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Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Brought Back From The Dead - More Musings on My 6th TFN - Indian Terrain Tour of Nilgiris 2016

Femina Miss India Moment?
After this year's Tour of Niligris, at the presentation ceremony, when they called me on stage to take the medal for finishing first in my category, I completely chocked up, teared up and couldn't utter a word. I quickly thanked TFN for making me the cyclist that I am today and ran down the stage to avoid a complete break down. I agree that I am not as good with my spoken word as I'm with my written one, but it was something new for me to get emotional before a big gathering like that. I kept thinking why that happened as I don't take my performances that seriously once they are done. I was thousand times happier for my Spectrum Racing teammate and skipper, Arvind Bhateja's win in his category than I was for mine.
Give A Little And Get Back Many Folds! My focus as a rider-blogger has always been to give the flavor of the tour to the riders who couldn't make it. I try to do it as well as I can and get to sleep only about 3-4 hours on most days as I'm a very slow writer. With last year's experience with indigestion, I stayed away from meat(except on day 1 and day 7) and desserts and mostly relied on dal and curd rice through this tour. Although a bit of indigestion due to lack of sleep still troubled me, I was able to manage it better this time. With limited sleep it is not always possible to recover and ride well the next day and the day after.  

That is why, I like to take my focus away from my own performance and try and help others do well if I can. May be that's also why I gravitated towards coaching this year. While trying to help others with my experience of riding TFN 6 times, I'm also helping myself by clearing my own mind and reminding myself of what is the right thing to do in any given situation. Not that I end up doing the right thing myself all the times, but it does help. So, in a way, I end up taking as much or more than what I had to offer.

Brought Back From The Dead!When I look back, just four weeks before the tour started, I had to sit out of the biggest race of the season, BBCH Nandi race, as I was quite sick. I was hardly able to breath properly with constant cold and cough. While the earlier part of the year went really well with a good ITT for me in April and an excellent road race result for the team in May where I did my part, it was all downhill from there with injuries and health issues. 

Late June, I had a small crash on the commute that took me out of training action for a couple of months with a freak knee injury. After recovering from that it was some viral or the other until in late October and early November, my doctor, Anindita Bhateja of Sita Bhateja Specialty Hospitals, suspected that my asthma might have made a comeback due to the pollution on my commute, after 8 years of staying away. I immediately took the medication she prescribed and started using a mask for my commute. The recovery was almost immediate.

In a couple of days after seeing my doctor, I was able to breath again normally. With 3 weeks available for training for TFN, I was determined to do all I could, to be able to complete my 6th Tour of Nilgiris. I have decided to take it, just as I would have told my trainees in a similar situation, just one day at a time. First two weeks of very little intensity and hanging on to the wheels on the weekend group rides saw me feeling a little better. It was only in the third week that I introduced some intervals to the legs and the results weren't totally discouraging. In the week of TFN itself, I only rode the day before TFN to give a chance to the legs to wake up. 

Although it was not to the levels what I set myself as a goal at the start of the year, I was as well prepared as I could have been under the given circumstances. So, I didn't have any big ambitions. I just wanted to stay healthy through the tour so that I could complete riding every day, complete and publish the blog before the start of the ride next day. I have decided to ride well within myself for most part of the tour and put in my best effort in the competitive segments every day and see how it goes. 

Fortunately, I was able to put in a decent effort on the first day's competitive segment and that set the tone for the rest of the days. I was able to complete most stages faster than all but one person over 35, the 46 year old Aussie from Belgium, Jamie Anderson, who chose to compete in Elite category. He was faster than everyone but the 3 time TFN champion, Nils Eigil Bradtberg. 

By the end of the tour, I finished 6th overall with the top 5 being very strong athletes that I would have struggled to compete against even in my best shape. From being in doubt about participation to be able to do reasonably well in a strong field, felt good. In the absence of any other explanation, I guess that satisfaction was what made me a bit emotional on the stage.

