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Wednesday, March 18, 2015

A Team Sport Indeed! - BBCH Team Time Trial - March 2015!

Trial By Time!
Individual time trial(ITT) and team time trial(TTT) are interesting desciplines. They are very similar and yet very different. In the individual time trial you race against the elements and the clock. There is no hiding from the wind. No respite from the ticking clock. An individual, his machine(of course the aerodynamic paraphernalia) and their race against the clock. It is the purest of tests in cycling, in a way. No wonder it is often referred to as the 'Race of Truth'. Usually a person with the ability to hit steady threshold or higher power and keep at it for the distance would do well in ITT. And flat ITTs tend to favour the person with a higher FTP(Functional Threshold Power) and most aerodynamic position and gear(as in Aero/TT bike, skinsuit, aero helmet, shoe covers etc).

Some had TT bikes and full aero gear at their disposal!
Some had their road bikes and aero bars added in the mix
A Team Sport!
When the descipline is extended to a team, a lot more dynamics come into the picture. Along with the factors that apply to the ITT, it is also about cohession and communication amongst the team members. It helps if all the team members are of almost equal abilities. But when that is not the case, the team can go as fast as it's slowest member. How the team works with and leverages the strengths and weakenesses of it's members to go as fast as possible on the set course, determines its performance in the TTT. 

Some just had their road bikes and their fabulous smiles to aid them go fast!
Work With What You Got!
In our team, Spectrum Racing, we have always given importance to TTT because it challenges us in different ways each time. Being an amateur team with mostly masters athletes(35+) of various backgrounds, it is always difficult to have a set of riders at similar level at the same time. In our team Shankar Jayaraman and Hari Menon were in decent shape but the course doesn't really suit their ultra skinny selves. Our skipper, Arvind Bhateja, just got back on the bike 4 weeks back after a back surgery and I got back on the bike a couple weeks before the race after a 3 week forced break due to various injuries. But we have decided that this combination is our best bet based on our practice rides during the weekends preceding the race Sunday. We have also managed to fine tune our communication and pacing strategies based on the blunders we did during our practice rides. 

Cleated Warriors Master's team in action!
We took to the startline as the penultimate team with the two man team of Vivek Radhakrishnan and K Kiran Kumar Raju of SKCT starting at the end. We have decided to start with a two minute pull with Shankar starting followed by Hari, Arvind and myself. After the initial 10km of moderate start we switched to 1min pulls for most of the distance with 30secs each in the final kms. We were mindful of not starting too hard and probably were a bit over conservative at the start. But we decided to stick to our plan and not get excited even when the two man SKCT team went past us barely 10kms into the 49.3km race.

We knew trying to match someone else's pace is only going to throw us off our rhthym and ultimately hurt the team. So, we continued with our plan and kept working smoothly. We went at a fair clip of 40kmph till the halfway point(24.6km). At this point we were 2mins slower than during our last practice ride a week before. It might be due to unfavourable winds or due to our conservative tactics. With such a distance it is not easy to guage how hard we could go for how long. If we over cook the effort we might end up burning out too soon and if we are too conservative we end up being slower than what we are capable of. It is a fine balance and we probably decided to be safe than sorry by being a little conservative.
Spectrum team A in action!

A few kms after the U-turn at the halfway mark, after doing a fine job of putting in some solid pulls at the front, Arvind told us to go ahead as he is unable to continue with the effort. Hari, Shankar and I kept going trying not to be not too fast on the uphills and not too slow on the downhills. About 5km to go we switched to 30sec pulls. Being almost 8 kgs heavier than the remaining two, I decided to take longer than 30 secs on the final downhill leading up to the finishline. The three of us crossed the finishline almost simultaneously in 1:12:17 at an average of exactly 41kmph.

Masters Category:
As it turned out, with the oldest rider being 48 and the youngest being 35 with a 38 year old and a 43year old in between, the mean age of our team A was also 41. May be we could have saved another minute or 90 secs if we went a little harder but we are not complaining finishing the second fastest overall(behind the two man SKCT team,1:09:02) and first in masters category.

