The Bulldog Goes To TFN: Day 6: Kannur to Sultanbhateri
Baba Velo has been warning us for a couple of months that the ride on day 6 from Kannur to Sultanbatheri is going to be the toughest ride of the tour. According to him it is tough not just because of the challenging terrain that offers nearly 2000m of climbing but more so because of the heat and humidity in which we have to scale those climbs. Many who rode on the day would agree.
It is a 130km ride with 13km climb of 800m 40km into the ride. The first 6km of that climb is the competitive section and most of the route before and after the climb is also an extremely rolling terrain. Add to this the prospect of the heat and humidity and you have torture on two wheels.
Although we were quite rested on day 5 and were quite fresh, we were a bit nervous thinking about the hard ride ahead, as we got out of the hotel in Kannur. Just 400m into the ride we heard the dreaded hiss and it was Vandit’s rear tire. We stopped and checked the tire to see a big glass shred embedded in the tire. The tire also needed booting probably due to day3 pinch flat that resulted in the crash. So, he decided to take a car ride to support station one during which he planned to change the tire. He would take a 5minute penalty for that but since he is out of top 10 after day3 crash, he doesn’t care about his GC standings anymore.
Mark Hemhauser navigating through bone shaker roads of Kerala..
The Kerala roads are so narrow that it makes me wonder how those humongous buses, whose drivers always seemed to be on dope, didn’t end up annihilating the entire Kerala population by now. They are not just narrow but on quite a few stretches on our route the road acted as a boneshaker.
We formed a single file paceline and kept rolling till SS1 which was 7km before the CS at the base of the climb. We tried to warm up on the 6-7km rolling terrain before the CS. But sprinting on those bad roads was nearly impossible. Although not properly warmed up, the adrenaline was there as we got to the base of the 6km climbing CS. We’ve decided on the order and got to the starting line one after the other. Gaurav and Ameet started before me followed by Amrish and Shankar.
As it was a shorter and steady climb of nearly 300m in 6km, the only strategy was to go all out and let the pain last for as little a time as possible. After I was flagged off, the Bulldog jumped into action with a sprint and settled into a rhythm. I kept pushing as much as I can and kept an eye on the HR. It jumped to 180s in no time and remained there. The loud panting and the thumping heart were the only things I could hear. I kept going not caring for the bad roads and the Bulldog kept jumping over the potholes as we charged ahead.
I went past a couple of riders and then saw Ameet ahead of me. I slowly managed to bridge the gap and went past him and then went past Balu. As I saw the marking of ‘1km to go’ on the road, I was extremely happy that it is going to be over and kept going. As I approached the finish line I had a sprint against Siva who bet me by a second to the line. I crossed the finish line and it took more than a minute for the panting to stop. The avg HR for 18min 47secs was 182bpm. Never before did I push so hard. I was happy with the effort.
After the CS is done we took it easy for the rest of the 7km climb enjoying the amazing scenery. We rode another 74km with 1150m of elevation gain. The total elevation gain was nearly 1900m of which around 800m was on the main climb. The route was one of the most beautiful of rolling terrains that I ever rode on. It reminded me of Vermont. Towards the end there were quite a few small 10-15% walls on which we stood up and grinded our way up.
It was a good feeling to finish the challenging 129km course. It was not as hot and humid as we feared that it would be but was not as comfy as the earlier days. The youngest rider of the tour, Rishi(14yrs), who has been riding exceptionally well so far by pacing himself well, bonked on the ride and struggled to finish the ride. He finally finished around and rolled into the hotel to the cheers of all of us.
Rishi Goyel on the ride from Madikeri to Sultanbhateri..
He apparently didn’t eat the night before and didn’t plan the nutrition and hydration well enough on the ride. He was taken care of by the excellent medical team of the Sita Bhateja hospitals and is doing well. He was advised not to ride the even tougher Ooty stage on the next day as a precaution. This would be a learning for the young champ to the future on how to pace himself, how to take care of nutrition and hydration before and after the long rides. The indomitable spirit of this shy youngster is amazing and he did exceedingly well to ride so far. Three cheers to him and his father Mr. Shailender, who accompanied him on the tour to assist and encourage him. Good luck for the future Rishi.
I finished 4th for the day after Mark Anderson, Baba Velo and Jeff Schmidt and still stayed on 9th overall in GC. Baba Velo lost another 35 seconds on the climb to Mark and the overall deficit is now 1min 50sec. He needs to finish at least a couple of minutes ahead of Mark to win the title. Jeff who has been a dark horse on the rolling/flat races of the first two days has come out of the hiding and has been flying on the hills. He has moved up quite a few positions up to end up 11th overall in GC after day 6. A very tough fight ahead as anything could happen on the 21km climbing CS with a 1000m elevation gain on cards as the final CS. Tremendous tension is building up among the riders who are anxiously preparing themselves for the mayhem ahead.