The day 6 ride to Valparai was tough but was one of the most scenic routes I have ever done. But, we knew day 7 ride from Valparai to Munnar is going to be as tough as day 2 when we climbed Kalahatty, if not tougher. But today, I can say without hesitation that it was tougher than day 2. The toughest day on the tour this year and probably of all the 4 TFNs I rode thus far. It was simply an epic ride.
Everyone was aware that, with 172km to cover with about 50km of climbing towards the end of the ride, it was going to be a long day. So, the ride was flagged off at 7am sharp and we were off. The ride starts off with a 12km uphill followed by a 28 km downhill till Aliyar dam checkpost. The 12km was done chatting up with Don D’mello and Dipankar about the cycling culture of Mumbai and Bangalore and how they are developing etc.
|The foggy weather at the start of the initial downhill from Valparai!|
The Downhill Dance!
Just as we began the downhill it became very foggy and it was almost 5-10 meter visibility for a few km of the downhill. After the fog lifted however, the views were fantastic. We quickly rolled into Attakatti and stopped for coffee. After having coffee, I followed Siva downhill to Aliyar checkpost from Attakatti. Riding downhill with Siva is an experience in itself. The smooth lines he takes and the pace at which he rides is brilliant. I love following him downhill. As we were enjoying the downhill, Don D’mello joined and went past us. The three of us were enjoying the brilliant downhill at super speeds despite the hairpin bends while suddenly, my chain broke and I had to let the two go.
|Aliyar dam view from the climb!|
Taking on The Headwinds with Pace lines!
Dipankar helped fix my dirty broken chain and we rode into the first support station. At the support station we refueled and formed a paceline with Shankar, Anubhav, Dipankar and Vicki. It was important that we spend as little time as possible off the bike and keep moving if we were to complete the long tough ride in time. We kept an easy pace and picked up the Mumbai gang of Don, Milam and Anand on the way. Dipankar was setting the pace for most of the time while the rest of us chipped in occasionally. There were headwinds for those 40km to reach to the second support station and it was important that we cooperated and kept moving. We reached SS2 at Manupatti and refueled and got ready for the toughest part of the ride.
The Mammoth Climb!
The ride to Munnar involves about 50km of climbs starting at about 100 km mark. The climb is not steep but it just goes on and on. We entered the Annamalai forest reserve and started riding towards the climb. The road inside the forest was quite patchy and it was rough riding. As we climbed towards Marayoor, where the next support station was setup, we could feel the heat radiating all around. It was very hot and humid and climbing was even more difficult than usual.
|Huge vallies on the left as we climbed up Annamalai reserve forest|
Big rocky faces on the right side and steep valleys with thick forest vegetation on the left side provided an imposing setting. The heat was unbearable although the views were great. We began to sweat profusely as we made progress towards Marayoor. Patchy forest roads, combined with the long climb in that heat was taking its toll.
As we got to the support station 3 outside Marayoor however, the altitude seemed to have had an effect on the temperature. It was getting cooler and the wild forest vegetation has now given way to organized tea plantation. Although we had a fair bit of climbing still to go, at least we need not deal with the heat any more.
|A few riders like Rama Yanam kept on going with minimal breaks so that they’re able to complete the ride in time!|
After having lunch at SS3 at Marayoor, we started on the 20km climb from SS3 to SS4. Apart from a single tea stop in between we continued to make steady progress on the climb. The views were surreal and we kept seeing dozen’s of waterfalls of all shapes and sizes. We were never too far from the gushing and gurgling sounds of water falls and streams through out the climb. The amazing views on the climb sometimes helped take the mind off the slow dragging progress we were making.
Vicki, Ananta, Shankar, Dipankar and I kept each other company during this long slog and kept going. After reaching SS4 at 135km mark, we still had 5km of uphill to climb before we roll into Munnar. Right through the climb we kept seeing solo riders like Jaideep Khanna(Mumbai), Deepender Sehajpal(Noida), Rama Yanam(Hyd/Cali) etc., who kept on spinning determined to complete the ride within time. They had taken minimum breaks and kept going. The determination to see through the tough ride was evident in their calm disposition even while struggling through the immensely challenging ride.
|Made it to Munnar! End of an epic day for some while rest of us continued 18k further to reach the hotel by bike!|
We completed the uphill and then put on a jacket to save ourselves from cold winds while descending. The road conditions of the patchy uphill roads continued on the downhill as well and it was difficult to sit on the bike. Standing on the pedals resulted in getting the feet and the palms totally battered with continuous vibrations from the patchy roads. The smooth flowng downhill ride with Siva in the morning felt like it was ages ago. I was begging for relief from the battering as we rolled into Munnar.
From Munnar to get to the Sterling hotel Chinnakanal it was another 18km. We reached Munnar at 5pm and had an hour to get to the hotel. It was announced in the morning that the riders are allowed to end the ride in Munnar at 154km mark and take a float from Munnar to the hotel since it is thought that many riders won’t make it in time. The 5 of us decided to go on and ride to the hotel.
|The beautiful home stretch to the hotel in Chinnakanal!|
The Gorgeous Home Stretch And The Relief!
Thankfully the roads after Munnar to Devikulam and Sterling, Chinnakanal were far smoother and we didn’t have to go through the ordeal of a full body shock treatment from bumpy roads. There were a couple of 4km climbs followed by downhills to get to the hotel that we spun through and arrived at the hotel at exactly 6pm. The views as we got nearer to the hotel were simply surreal with the huge valleys and out of the world views.
It was a huge relief to have finally made it. It was the tougest day of this year’s Tour of Nilgiris, and may be the toughest day in all the four TFNs that I have done. In my view this long drag was tougher than Kalahatty because of the sheer length of the climbs as well as the heat and the horrible road surface. A lot of riders gave up at SS3, unable to bear the heat and the long climbs. Some riders pushed themselves to the extremes and made it to Munnar before taking the float to the hotel while about 20 riders had enough time to make it to the hotel in time. We gained about 2900 m during the day’s ride.
The Final Day Ahead..
Tomorrow is a short 57km loop around Munnar. Although it is short, it is no way an easy ride since we end up riding a little more than 25km of climbing. The ride is made optional by the organizers and it would be interesting to see how many want to ride another long climb after today’s brutal battering of body and mind.
A few more pics from today can be found here.
Read About The Rest of the Tour:
Day 1: The Tour Kicks-off: Bangalore to My’sore’
Day 2: The Madness of Kalahatty: Mysore to Ooty
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 8: A Beautiful End to The Tour: Exploring the Beauty of Munnar
Read fellow blogger Abhishek Tarfe’s account here.