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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.

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Montra Tour of Nilgiris - 2014 - Day 6 - Palakkad to Valparai

Fun On The Rest Day At Palakkad!
Rest Day in Palakkad yesterday (Day 5) was very well spent. Some went exploring the town and visiting places like Malampuzha dam and Ayurvedic spas for massages. The younger Dutch gang went to visit Silent Valley some 80km from Palakkad. Cleaning the bikes and doing laundry might have been the single largest activity after the day’s photo shoot for TFN class of 2014 was done. Some went exploring local cuisine in the morning and came back high on Palm and Coconut toddy. Those local drinks were conveniently termed organic recovery drinks. The day too ended on a high note with volunteers’ birthdays being celebrated with fair bit of the cake ending up on their faces.

Riding The Dutch Train!
The day’s ride today was kicked off at 7:45 am. The roads out of Palakkad were quite good although they were narrow. I was not feeling too good as I had some tummy trouble in the morning. So, I wanted to get to the CS as soon as I can and get the CS over with before I start feeling any weaker. There were some strong headwinds as we got out of Palakkad. I caught the Dutch train of Walter De Kok, Thijs de Blaeij and the Dijkshoorn brothers, Wouter Dijkshoorn and Geert Dijkshoorn. 
The Dutch train!
The guys set a strong pace and we covered the 30km to the CS quite fast but I was not feeling particularly good to continue with the Dutch train’s high pace. The energy levels were somehow low. So, I decided to drop off and rode easy until I stopped for some coconut water by the road side after crossing Meenakshipuram.

The Mumbai Local!
I flagged down the Mumbai train of Don D'mello, Milam Saxena and Anand Kapoor at the coconut stop. The Swiss citizen from Bangalore, Michael Steiner, also joined us. After having coconut water, we started riding towards Aliyar dam check-post where the CS starts. The energy levels were flagging further and I tried drinking and eating to refuel the energy. The stomach started grumbling again and it was not a great sign before the CS.
The Mumbai local.. Don D'mello, Anand Kapoor and Milam Saxena!
The Valparai CS!
I went ahead to the CS start to get the race section over with and then rest for a while. I started behind Michael Steniner while the Dutch trio of Louwke van der Steen, Peter van Enk and Peter Van Tilborg started before Michael. I had a 3 second lead over the bigger Pete(Peter Van Tilborg) after the first two competitive sections. Although he is quite powerful, his nearly 100 kg weight is not going to be an advantage on the climbs.

The CS starts with a flattish 2 km before the climb starts and then continues climbing for about 9.5 km making it 11.5 km time trial. I started out well and got to within 50 meters of Michael just as the climb started. But I was not able to pass him. The legs were not turning smoothly but the heart rate was close to redlining. I was struggling to get any rhythm going and put out power that I wanted to.
The beautiful climb!
The views on the climb were fantastic as we could see the Aliyar dam and reservoir on the left side as we climbed up. I was trying to take a peek at the fantastic views although I was struggling to make good progress. I understood that it is not a good day for me and decided to just hang in there and get the climb over with. I was not able to accelerate even standing up and it felt like the pedals were turning in squares.

Although the legs are not able to generate power, the breathing was ragged and heavy. The steam engine like huffing and puffing actually scared a mountain goat that was standing on one of the hairpin bends and it jumped off to the lower bend. Around 9km into the climb, I saw and went past Peter Van Tilborg and felt a little relieved that I was at least able to build on the minuscule 3 second gap I had on him. 
Peter Van Enk finishing the CS as his pal Louwke cheers him on!
Louwke was ahead of Pete but I was not able to pass him. In the meantime Micheal came past me and crossed me to finish ahead. When I crossed the finish line, I knew it went very bad but at least it was over.

The Beautiful Climb!
I was barely able to go through half of the lunch pack that was served after the CS. I was not feeling great either physically or mentally. Vicki and I decided that we could use some tea and went into the hotel opposite to the support station. We were surprised to see a lot of riders skipping the packed lunch provided and instead having nice thali lunch with omlets and fish fry in the hotel. I regretted missing the nice thali but instead ordered some fish to get some protein. It was delicious. We followed it up with some nice tea and decided to get going.

Beautiful views on the route!
After the CS that ended in Attakatti, there was about 28 km with a fair bit of climbing to be done to reach Valparai. Shankar, Vicki, Anantha, MJV, Venkat Rajmohan, Siva and I started riding together towards the hotel. The views on the climb were simply breathtaking. We stopped a lot and took a lot of pictures. The easy relaxed pace with all those stops helped me as I wasn’t feeling well. But the views lifted the spirits a bit for me. It was one of the prettiest climbs I’ve done in a while. Would love to climb this again some time!

In Men's open category, Nils set the hill on fire with a blazing pace and finished first. Kiran Kumar Raju finally came up with a performance that we have come to expect of him over the years and finished 2nd on the day in the category. Rakesh Rana, the kid from Kumaon hills has shown tremendous progress and finished 3rd in the category, just 5 secs behind Kiran.
Day 6 Men's open results
 After day 6, Nils is still the undisputed leader in GC. However, Dipankar Paul who was on 3rd in GC after day 2 has made a jump to 2nd after day 6. Geert Dijkshoom who was in the second place had a relatively ordinary climb today and ended up losing his 2nd position in GC and slipped to 5th position. Walter De Kok who was in 5th position after day 2 had the fifth fastest climb time on the day and moved up to 3nd in GC from 5th place.   

Men's GC after day 6..

In Master's category Vivek Radhakrishnan has put in a monstrous effort to finish 2nd overall and 1st in Master's by a huge margin. He has put in 6:23 into his nearest rival Shankar Jayaraman and staked the claim on the Blue Jersey. Shankar finished second for the day while yours truly finished 3rd in Master's category.

Day 6 Master's results!
The top 3 in Master's GC remains the same after today's race but the gap from the blue jersey has put in a huge gap between himself and the rest of the podium places. It was an emphatic performance that left no doubts as to who deserves the blue jersey this year! Great show from Vivek. Shankar retains his 2nd place on the podium while I retained the third place. Peter Van Tilborg dropped three places and finished 7th from 4th while his friend Louwke moved to 4th to take his place. 

In Women's category Vicki Nicholson has put in another impressive performance and finished first. She maintains her position as GC leader while Namu Kini finished 2nd while Misha Gill finished 3rd both on the day and in GC.

Women's Day 6 results!

Women's GC results

Note: The GC results are provisional for now. However, since there are no further races, they will remain the same unless someone ends up not finishing the rides on the remaining two days. 

Long Day Ahead!
Tomorrow is 172 km ride to Munnar of which more than 40km is climbing. It is going to be a long day for a lot of people. This could be as tough a day as Kalahatty day if not tougher. Have to see how the tired bodies respond to the challenge.

You can check out a few more photos from today 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 7: The Epic Ride to Munnar: Valparai - Munnar 
Day 8: A Beautiful End to The Tour: Exploring the Beauty of Munnar

You can read the account from fellow blogger on the tour, Abhishek Tarfe, here.
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