The ride from Madikeri to Sultanbhateri on day 6 was the toughest ride of the tour so far. That was soon to be changed as we approached day 7. It is a 96km ride from Sultanbhateri to Ooty with a 40km climb. The total elevation gain is supposed to be more than 2000m and the competitive section for the day is a 21km climb from Gudalur to Ooty with a 1000m of elevation gain.
|On our way to Ooty..
The 21km Ooty climb is also the last CS of the tour which would determine the winners and the standings in the General Classification. The climb is long enough for everyone to dread looking at the skinny climbers. The seconds and minutes of lead accumulated over the previous stages could very easily be wiped off on this behemoth of a climb. The danger of the GC standings being completely overhauled by the end of it was very real. The difference between a great climb, a good climb and an ordinary one could be tens of minutes. No one seemed to be certain what time would be good enough on the climb on the day.
After the penultimate CS of the tour on day 6, Mark Anderson had a lead of 1min 50secs over Baba Velo while there was nearly 7min difference between BabaVelo and Sumit Pal who was at third place. Shankar Jayaraman, MarkH, Akshay Jaitly, Hari Menon, Arvind, bikeyvenky(yours truly) and Jeff Schmidt made the rest of the top 10, in that order, in men with a minute or two difference between each other. Vicki was the undisputed leader in women and was also giving the top men a run for their money by being placed 7th overall in GC.
Having looked at the previous couple of performances of Jeff on the climbs, everyone was silently certain of his jump into top 10 in GC. How big the jump would be was the only question that remained to be answered. Mark Anderson, who has bought the tour alive by giving Baba Velo a run for his money, has shown on the shorter 6km climbing CS of day6, that he is no walkover even on the climbs despite him being nearly 15kilos heavier than Baba Velo.
Rishi, who was not going to ride the day’s course on tour doctor’s advice, was given the privilege of leading the riders out of the hotel. After a few meters, he hopped on to one of the support vehicles and continued to cheer the riders on.
As we got out of Sultanbhateri and were riding a smooth and curvy downhill just a few kilometers before DeverShola, we noticed someone crashed. It was Raj. He was just being helped to get off the road and the Dogma was lying on the road. The cause of the crash was unmistakable to anyone who looked at the bike’s front wheel. The tubular tire on the front wheel just rolled off the rim when he was flying down the hill at around 60kmph. It sent him crashing on to the road and he hit his hip and shoulders where the bibs and jersey were torn apart.
At first, I thought that his tour was over. Even if he managed to get up and finish the ride, I was not sure if he has it in him to take on the big Mark on the long climb and put two minutes on him to win the tour. What a sad end to the exciting rivalry it would be! Or so I thought.
The savior of the men on the tour, Dr. Arvind who was riding behind us stopped and looked at the severity of the injuries and administered first aid before the ambulance arrived. Raj got up after being plastered on the left elbow and left calf, and asks if his bike is okay. The Dogma was in perfect condition but for a small scratch on the left brake lever and a scratch on the saddle. Vandit lent his carbon front wheel and Raj looked all set to go although no one including himself was sure if he the number of the bones inside his body has changed.
|Baba Velo after being patched up.. The bandage on the leg was later replaced by a more aero plaster..
There was also another twist in the tale. As we were waiting for Raj to be attended to by the medical team, it was learnt that there was a bandh going on in Gudalur and other areas around over a water dispute between Tamilnadu and Kerala. Apparently, anybody who was crossing the border from Kerala into Tamilnadu was in trouble if it was understood that they were anyway related to the Malluland. We were not sure if the tour could proceed further safely without us being dragged into some political imbroglio and being mobbed. It was a real danger of the tour being ended right there.
Thankfully, the organizers and the support staff didn’t panic and worked with Tamilnadu police to counter the situation. The mallus among us were instructed to have a selective amnesia of their mother tongue if they were to stay alive. We had one Kerala registered vehicle being used by our support crew whose number plate was changed with the help of police who escorted us into Gudalur after a long wait.
With a couple of support crew vehicles and a police jeep escorting us, we slowly made our way towards Gudalur. We tried to warm up as much as possible in the mean time as we climbed up to and out of Gudalur towards the starting point of the CS.
One by one the guys lined up at the starting point of the final race on the Ooty climb. I ended up starting after almost all the guys were gone. I got to the starting line and the Bulldog jumped into action with a good sprint and settled into a rhythm. I was not sure how much to push and how to pace myself for the long haul on the climb but decided to take things as they come.
Kept going strong till 5km mark but I noticed that the heart rate was still not going up to what I wanted it to. Not sure if it was a sign of a tired body that is refusing to work with the mind or the nervous mind playing games with the body but I felt something was amiss. I tried getting off the saddle and accelerating a bit every now and then but it felt like I was hardly moving. Then I realized that I didn’t have anybody in sight in front of me to target and act as a carrot for me. In retrospect, I should have started in the middle of the bunch which would have helped me by providing me some carrots to aim for.
I began to feel lonely up there but ploughed through past the 10k mark. Each passing meter of the climb was a mental struggle as I was not sure if I was doing enough. The body seemed to be refusing to do anything more than it was already doing. The thoughts of taking a breather and starting again began to play with me. I fought those thoughts and refused to set the foot down even if it meant I had to crawl to the finish line. I kept telling myself that if it was tough for me it was going to be tough for everybody. That kept me going and it became my mantra in that meditation in pain.
Then I saw Naveen go flying past me and was glad to see someone on the climb. I tried to keep him in sight for as long as possible which was not for long before he disappeared. After a while Saru rode by and kept encouraging me. I tried to hang on to him for a km or two and that helped me get into some semblance of a rhythm. He slowly pulled ahead and disappeared.
After a while I heard the familiar ‘tik tik, tik tik’ a few meters behind me and I called out “Amrish!” That sound from the bottom bracket on his bike was his unmistakable identity on this tour. I tried to keep up with him for a while. He seemed to be getting into the groove as the tour proceeded and was in superb form on the climb that he conquered ahead of everyone on the tour last year. The smooth cadence and the rhythmic movement of the upper body were the trademarks of this stylish rider. He too slowly disappeared.
The appearances of these super riders helped my morale and I kept going. I slowly went past the ‘5km to go’ mark. Then Mohan sir made an appearance and I kept going trying to stay with him. I found the strength in his encouraging words and kept digging in. With in no time we went past the ‘3km to go’ and ‘1km to go’ and I sprinted to the finish line soon after Mohan.
As I went past the finish line and slowly turned back to reach support station the realization that I made it slowly dawned on me. This was what I was training for the last six months. Tears began to roll down my eyes and I broke down for a minute while I fought to keep my emotions in check. I didn’t realize till that moment how much this personal goal meant to me. At that moment, I silently thanked everyone who made it happen in various ways.
I wiped my eyes and drank some water. I was elated that I made it. It didn’t matter what was my timing and where I stood in GC. I was genuinely happy to have made it.
I quickly asked Baba Velo who was there about his time and his smile and thumbs up said it all. He apparently gained more than four minutes over Mark Anderson to win the title. Mark Anderson who gave it all through the first half of the climb apparently bonked halfway through the climb and ended up losing a lot of time. Jeff who had done exceedingly well on previous climbing stages had a great climb finishing just 15 seconds behind Rajesh on the day. He jumped 7 positions to end up on the podium in style finishing 3rd overall in GC.
|Mark Anderson and Rajesh Nair on the way to Ooty after the CS..
I managed to finish with 8th best timing for the day and jumped one position up and finished 8th in GC.
Here are the day 7 results:
Here are the final GC standings after day7: