty
Day 5: Rest day in Ooty
Day 6: This post
Day 7: Palakkad to Valparai    
Day 8: Valparai to Pollachi  
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