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Thursday, December 18, 2014

Montra Tour of Nilgiris - 2014 - Day 3 - Foggy, Soggy and Cold Ride in Ooty!

Foggy, Soggy and Cold... Brrrrrrrrr...!!
After a tough climb up Kalahatty yesterday, we were looking forward to the comparatively easier ride to Kodanad view point and back. But as we woke up and went out today, we could hardly view anything. The visibility is close to zero and the temperature was almost in single digits. The planned ride time of 7:30 am was postponed to 8:30 am but the conditions hardly changed. 
At the hotel.. at around 8am..
The couple of hours of sleep I got yesterday(or this morning perhaps) was hardly enough and I was hardly able to eat anything at breakfast as I was feeling queasy. So, I wasn't particularly looking forward to going out to ride in wet and cold conditions. I just wanted to go back to the warmth of the bed and sleep. I reluctantly got dressed and put on all the winter clothing I had, including a fleece hoodie(yup), before I got out. 

The 2 km steep downhill with sketchy road from the hotel to get into the town itself was quite a challenge to tackle. The wet rims were offering hardly any braking power. The fingers were going numb both from the cold wind and death grip on the brakes that I had to maintain to control speed on the downhills.

After we got out of the town traffic and started climbing towards Doddabetta junction, it was a bit better as the climb warmed the body up slightly. However, the effects of cramps towards the end of the ride yesterday were clearly being felt in the leg muscles. I just got into the granny gears and kept spinning up the slopes. As we completed the climb and took a turn towards Kotagiri however, the downhills/rolling terrain started and I began to feel extremely cold even with the dozen layers I wore. The HR was in the 70s and I was shivering.
Foggy and soggy...and COLD!!
View? What View?
This ride to Kodanad view point and back from Ooty is one of the most scenic of routes around Ooty. However, with almost zero visibility today, we could hardly make out which way the road was curving ahead, let alone see any of the beautiful views the route had to offer. We had to have our numb fingers all the time on the brakes to control the speed so that we don't end up overshooting a curve and ride into the valleys or into the on coming vehicles. 

The wet shoes made the toes numb as well. I can take either wet or cold but not both. I wasn't particularly enjoying gingerly making snails progress in the conditions. As we rolled into the first support station at 24km mark, the hot tea they had serving there felt heavenly. 

While I had a dozen layers on me and still shivering, Dipankar Paul who was riding with me was riding without as much as arm warmers or base layers. But within a few kms he realized how foolish it was of him to think that the conditions would get better quickly and that he would not need any warm clothing. At SS1, he desperately converted one of unused garbage disposal bags into a base layer and wore it under the jersey.
The shivering Ironman trying to be ingenious with cold weather riding gear..
Race Called Off:
I needed more warmth and I decided to spend some time inside the hotel opposite the support station and order coffee. The warmth of the coffee was bringing life back into the limbs and in the meantime we received the news that the conditions at the view point were extremely windy and with zero visibility. It was almost noon by that time and it was decided by the organizers that it was risky to conduct the race or continue the ride in those conditions. So, we were asked to turn back from SS1 and were given a choice either to ride or take the sweep vehicle back to the hotel.

I was relieved to hear that and promptly turned back and started riding to the hotel. On the way back we met Siva and the gang and had some bland pasta that was supplied by the volunteers for lunch. 


On our way back.. at about 12pm..
Tea Trains and TASMAC Trains:
After trying the bland pasta for lunch we needed to eat/drink something to bring the palate to normalcy and we formed a Tea train and rode in search of some good chocolate tea. We found one shop that served some ten varieties of teas including 'ginger tea', 'cardamom tea', 'chocolate tea', 'lime tea' among others. 
    

We tried quite a few varieties of teas and ate a few dozen egg puffs and about a kilo of local chocolates among us. We flagged down any of the riders that were going that way and had then join the festivities. Nils got the taste of 'Ginger tea' and 'Chocolate tea' and seemed to have quite liked the taste. 

The gang raiding the tea shop..
After we made sure we wiped out the monthly supplies of the shop, we decided it was time to move on. This time the guys began their search for some warmth giving liquids that could go well with dinner and began their search of a TASMAC outlet and decided to form a TASMAC paceline on the way to the hotel. 