Our team B of Vicki Nicholson, Ravi Ranjan Kumar and Mohan Kumar finished 2nd(1:16:57) in masters with Cleated warriors Deepak Mhasavade, Thoudam Opendro Singh and Nalla Konar finished 3rd(1:19:06).
Master's Podium!

Women Category:
In the women's category, the all star team comprising of a couple of German nationals(Sabina von Kessel, Lena Robra) and an Indian(Mehvash Arslan) took the top prize. They finished the race with a time of 1:30:53. They were followed by Team Wheelsports women team of Tim Tim Sharma, Sowmya Urs and Geeta Bhist with 1:46:19. Harsini G and Payal Kini of Team BOTS finished third with 2:14:44.
Girl power at BBCh!

Open Men:
With their main riders resting, it was upto SKCT owner, Vivek and their MTB rider, Kiran to defend the team TTT title and they did a swell job of it with a superb timing of 1:09:02. Team Wheelsports consisting of Paigamber Nadaf, Anantha Vishwanathan and Shivraj M finished second with a timing of 1:13:39. Team BOTS consisting Craig Raynes, Muralidhar and Akshat Khanna finished third in open men's with a timing of 1:14:45.
Open Men Podium!

On a Right Note!
BBCH 2015 season started off on a right note with ITT last month and TTT this month seeing record participation. We have had 26 teams and about 80 riders participating in this race while ITT last month saw 105 riders. For both the races, the BBCh council has started the practice of giving out the start order and start times for each of the riders, a day before the race. This not only enables the riders to time their warmup and nutrition but also ensures that everything goes smoothly on time. That is just an example of how BBCh keeps getting better every year.

Another great thing about BBCH this season is that it is completely community driven with each of the Bangalore based teams taking the responsibility to help the BBCh council of volunteers to execute the races. Our team, Spectrum racing, was responsible for ITT last month and TTT this month. I think they went very well even if I say so myself. The BBCh council of volunteers, Suman Paul, Promise Gangani, Marghoob Hasan and Khuram NK have been doing a great job along with other volunteers like Opendro. The next race(100km road race) on 19th April is going to be driven by Bangalore's most cheerful team, Cleated Warriors. I'm looking forward to it!

Sumptuous Breakfast:
Our team also sponsored breakfast for all the riders and volunteers at the end of the race. I was the first to grab a plate but I ensured that I left enough for others to eat. The buffet breakfast of idly, vada, kharabath, kesaribath, coffee, tea etc., was just what we needed after a hard race. Thanks to our skipper Arvind for coming up with the idea and doing all the arrangements.
Spectrum Racing! One happy team!
All the photos in this post are by Raghu Mohan Photography. You can like his FB page to follow his superb work in Sports photography. The album from this race can be accessed here

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Montra Tour of Nilgiris 2014 - Day 8 - Exploring the Beauty around Munnar!

Exploring the Beauty of Munnar!
After the epic ride to Munnar yesterday that ended up draining a lot of riders of all the energy, today was a day to rejuvenate the spirits and restore their sanity a bit. The plan was to do a 57 km loop around Munnar that goes through Bison Vally, Pottanakad, Kunchitanni, Munnar and back to the Sterling resort in Chinnakanal via Devikulam. It is not an easy ride with about 25km climbing on the way back in the 57 km ride. Since the ride was an optional ride, many of the riders decided to give it a pass and relax at the resort to recover from the pounding of yesterday's ride. 

About 25-30 people started riding the planned loop. The rest relaxed at the resort or went for shorter rides to explore the beauty around Munnar sans too much climbing. I was in one of those smaller groups that decided to do a smaller exploratory ride to take in the beauty of the place since we were in the mood the enjoy the beauty of the place yesterday evening when we were at our wits end and wanted to just get the tough ride over with. 

Vicki Nicholson, Misha Gill, Rajesh Krishnan, Shankar Jayaraman, Anantha Vishwanathan and I were in that small group that went to explore the route towards Munnar that we came by yesterday evening. The weather was perfect with the morning sun lighting up the vast blue skies and the mammoth verdant mountains.

