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. 

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(39×32 equivalent to 34×28) 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.

Read About The Rest of the Tour:
Day 1: The Tour Kicks-off: Bangalore to My’sore’  
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 
Day 8: A Beautiful End to The Tour: Exploring the Beauty of Munnar

4 thoughts on “Montra Tour of Nilgiris -2014 – Day 2 – The Madness of Kalahatty!

  1. Awesome effort Venky! Congrats on the jaw dropping timing! I once climbed Kalahatty several years ago (2007 I think) and decided never to do it again! It really takes a rare mental toughness to repeat this climb.

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