We got to the hotel, took a hot shower and gathered around in a room to let the good times and a few of the TASMAC liquids flow along with noisy chatter! The Tour of Nilgiris is not just about suffering after all! 

Downhill Ahead..
With the day's competitive segment getting cancelled, some of the climbers that were looking forward to making up time on their rivals might have been disappointed. But the conditions were very challenging and it could have been dangerous to race in poor visibility with the flowing traffic. I, for one, am definitely not complaining. 

Tomorrow we leave Ooty to reach Palakad. We would be taking the same route as today for the first 25km till we get to Kotagiri where we will be going 40km downhill to get to Mettupalayam and head towards Palakad to make for a 165km ride. It is mostly downhill and flat but with thunderstorms predicted it is going to be a challenge to tackle the long, flowing and slightly technical downhill. There is no competitive section tomorrow. 

Here are a few photos from the day.

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


Montra Tour of Nilgiris -2014 - Day 2 - The Madness of Kalahatty!

The Madness of Kalahatty!
You don't have to be crazy to ride up Kalahatty, but, you definitely have to be crazy to come back! What does that make the organizers of Montra Tour of Nilgiris and the bunch of riders who attempted Kalahatty before and have come back this year? Crazy, of course! Crazy for a challenge. Craving for the suffering. 
Ride, walk, crawl.. but don't give up was the madness mantra for a few! Pic: Dipankar Paul
A Rocky Start:
The ride from Mysore to Ooty got flagged off by 7 am since we all knew it was going to be a long day. All the riders were nervous about the wall, the brute of a climb that is Kalahatty, that they have to negotiate after riding 100 km in tough rolling terrain. From experience of last year, both the organizers and riders knew they had to get to the base of the climb as soon as they can so that they have ample time to tackle the tough climb. 

The road out of Mysore till Nanjangud was a bone shaker. After we negotiated that rickety ride the roads got better and more rolling. We rolled into the first support station at 37km mark to refuel for the first race section that was to start from 47km mark.

The first CS:
The first competitive section of the day was a 12 km flattish section from Beguru to Gundlupet Coffee Day. We rolled into the start of the CS with a fair bit of warm up and hit it hard. My pacing was a bit better than yesterday and I avoided going too hard or spinning too big a gear. I kept spinning up the three of four long false flats and tried to keep the pace going on the downhills as well. I was also apprehensive of how this was going to effect my ability to climb Kalahatty. But after negotiating the 10 or so speed breakers in the 12 km of the race section, I rolled into the Gundlupet Coffee Day reasonably happy with my performance. 

Results: 
The first day results obviously gave everybody a fair bit of idea about their competition. You can see some of them coming out with enhanced performances perhaps motivated by the results of yesterday. 

In Men's category both Wouter Dijkshoorn and Walter De Kok had much improved performances and finished 3rd and 4th for the day respectively. First and second are still Nils Eigil Bradtberg and Geert Dijkshoorn. 
Day2 CS - 12km - Results
The GC top 3 didn't change at the end of day two but Wouter is snapping at the heels of Dipankar with just a 14 second gap from third place.

In Master's category, the top two remained the same with Vivek finishing 19 secs ahead of Shankar and hence taking his overall GC lead to 34 secs. I managed to put 27secs into Peter Van Tilborg and moved to 3rd overall in GC with a wafer thin 3 second lead. With two more competitive sections to go that are climbs, it would be interesting to see if I could keep the place on the podium. The top two have been having a close fight at the top but Vivek has managed to build on his slender lead of first day. He is a strong climber and so is Shankar. So, it will be interesting to see how their battle unfolds over the next two competitive sections. 
Master's D2 CS results
Master's GC after Day 2


  In Women's category, Vicki Nicholson is way ahead of the remaining field with an overall lead of about 16mins. In the morning she apparently woke up with a severe headache and was feeling sick. She was contemplating quitting when we called Sita Bhateja hospital ambulance and the doctor diagnosed that it is a gastroenteritis and gave her an injection and medication. She rested for half an hour in the ambulance and had started to feel better. She followed it up with a strong ride in the CS and built on her already large lead over the second position.
Women's Day 2 CS Results
Women's GC after 2 days
Fun at the CCD:
After our CS was done we decided to use the Coffee Day as an unofficial support station and have almost wiped the place out of all their food and coffee. Shankar decided to change the cassette for Kalahatty with the expert help of Siva. We spent about 90 minutes there having fun and perhaps subconsciously postponing facing the wall.
Having fun at CCD after the CS.. Pic: Vivek Bhateja
Mudhumalai Check-post Drama:
After we got to Bandipur entrance we were asked to form groups and ride together to keep safe in the forest sections. However when we got to the Mudhumalai check-post having ridden on through the beautiful Bandipur section, we were surprised to still see Nils and others there. They got there a couple of hours earlier while we were having fun at the Gundlupet CCD and we thought they would be climbing Kalahatty by then. 
'Thank you visit again.. but not on bikes' was the message!
To our surprise, we were told that the forest officials are not going to allow us to ride through the four kilometers of Mudhumalai forest section because of a tiger cub that is moving around in the area with it's protective mother tiger becoming potentially dangerous to any slow moving targets. We were asked to load the bikes on trucks and only start riding after getting out of Bandipur 4kms down the road. 
Riding through the beautiful forest once we were allowed to! Pic: Dipankar Paul
Some of the riders were dropped outside of the restricted area and they started riding. But it was going to take forever loading a few bikes and riders at a time in the support vehicle and coming back for others. After much negotiation however, the officials let us go with an escort vehicle. 

All this has resulted in the loss of precious couple of hours of time that could have been used on the tough climb for a lot of riders.

After riding through exceedingly tough rolling terrain through Mudhumalai forest and through Masinagudi, we got to the CCD in Mavanalla where the competitive section for the King and Queen of Kalahatty was set to start.    

The Madness and Torture of Kalahatty!
You don't have to be crazy to ride up Kalahatty, but, you definitely have to be crazy to come back! I'm copying this from something I read about Mont Ventox, another Hors Categorie climb, but it could have very well been said about Kalahatty! So, what does that make the organizers of Montra Tour of Nilgiris and the bunch of riders who attempted Kalahatty before and have come back this year? Crazy, of course! Crazy for a challenge. Craving for the suffering. 

The race for the King/Queen of Kalahatty is a 16km time trial with the first 4.5km being flat terrain leading up to the monstrous climb of 11.5 km with an elevation gain of 1160 meters with an average gradient of ~10%. Some sections go upwards of 15%. The distance and the steepness makes it one of the toughest climbs not only in India but also around the world.

I took to the start line of the race with a relatively calm mind as I knew mental strength is as important as the physical strength to tackle the monstrous climb of Kalahatty. I tried to not overdo with the effort in the flat section and was in small ring even for the downhills(which in retrospect might have cost me a few seconds). Once I crossed the bridge at the base of the climb however, I hit the lap button and started to watch my effort closely. As I knew roughly how long it was going to take, I'd decided to pace myself accordingly. I tried spinning in the easiest available gear on the bike(39x32 equivalent to 34x28) and just kept moving.

I went past a few riders who started in front of me, zigzagging to make it up, walking it up and doing a mix of both to make some progress before stopping to take rest and recover breath. 
Louwke riding up the wall..  Pic: Dipankar Paul
The initial kick the road takes towards the sky was enough to put my heart into overdrive and open up the legs. I made a conscious effort not to over do it at the start as it is going to be a long effort. For every 4 minutes of spinning seated I stood for a minute just to get a different set of muscles to share the load. This also helped me break the effort into smaller chunks. I used the same cycle to take a small sip from the energy drink to ensure that the hydration is taken care of to keep the cramps that bothered me last year at bay. 

I restricted my vision to a few meters in front so that the steep gradients didn't get to my mind. Of course the continuous flow of the 36 hairpins didn't often offer much longer view most of the times but I had to keep an eye out for the occasional vehicle coming down or going up. 

The legs were moving well and the heart rate stayed in a sweet spot of comfort and discomfort occasionally going up into the unwanted territory, mostly when I stood up. The count down of the hairpin curves offered occasional targets to keep the focus on the task at hand. The distance field on the comp showed meter by meter go ticking by, at a rate that felt like ultra slow-motion. Sweat began to pour down in streams and formed tiny rivulets all over the body. 

Occasionally moved forward on the saddle to keep the front wheel from lifting off. After about an hour I forgot all about my 'sit and spin and stand up and spin slower' routine as the relentlessly steep straight section arrived between hairpin curves 8 and 7. The 300m or so of the steep section that points straight at the sky gets to both your legs and your mind. You can see it right in front of you, intimidating you. That 300 meters feel like 3 km as we are able to move only in slow motion. 