I simply run out of words to describe the beauty of the place. The vast blue skies and the valleys among the mountains were just surreal. I came to this side of the western ghats for the first time and I'm simply blown away by it's beauty. In the 8km we rode to the tea shop we must have taken about 80 pics. After a few minutes we got tired of taking pictures and just stood at places just taking in the silence and sounds of the forests in the valleys. It was meditative. 

After having tea, we rode back and reached the hotel and reached by 9:30. After shower, we packed our bags and bikes and were ready to go. But we waited for lunch and presentation ceremony before we head back to Bangalore.

The Not-So Easy Munnar Loop:
The planned Munnar loop apparently turned out to be much difficult than expected. Riders apparently had trouble negotiating steep technical downhills and even steeper uphills. Some riders had flats on the downhills due to their rims heating up while braking. A couple of riders had minor crashes too. The 25km climb was also apparently quite steep at parts. Only about 20 bad-ass riders completed the ride. Kudos to them. For me, I was quite pleased with the short, serene and beautiful ride we did in the morning.

This year's Tour of Niligiris was probably the toughest TFN I have done so far. Or perhaps as one of my friends remarked, I'm just getting old.
Montra Tour of Nilgiris 2014 Champions!
Nils Eigil Bradtberg successfully defended his Tour of Nilgiris title. Ironman, Dipankar Paul finished second in open men category with a four second lead while the Dutchman, Walter De Kok finished third. 
Final results in Men's category!
In Master's category Vivek Radhakrishnan emerged victorious with consistently impressively performances throughout the tour. He actually finished second overall after Nils and was the fastest Indian national on the tour. Shankar Jayaraman finished second in master's while I finished third. 
Master's Final GC results!
In Women's category Vicki Nicholson successfully defended her Tour of Nilgiris title. Namu Kini finished second with impressive show of determination. Misha Gill who was in third position couldn't finish the tough ride yesterday from Valparai to Munnar due to an injury that she sustained because of a crash on day 4. She ended up losing her spot on the podium to Hemal Shah who moved up to 3rd.  
Women's Final GC results!
Vivek and Dipankar finished 2nd and 3rd overall behind Nils. It is great to see, Vicki finishing 12th overall too. Here is the consolidated results across all categories.
Overall Results across categories!
Marking team lead Adarsh Kashyap won the best volunteer award 3 years in a row. 
It was a hard tour. It had lot more climbing than last year and is longer although the race sections were lesser in number and shorter in distance. Everyone thought day 2 to Kalahatty would be the hardest day on the tour but the long grinding ride on Day 7 to Munnar proved us wrong. The harder the tour gets the more determined the riders seem to get to finish it. Quite a few who couldn't finish Kalahatty last year were able to find closure this year by coming to the tour better prepared. If the tough ride to Munnar caught some riders off guard this time I'm sure they are going to come back stronger and better prepared.   

 End of the tour always brings mixed feelings. At one side people or relieved that the continuous hard days of riding and suffering are over. At the same time we miss all the fun and pampering and have to go back to normal life and realities of deadlines and targets to be met. We just have to wait for Dec-2015 for the next tour.  

Tour of Nilgiris and The Bonds It Forges!

Skandan Suryanarayana was part of Tour of Nilgiris last year and was swept from the top of Kalahatty last year as it got dark by the time he got there. He was determined to complete it this year and has come back with better gearing as well as better prepared legs. He was able to complete the daunting climb without un-clipping his right leg and taking just a few short breather breaks. That achievement gave him immense satisfaction and says perhaps he would go faster and with even fewer breaks next time. It was same with the tough ride to Munnar. He kept on going with out stopping much and was able to reach Munnar in time. 

For him the challenges TFN has offered not only helped him push his physical boundaries but also gave him friends he can connect with emotionally. He says that TFN has given him some of the best friends since his school and college days. He now rides regularly with the buddies he made on TFNs over the last couple of years and considers them an extended family.  
Dr. Shekar Rao and Skandan Suryanarayana chatting up and bonding on the rest day!
Dr. Shekar Rao, a pediatric heart surgeon, was always on a bike as a kid and as teenager. After a couple of decades of separation, he fell in love with bikes again when he went to buy a bicycle to his younger son and picked one up for himself too. His son eventually has gone to pursue higher studies and has become too busy to cycle but the good doctor hasn't looked back from that day. 