I have to thank my doctor, Anindita, and TFN for bringing me back from the dead and helping me get stronger time and again. I know the field is getting stronger and stronger each year and forget top 10 overall, I might not be able to stay near the top of even my age category for long. I don't actually mind finishing even in the bottom half of the field as long as I am able to give a honest account of myself at any given point of time. I would love to see a time when the field becomes that strong.

Many Inspirational Riders:
When we see riders like Shravani Sen, who rides with a fairly serious condition called Lupus (SLE - it's an auto immune disease) and Sagar, who has a degenerative eye condition that doesn't let him see beyond a few meters in front of him and was riding to raise funds for research in that area, it inspires us to get past any of the petty issues we might have. Both of them have completed their second TFN this year. 
Mani sir with Kartik and Francis after the successful completion of the tour with the same smile!
Riders like Manivasagam Rangaswamy and Dr. Avanthi Biniwale keep chugging away at the miles with their focused determination and endurance. We used to see them constantly ahead of the most fast trains, riding at their own pace while enjoying the surroundings. Their calm consistency was admirable. There were many such riders on the tour who were inspirational in their own way.

The 71 year old Russell Bell is full of energy and gives 100% at whatever he does and is extremely positive. Richard Mueller knows that he had a considerable weight disadvantage when it comes to climbs but gave the best fight he could give to Arvind and kept the blue jersey with him till the last day. Arvind Bhateja himself kept his calm and took the fight to the end to put in a massive performance in the last stage and took the leaders jersey in his category. These are the guys who show what real passion for the sport and what healthy competition means. It is an honor riding along with them and being able to call them friends.
Fierce and healthy rivalry of Richard and Arvind! Fight your guts out and share a beer later!
Thank you!
Every TFN teaches me valuable lessons and gives me many great friends. Every TFN brings me back from the dead by inspiring me to get out and ride despite my laziness and this wasn't any different! Thanks to every volunteer who worked hard to make it a great tour. Thanks to every rider who accepted the challenge with a smile and pushed their limits through the tour to discover more about themselves. Thanks to TFN for being a such an awesome and fun event! Looking forward to the 10th edition of the tour next year!    

Also Read:
TFN 2016 Day 1: Bangalore to Mysore
TFN 2016 Day 2: Mysore to Kalpetta
TFN 2016 Day 3: Kalpetta to Ooty! Kalahatty!
TFN 2016 Day 4: Rest Day
TFN 2016 Day 5: Ooty Thaishola
TFN 2016 Day 6: Ooty To Palakad
TFN 2016 Day 7: Palakkad to Valparai
TFN 2016 Day 8: A Beautiful End

Saturday, December 24, 2016

Beautiful End to Another Lovely Tour! Day 8 - Indian Terrain Tour of Nilgiris 2016

The Addiction That Is Tour of Nilgiris!
On the first day of TFN, one of my roommates, Bhupesh,  who is a first time TFNer asked me if I have done this tour before. I said, 'Yes, this is my 6th TFN'. He looked at me incredulously and said, 'Why? Don't you get bored riding the same tour?' The answer for that is, it never is the same! Every year there are changes to the route and more importantly, there are always different people you get to meet and ride with. There are different and mostly better challenging rides every year. I suffer, I enjoy and I get my mind blown every time, with the sheer awesomeness of the tour. The volunteers and riders that I get to meet and ride with provide great inspiration. This time was no different. It has been an amazing tour and I'm already looking forward to the next year. 

The Downhill Ride To Pollachi!
Today was the last day of the 9th edition of the Tour of Nilgiris and we had a ceremonial ride to Pollachi. It was all of 65km and most of it was downhill. Yes, it actually was! Of course, the downhill came after a 10km climb. 

The initial part of the descent has nice tree cover and is a bit cold as we descended. After about 12km of downhill, we reached Attakatti, the home of the 'Hotel New Restaurant'. It didn't matter that we had a pretty decent breakfast at our stay in Green Hills hotel in Valparai. We just had to stop at this lovely place. We ordered some ghee dosas and vada and belted them non-stop. The shop guy must have had the business for the entire year like farmers have harvest season.