I stayed seated and kept mashing the pedals on the granny gear. Inkling of cramps started appearing with 2km to go and a quick drink of salts helped but it ended up putting a doubt in my mind about my plan of increasing the power towards the end. If cramps appear because of an increased effort, that would be end of game for me. The last two km became a battle of wanting to go harder and not being able to go any harder with both mind and the body refusing to cooperate. I was able to almost hear the taut muscles in the legs moving like strings with every forced rotation of the pedal.

 It was about surviving. The last few hairpins took forever to appear. I slowly made it across the line and bent over the bars exhausted and ended up painting the ground with the contents of my gut. I was exhausted, but happy that I reduced more than 3 minutes from my previous best 3 weeks ago when I rode from base without the 100km and the hard competitive section I had to ride today.

Although the cramps stayed away on the climb, the ride to the hotel after the climb saw me stopping multiple times in the middle of the road trying to shake the cramps off. I'm glad that it was after and not during the climb.
Vivek crossing the KOM finish line! Pic: Dipankar Paul

A few minutes after me, Vivek Radhakrishnan rolled in with a great effort on the himself and beat my timing by 20 secs. He now takes the Master's orange jersey of King of Kalahatty along with the leaders blue jersey. I know every second counts but I still ended up spending the evening going over every possible occasion during the 16km section that I could have possibly pushed a little more to lose those 20 secs and more. But the fact is, it was the best I could manage on the day and a better rider won the coveted crown. 

In Men's category, Nils improved his previous year's time by a huge margin and won the Orange jersey. Vicki Nicholson also improved her personal best and won the Orange jersey in women's category.


     

Live To Tell The Tale:
Every rider who rode the climb unianimously agree that it is the toughest climb they have ever ridden. The Dutch riders who have ridden some of the most difficult climbs in Europe equivocally said that Kalahatty was the toughest they have climbed so far. So, exhilarating feeling of accomplishment that washes over anyone who managed to make it up this monster of a climb is not misplaced.

Out of the 75 riders that started the ride today, 55 were able to complete the climb. That is an improvement from last year where only about 40 of the 100 starters finished the climb. The remaining 20 riders decided to live and fight another day. Perhaps the hold up in Madhumalai also went against a few of them who needed a little more time to complete the brutal climb. I'm sure they are mad enough to come back to take care of the unfinished business. 

Tomorrow(It's 3:30am now, perhaps I should say today), is the ride to Kodanad view point and back with a climbing CS of 8km. A forecast of rain and tired legs from the Kalahatty ride could make things interesting. 

Here are a few photos from the day.

Read the account of another blogger on the tour, Abhishek Tarfe, here.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Montra Tour of Nilgiris - 2014 - Day1 - Bangalore to My'sore'!

The Royal Flag-Off!
The pampering of the riders on the Montra Tour of Nilgiris 2014 started with 5-star exuberance at the palatial Leela Palace, Bangalore, where the pre-tour briefing and flag-off was held. After a sumptuous breakfast a brief pre-tour briefing we were flagged off by the guest of honor, Ashwini Nachappa, who was once an accomplished track and field athlete.   

Once we got out of the palatial hotel, we had to ride through early morning traffic to get out of Bangalore. We rode about 18km to get to the entrance of NICE road where we had to wait a while until the officer in-charge of letting us through came back from his morning coffee break.   

The NICE Dutch train:
By the time we got on the NICE road, after waiting for about 15 minutes or so, most of us were raring to go. The expressway always gets the legs warmed up for the ride ahead. Vivek Radhakrishnan got a train going with a few of us and after a while the four Dutch riders took up the pace making. The long train got split into 2-3 smaller ones after a few minutes and we covered the 15 km of the NICE road stretch at about 41 kmph. Seeing such speeds is a good ego boost for the roadie even though it was on fresh legs and was mostly downhill.