Cycling has become as much of a passion for him as golf has been for the past few years. Both the sports seem to give him a way to socialize as well as a great way to keep physically active. He cherishes a challenge and says that being able to complete a tough days like Kalahatty and the ride to Munnar gives him immense satisfaction.

Some beautiful photos from the day can be seen here.

Read About The Rest of the Tour:
Day 1: The Tour Kicks-off: Bangalore to My'sore'  
Day 2: The Madness of Kalahatty: Mysore to Ooty
Day 3: The Foggy, Soggy and Cold ride in Ooty: Ooty - Kodanad - Ooty
Day 4: Ooty to Palakkad: One world to Another!!
Day 5: Rest Day in Palakkad(no report)
Day 6: Palakkad to Valparai  
Day 7: The Epic Ride to Munnar: Valparai - Munnar 

Read the account of the other blogger on the tour Abhishek Tarfe here.

And that's a wrap for Montra Tour of Nilgiris 2014! 

Montra Tour of Nilgiris - 2014 - Day 7 - The Epic Ride To Munnar!

An Epic Ride!
The day 6 ride to Valparai was tough but was one of the most scenic routes I have ever done. But, we knew day 7 ride from Valparai to Munnar is going to be as tough as day 2 when we climbed Kalahatty, if not tougher. But today, I can say without hesitation that it was tougher than day 2. The toughest day on the tour this year and probably of all the 4 TFNs I rode thus far. It was simply an epic ride. 

Everyone was aware that, with 172km to cover with about 50km of climbing towards the end of the ride, it was going to be a long day. So, the ride was flagged off at 7am sharp and we were off. The ride starts off with a 12km uphill followed by a 28 km downhill till Aliyar dam checkpost. The 12km was done chatting up with Don D'mello and Dipankar about the cycling culture of Mumbai and Bangalore and how they are developing etc. 
The foggy weather at the start of the initial downhill from Valparai!
The Downhill Dance!
Just as we began the downhill it became very foggy and it was almost 5-10 meter visibility for a few km of the downhill. After the fog lifted however, the views were fantastic. We quickly rolled into Attakatti and stopped for coffee. After having coffee, I followed Siva downhill to Aliyar checkpost from Attakatti. Riding downhill with Siva is an experience in itself. The smooth lines he takes and the pace at which he rides is brilliant. I love following him downhill. As we were enjoying the downhill, Don D'mello joined and went past us. The three of us were enjoying the brilliant downhill at super speeds despite the hairpin bends while suddenly, my chain broke and I had to let the two go. 
Aliyar dam view from the climb!
Taking on The Headwinds with Pace lines!
Dipankar helped fix my dirty broken chain and we rode into the first support station. At the support station we refueled and formed a paceline with Shankar, Anubhav, Dipankar and Vicki. It was important that we spend as little time as possible off the bike and keep moving if we were to complete the long tough ride in time. We kept an easy pace and picked up the Mumbai gang of Don, Milam and Anand on the way. Dipankar was setting the pace for most of the time while the rest of us chipped in occasionally. There were headwinds for those 40km to reach to the second support station and it was important that we cooperated and kept moving. We reached SS2 at Manupatti and refueled and got ready for the toughest part of the ride. 

The Mammoth Climb!
The ride to Munnar involves about 50km of climbs starting at about 100 km mark. The climb is not steep but it just goes on and on. We entered the Annamalai forest reserve and started riding towards the climb. The road inside the forest was quite patchy and it was rough riding. As we climbed towards Marayoor, where the next support station was setup, we could feel the heat radiating all around. It was very hot and humid and climbing was even more difficult than usual.
Huge vallies on the left as we climbed up Annamalai reserve forest
Big rocky faces on the right side and steep valleys with thick forest vegetation on the left side provided an imposing setting. The heat was unbearable although the views were great. We began to sweat profusely as we made progress towards Marayoor. Patchy forest roads, combined with the long climb in that heat was taking its toll. 