After spending a couple of hours at the restaurant, and posing for millions of pictures, we headed further downhill to pose for million more pictures. 

The views on the hill are just unbelievable. On day 7, we were able to savor the beauty of only the beauty of only the top half of the climb since the initial part from Aliyar dam to Attakatti was part of the competitive section.      

This time as we descended, we were able to stop as we please and take in all the beauty. The water level in the dam was no where close to that we had last year, but still, it was an incredible sight.
Man vs Wild! Or was it wild vs wildest? :)
After having a blast soaking in the amazing views, Kiran and I zipped downhill with Milam on our wheels. It is so much fun descending when you have someone like Kiran showing you how to take amazing lines. It is not always wise to follow the lines he takes. If you don't believe me, just see the above picture.

The Final Train To Pollachi Leaves From Aliyar Dam!
After making it down the hill, we quickly signed at the final support station and formed a train to head quickly down to Shakti resorts in Pollachi which was the ride officially ends for this year. Kiran and I shared the load initially but when others found the youngster's pace too hot to handle up the hills, I steadied the train into a manageable pace and still make it quickly to the destination. Attacks and sprints in the last one kilometer ensured that all of our hearts finished the tour on a high note. It has been a super fun 8 days full of unforgettable experiences.

The Champions Dinner!
After having lunch on the banks of a river at Shakti resorts, we took transport to Coimbatore for the cool of party, The Champions Dinner, at Vivanta Taj, this year's amazing hospitality partner for TFN. The presentation ceremony and dinner party that followed were another highlight of a week crammed with heady highlights.   

Final Results:
In Elite category, the podium remained the same with Nils taking the overall title. The fight this year has been incredibly close and very exciting to watch the competition unfold over the last 8 days. Jamie, who has brought so much excitement to the tour, retained his 2nd place on the podium with Kiran Kumar Raju finishing a close 3rd. The younsters Muralidharan and Vinayak Goankar finish 4th and 5th respectively. 

Nils' performance under pressure against lightweight climbers in a climbing tour, shows how strong a rider he is. It is great that TFN gives youngsters in India a chance to compete with some of the strong riders from around the world. I'm sure the guys learn so much from the likes of Nils and Jamie.

In Veteran's category, the competition was intense through all the stages with Richard showing dominance in the flatter stages and retaining lead till the last stage. However on the final mountain finish on Valparai, Dr. Arvind Bhateja managed to put in a great show to dethrone Richard and took the top spot on the podium. It was amazing to watch them battle it out. The 71 year youngster, Russell Bell, gave all of them including Richard and Arvind a run for their money and finished 3rd on the podium. These guys are an amazing inspiration to everyone. 

Winners have won a Trek 1.2 bike from Trek and Jayanth ProBike, a mountable camera from Karle Town Center and 25k gift vouchers from Indian Terrain. 

Dr. Arvind Bhateja has announced that he will donate all the proceedings from the prizes to the Giving Back program he is raising funds for. Through the program he raises funds for providing free spine surgeries for those who cannot afford them. Please feel free to donate for the great cause. You can find the transfer details here.

In Women's category, Lena dominated the standings right from day one with strong performances that matched and surpassed many men. She finished comfortably on the top of the podium. Last year's champion, Belinda Mueller continued to amaze everyone with her endurance, grit and humility while finishing 2nd in the category. Juhi Mehta, the lovely lady from Mumbai, finished 3rd overall with commendable performances through out the tour. 

In Master's category, I managed to retain the top spot on the podium. While it might look like I had no competition in my category, the guys in the Veteran's category constantly gave me a scare. So, it is still satisfying to finish a little more than two minutes ahead of everyone over 35 years except the incredibly strong Jamie Anderson. Veera Manikanta of Mysore finished second in Master's category, climbing his way up the ranking as the gradients got higher and higher. Siddarth Chopra finished 3rd overall with a commendable and consistent performances through the tour.