The Danish Locomotive:
Once the legs got warmed up on the NICE road, even after exiting into a much narrower and more traffic bound Kanakpura road, the pace kept going. By now, 2013 Tour of Nilgiris champion, Nils Eigil Bradtberg joined the group and got into the front. Once he got to the front the pace picked up further. We were a bit relieved when he finally decided to let others do the pace making after drilling it at the front for a while. Dipankar Paul, the  multiple Ironman, took to the front and kept the pace going. After a while I took the turn at the front and tried to keep it going. The first day legs meant I was doing alright and for that stretch of 41km we were averaging about 38kmph. We rolled into the first support station at 75 km mark quite early(about 9am). After a quick refueling, we rolled on towards the 2nd support station which doubled up as the start of the competitive section(CS). We rode at a sedate pace for the 25km towards the CS. 

Keep Calm and Kill It: The CS:
The competitive section for the day was a flattish section of 16 km from Halaguru to Malavalli. There are three or four slight inclines which makes the course slightly rolling. There was a slight headwind to make sure that it is not too easy to see high average speeds. Riders were sent off with one minute gaps in between. 
I started behind my Spectrum racing teammate, Vicki Nicholson. I did the rookie mistake of starting off too fast in a time trial and realized too late that I was mashing the big gears at a low cadence. The legs took a beating and the watts began to dip. Probably the drilling at the front early in the day didn't help too. But, instead of recovering and spinning to get back on track I gave up too soon and settled to get a half decent tempo workout in. Well, anyway that was my list of excuses for my bad performance.  

Men's Category results:

Looks like there won't be any surprises with respect to Nils defending his TFN title. But the rest of the field looks quite close to each other. Dipankar Paul made into the top 3 while one of the Dijkshoom brothers, Geert Dijkshoom finished 2nd at 1:48 down on Nils. 

Master's category:


The competition in the master's category is quite intense with Vivek and Shankar 14 seconds apart at 1st and 2nd respectively. Peter Van Tilborg finished 3rd for the day. Interesting to see how it unfolds.

Women's category:


The defending champion of 2013, Vicki Nicholson continues to dominate category this year too with an eight minutes lead over the next participant, Namu Kini.

Easy does it!
After the competitive section we still had 70km to ride and since it was only 12pm, we had decided to skip the pasta lunch at the support station and get to Mysore as quickly as possible. We went through some beautiful terrain via Saraguru and Narsipura. Apart from a couple of stretches of bad roads that spanned about 10 km overall, we had decent roads that went through beautiful paddy and ragi fields. We've let Vivek and Nils go on their own and spun easy to make steady progress towards Mysore. Since we were not going through Bannur we had to miss the delicious mutton biryani and had to settle for eating at a veg restaurant called Malgudi, some 6km from our hotel.  

It's just My'sore' I'm already Sore! 
We reached KVC hotel at about 3:30pm completing the 187km ride. The long distance and the bad stretches towards the end made the going difficult for quite a few riders and they kept rolling into the hotel till about 6:30pm. Many started complaining about sore bums, shoulders, arms and a lot more already and it is just the first day of the tour. Tomorrow's Kalahatty climb after 100km of ride is going to be a big challenge. There is also a competitive section of 12km before the fight on Kalahatty for King/Queen of Kalahatty begins. Last year's finish % was 40% on Kalahatty. Will riders be more prepared this time? Will more riders be able to complete the stage within the cut-off time? We have to wait and watch as it unfolds tomorrow. 

Lost In Transit: TFN first timer owes(Anubhav's of Anubhav)!
Seeing a hill for the first time in life? The longest ride in a day? The usual ride distance for an year done in a week? There are a variety of first time TFNer troubles we get to see at Tour of Nilgiris. But Anubhav Karmakar's troubles started even before he got on a bike. His first TFN almost turned out to be a non-starter.
The good guys at Crankmiester giving a hand to get Anubhav's bike going
Anubhav was in Switzerland for work and bought himself a nice road bike especially to ride TFN. He landed in Hyderabad on 15th Dec and found that neither the bike bag nor his other baggage reach Hyderabad. He had to run around to get his old bike ride worthy again; had to buy everything from underwear to basic toiletry and pack everything and take a bus to Bangalore that very night. He managed run pillar to post to arrange everything and make it to the start line by taking the overnight bus to Bangalore from Hyderabad. But with all of one 40km ride in the last two months, which resulted in him earning a ticket for riding on the Swiss highway, be enough to see him through the tough tour? Let's wait and see! All the best, Anubhav. 

A few other photos from day one are here.

Also read the account from fellow blogger Abhishek Tarfe on Velocrushindia.
  
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