The Dream That Was TFN: The Tour And The People

The Tour:
The Tour Of Niligiris. TFN. It is a name that is synonymous with not just one of the biggest cycling tours in India but also the most beautiful and one the most challenging tours in the land. I first heard of it around the same time that I started cycling, late 2008. Because the first tour was in Dec 2008. From that time, the thought of riding through the most scenic and challenging terrain of Nilgiris was something that excited me to no end.

I wanted to ride the tour someday. The stories of the subsequent tours only turned that ‘want’ into a ‘need’. I’ve decided that I NEED to ride the tour at least once. And ride I did! What a tour it was! It has been a dream tour for me and truly a once in a lifetime experience. If there was only one life that was touched by the tour, it was mine, even before I actually rode the tour. Training for the tour has changed me and my cycling forever!

The goal of riding TFN on the Bulldog is what drove me through the most of last year. It was that goal that motivated me to get out and ride 5 days a week for 6 months. It was the same goal that made me ride at insane hours and rake up what looked like an insane number of miles. It was that goal that drove me to lose all those extra pounds I painstakingly accumulated with the help of the foodie me.

But all this did not tell me exactly how badly I wanted this. I only realized the extent to which my mind was taken over by the goal after breaking down and ending up in tears of joy after crossing the finish line on the Ooty climb. I don’t remember ever becoming so emotional after a bike ride. I just loved it!

The Riders:
The riders came from across the country and from across the oceans. From the youngest to the oldest, from the most experienced to the most blue eyed newbie, everyone had a common thread to unite them. It was the passion for cycling, the love for a challenge, the will to push their limits and the love for the tour that brought them together.

Rishi goyal from Ahmedabad, the youngest rider at 14, was a surprisingly mature rider riding well within himself and at his own pace. The young at heart riders like Arun Takur, Arun D’silva etc., proved how age is just a number by riding through the challenging terrain. Aparjeet Nakai, the omnipresent savior, helping out station riders with logistics before the tour, was a calm inspiration on the tour as well.

The Hyderabad gang of Sreekanth Gupta, Kishore Samanuri, Raman Garimella, Ranjith Sajja, Maninder Singh and Gokul Krishna of TBA, rode well keeping the HCC flag flying on the tour. From Pune riders like Sumit Pal, Akshat Jain and Vikram Naik were going great guns. Guys like Narayanan and Akshay Jaitley flew in from Delhi while our very own Gaudzilla, aka Vandit Kalia landed straight from Andamans. His DiveIndia was also the prize sponsor for the Tour. Erik Yeh came in from Calcutta as did many other riders from different cities across the country. Mark Hemhauser flew in from Maryland, US just to be part of the tour. It was his second TFN. Richard Joyce flew in from UK to be part of the tour while his friend Mark Ellison made the tour a curtain opener to his 6 month long cycling tour across India.

Although out numbered on the tour, the women riders, Vicki Nicholson, Meera Velankar and Shruthi Saha ensured they were not out spirited by the way they rode. While the more athletic Vicki gave even the male competitors a run for their money finishing the tour first in the gender category and 7th overall, Meera and Shruthi who were also relatively new to the sport of cycling took on the challenging terrain and finished each day with their head held high. 

The tour also brought out the die-hard spirit of riders like, Gaurav, Amrish and Sumit who were ill prepared for the tour because of their hectic work and travel schedules leading up to the tour. Despite the minimal preparation they not only showed up for the tour they love but also emerged stronger by the day as the tour progressed. Amrish who was the first guy to finish the Ooty climb in 2010 TFN refused to let bad form dictate terms on what he considers rightly is his terrain. He dug in deep and came up with a phenomenal performance on his favorite climb again finishing as the fastest Indian on the climb that day. It was a treat to watch him climb that day as he flew past me. Sumit Pal had an excellent tour finishing 6th overall while Gaurav and Amrish finished just outside the top 10 with 11th and 12th in men.

The Champion riders like Rajesh Nair, Mark Anderson and Jeff Schmidt gave the tour the competitive edge while many other riders like many of my rider friends from Bangalore made the tour so much more fun.

The Volunteers: The Engine Behind:
I’m short of words when it comes to describe the amazing job that the volunteers that formed the support crew did to make the tour such a memorable experience. If not for them the tour would have not been such a great tour. The willingness to help and enthusiasm of the guys has to be seen to be believed. The kind of work that goes on behind the scenes to make a tour like this happen is unbelievably huge and needs great planning, co-ordination and incredible patience.

The great team of volunteers at TFN’11 – Photo Courtesy Mr. Shailendra Goyal

Although only a few names come to mind, I remember everyone by face. Sridhar Pabbisetty and Deepak Majipatil from RACF, Tour Director Francis Santosh Lobo, Race Director Vasu Mishra and their army of men like Badrinath V Sastry, Parameshwar Raju, Abhilash Mohan, Karthik Sridhar, Adarsh Kasyap, Adarsh Shetkar, Shahzeb Rafi, Deep Sehmbi, Purushotham Raju, Rakesh Basavaiah and Praveen to name a few. Kiran Kumar Raju who was in-charge of marking the route each day did a fantastic job. Thank you guys for making each day of the tour such a great experience for us riders.

The medical support team of Physio Dhanajeyan of Spectrum Physio and team at Sita Bhateja Hospitals did an awesome job of taking care of the riders and their niggles and crash injuries. Dr. Arvind, who was himself riding on the tour, was a savior on two wheels tending to the crash victims. He even administered stitches to Vineeth with his cycling helmet on and the surgical gloves replacing his cycling gloves. How many tours claim to have a neurosurgeon on board?

There were a fleet of photographers who made us feel like we were riding a pro tour. The official photographers Chenthil Mohan, Aditya Phadye along with their support; Anand Cj and his team at Creative Chisel, all took on the challenging task of capturing the amazing beauty of the terrain and blending it with the spirit of tour. We’ve seen samples of the work of Chenthil and Aditya which was stupendous. We’re eagerly waiting for all the photos and the video. Thank you for the great work guys!

The official blogger Prashanth Kota, Srinath Nelavai from LeapSky Wireless and Rishi’s father Mr. Shailendra Goyal also wielded cameras to capture the beauty of Nilgiris and the riders in action. They did a fab job of it. Thank you guys.

Thank You All:
Although I could not thank him enough I have to try anyway. A special thanks to my friend who doesn’t want to be named. Without his help, it would not have been possible for me to ride this tour at all. All of you have made this tour possible and made it one of the most memorable experiences for me. Thank you! Thank you!! And thank you!!!

Here is the day to day account of Tour of Nilgiris(TFN’11):

Day 1: Bangalore to Mysore
Day 2: Mysore to Hassan
Day 3: Hassan to Madikere 
Day 4: Madikere to Kannur
Day 5: Rest Day At Kannur
Day 6: Kannur to Sultanbhateri
Day 7: Sultanbhateri to Ooty
Day 8: Ooty – Kodanad

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