It is interesting to note that Lena finished 14th overall across the categories while I managed to stay at 6th overall. It is heartening to see KKR finish very close to Jamie and within 4 mins of Nils. Murali has showed great heart and is bound to improve further with experience. Vinayak Goankar, the ever smiling young man from Goa, continued his progression getting stronger from last year's TFN but the fact he finished lower in rankings than last year was just due to more intense competition. 

Thank You All!
This brings to close an another amazing edition of the Tour of Niligiris! Thanks to all the sponsors, partners, organizers, riders and most importantly, the incredible volunteers! Words don't make justice to the amount of fun we had this year! Thank you!! Looking forward to next year already! 
Kudos to the Volunteer class of TFN 2016! Thank You Guys! You Rock!
Also Read

TFN 2016 Day 1: Bangalore to Mysore
TFN 2016 Day 2: Mysore to Kalpetta
TFN 2016 Day 3: Kalpetta to Ooty! Kalahatty!
TFN 2016 Day 4: Rest Day
TFN 2016 Day 5: Ooty Thaishola
TFN 2016 Day 6: Ooty To Palakad
TFN 2016 Day 7: Palakkad to Valparai
TFN 2016 Day 8: A Beautiful End

Friday, December 23, 2016

Ever Amazing Valparai - Day 7 - Indian Terrain Tour of Nilgiris 2016

Palakkad to Valparai!
The penultimate day of TFN 2016 took us from Palakkad to Valparai. As another amazing tour is almost coming to a close, we headed out to scale the last of the mountain stages of this year's edition. My goal for the day was to take my Spectrum Racing skipper, Dr. Arvind Bhateja, safely to the start of the competitive segment at 68km mark. The 11km competitive segment starts from Aliyar dam and runs flat for a couple of kilometers before the 9km climb starts from Monkey Falls to Attakatti. This was the last competitive segment of this year's edition and had the potential to shake up the podium in all the categories. Especially the podium in Veterans(45+) and Elite is in balance with the possibility of the Blue leaders jersey changing hands.
The morning train to Valparai was fully loaded.. Pic: Milam Saxena
The Race: Grand Finale!
As I set a steady pace, a long train formed and we all reached the start of the CS in a two and half hours. We have decided to use the same strategy that has worked for us before and sent out Russell followed by Nikhil, Milam and Arvind. I started 30 seconds behind Arvind.

The pacing strategy for everyone was to try and hold a threshold effort for about 40 mins while also using each other as carrots. Going by the previous four competitive segments, I was so confident of catching Arvind that I told him, once I go past him, he should try and keep me in sight and make time on his closest competitor and leader in Veteran's category, Richard Mueller. He was only 30 seconds behind Richard and if he could gain at least 31 seconds, the coveted winners jersey in the category would be his.

As I started the competitive segment, I knew right away that it was going to be a difficult 11km ahead. The legs didn't feel good at all and I chalked it down lack of proper warm up and decided to use the starting 2km flat section as warm up hoping that they feel better once the climb started. The climb started but the life in the legs didn't return. I guess it was due to the fatigue of the last two days where I was controlling the pace to keep my friends fresh for the last race where they had more at stake than me.

While the legs felt like logs, the bike began making loud noises. It felt like one of the spokes in the front wheel broke and was touching the fork. But I couldn't see any spoke hanging out. The loud screeches drove me nuts but I didn't want to stop or go back to the start and start over again. I decided that I will keep it rolling until the bike fell apart. It would stop screaming for a while and would start again. I'm not sure if it drove me nuts or helped me calm down in resignation. As I later figured out, it was hub bearings in the front hub that decided to die on me screeching. I kept trying to keep as steady an effort as possible and kept going. 

I began to see Prashant Tidke who started 2mins ahead of Arvind and slowly over took him. I saw Milam who started 1min ahead of me and 30 seconds ahead of Arvind but didn't see Arvind. That meant he was doing much better than me. I felt good. Richard Mueller started 30 seconds behind me and 1min behind Arvind. If he were to catch me, that would mean he would possibly be making time on Arvind. So, I kept looking to see if he was getting closer but couldn't see him. But, as I later came to know, he was able to see me and keep me in sight for most of the way thinking if he was close to me he must be doing well enough to keep the overall lead. Little did he know that Arvind started 30 secs ahead of me and was finishing way ahead.

I downed a couple of Fast&Up gels in an attempt to bring the energy levels up and it helped a bit. The sweat was pouring in buckets and I was calmly counting down kilometers. 5 to go, no sight of Arvind. 4 to go, 3 to go, 2 to go and 1km to go, no sight of him. With each passing kilometer, I was becoming more and more certain that he had it in the bag. While I was suffering, I was elated that my teammate might have made it to the top of the podium in his category. I crossed the line and quickly hit the lap button and let the clock run to see how far behind me was Richard. Arvind apparently crossed the line in 39:xx while I took just about 41mins. Richard crossed the line more than 2mins after me. I jumped up and hugged Arvind. While we wait for the official results to be announced, the math says Arvind has it in the bag. That could mean that Spectrum Racing is on top in Master's and Veteran Categories. Can't wait for the results!

A Super Happy Meal:
After the hugs of elation and congratulations on the successful completion of all the competitive segments, we entered our favorite restaurant, 'Hotel New Restaurant' for lunch. I was a bit too happy to feel hungry but couldn't pass up on the delicious meal and fish fry at this awesome little place. Every day this year, we had the TFN food truck guys cooking lunches on the way for us. But for this day, TFN has made arrangements for lunch at this lovely place. We devoured fish after fish along with sambar, rasam etc.
The happy meal at Attakatti.. Pic: Milam Saxena

A Spin Up to Heaven:
After the lunch, we began to climb up the remaining way to Valparai. Everyone was in a very relaxed mood and we began to spin the tired legs up slowly chatting away and having fun. Even the super fast champ and good friend, Nils, rode with us for a little making jokes laughing his way up with us.
Rolling on.. Pic: Milam Saxena

We stopped at the first sight of a tea stall and planted ourselves at the shop to have a nice lemon tea. We didn't really mind that it wasn't really special and was just made by dunking a Lipton tea bag in sugar water. 

After lazing around at the tea stall for a bit, we began rolling again. I just couldn't put my phone down without clicking. Every turn was a sight to watch and savor.

The weather was pleasant with a cool breeze and unlike the initial part of the climb which was part of the CS, this was more shaded.

We stopped at every opportunity to click pictures of the amazingly scenic climb. We were like kids in a candy shop. Everywhere we turn our heads, we only saw amazing views and we posed. 

After a million pics on the way, we made it to the hotel Green Hills. After a few celebratory pints and lots of cycling chatter, we had some dinner and it was time for cake. The amazing youngster, Russell Bell celebrates his 71st birthday today. He and Deepak Chouhan, who shared the birthday, cut a cake that the TFN organizers have arranged and we all devoured it. 

What's Ahead?
Today is the last day of this awesome tour. Can't believe it is already the last day. We roll downhill to Aliyar dam after a bit of climbing in the initial 15km of riding around Valparai. We then head to Pollachi where we end our ride and head to Coimbatore for the cool off party in the evening. 

More pics from the day are here.

Also Read:
TFN 2016 Day 1: Bangalore to Mysore
TFN 2016 Day 2: Mysore to Kalpetta
TFN 2016 Day 3: Kalpetta to Ooty! Kalahatty!
TFN 2016 Day 4: Rest Day
TFN 2016 Day 5: Ooty Thaishola
TFN 2016 Day 6: Ooty To Palakad
TFN 2016 Day 7: Palakkad to Valparai

TFN 2016 Day 8: A Beautiful End
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