As we got to the support station 3 outside Marayoor however, the altitude seemed to have had an effect on the temperature. It was getting cooler and the wild forest vegetation has now given way to organized tea plantation. Although we had a fair bit of climbing still to go, at least we need not deal with the heat any more. 
A few riders like Rama Yanam kept on going with minimal breaks so that they're able to complete the ride in time!

After having lunch at SS3 at Marayoor, we started on the 20km climb from SS3 to SS4. Apart from a single tea stop in between we continued to make steady progress on the climb. The views were surreal and we kept seeing dozen's of waterfalls of all shapes and sizes. We were never too far from the gushing and gurgling sounds of water falls and streams through out the climb. The amazing views on the climb sometimes helped take the mind off the slow dragging progress we were making. 

Vicki, Ananta, Shankar, Dipankar and I kept each other company during this long slog and kept going. After reaching SS4 at 135km mark, we still had 5km of uphill to climb before we roll into Munnar. Right through the climb we kept seeing solo riders like Jaideep Khanna(Mumbai), Deepender Sehajpal(Noida), Rama Yanam(Hyd/Cali) etc., who kept on spinning determined to complete the ride within time. They had taken minimum breaks and kept going. The determination to see through the tough ride was evident in their calm disposition even while struggling through the immensely challenging ride. 
Made it to Munnar! End of an epic day for some while rest of us continued 18k further to reach the hotel by bike!

We completed the uphill and then put on a jacket to save ourselves from cold winds while descending. The road conditions of the patchy uphill roads continued on the downhill as well and it was difficult to sit on the bike. Standing on the pedals resulted in getting the feet and the palms totally battered with continuous vibrations from the patchy roads. The smooth flowng downhill ride with Siva in the morning felt like it was ages ago. I was begging for relief from the battering as we rolled into Munnar. 

From Munnar to get to the Sterling hotel Chinnakanal it was another 18km. We reached Munnar at 5pm and had an hour to get to the hotel. It was announced in the morning that the riders are allowed to end the ride in Munnar at 154km mark and take a float from Munnar to the hotel since it is thought that many riders won't make it in time. The 5 of us decided to go on and ride to the hotel. 
The beautiful home stretch to the hotel in Chinnakanal!
The Gorgeous Home Stretch And The Relief!
Thankfully the roads after Munnar to Devikulam and Sterling, Chinnakanal were far smoother and we didn't have to go through the ordeal of a full body shock treatment from bumpy roads. There were a couple of 4km climbs followed by downhills to get to the hotel that we spun through and arrived at the hotel at exactly 6pm. The views as we got nearer to the hotel were simply surreal with the huge valleys and out of the world views. 

It was a huge relief to have finally made it. It was the tougest day of this year's Tour of Nilgiris, and may be the toughest day in all the four TFNs that I have done. In my view this long drag was tougher than Kalahatty because of the sheer length of the climbs as well as the heat and the horrible road surface. A lot of riders gave up at SS3, unable to bear the heat and the long climbs. Some riders pushed themselves to the extremes and made it to Munnar before taking the float to the hotel while about 20 riders had enough time to make it to the hotel in time. We gained about 2900 m during the day's ride. 

The Final Day Ahead..
Tomorrow is a short 57km loop around Munnar. Although it is short, it is no way an easy ride since we end up riding a little more than 25km of climbing. The ride is made optional by the organizers and it would be interesting to see how many want to ride another long climb after today's brutal battering of body and mind. 

A few more pics from today can be found here.

Read About The Rest of the Tour:
Day 1: The Tour Kicks-off: Bangalore to My'sore'  
Day 2: The Madness of Kalahatty: Mysore to Ooty
Day 3: The Foggy, Soggy and Cold ride in Ooty: Ooty - Kodanad - Ooty
Day 4: Ooty to Palakkad: One world to Another!!
Day 5: Rest Day in Palakkad(no report)
Day 6: Palakkad to Valparai  
Day 8: A Beautiful End to The Tour: Exploring the Beauty of Munnar

Read fellow blogger Abhishek Tarfe's account here.
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