The penultimate day of TFN 2016 took us from Palakkad to Valparai. As another amazing tour is almost coming to a close, we headed out to scale the last of the mountain stages of this year’s edition. My goal for the day was to take my Spectrum Racing skipper, Dr. Arvind Bhateja, safely to the start of the competitive segment at 68km mark. The 11km competitive segment starts from Aliyar dam and runs flat for a couple of kilometers before the 9km climb starts from Monkey Falls to Attakatti. This was the last competitive segment of this year’s edition and had the potential to shake up the podium in all the categories. Especially the podium in Veterans(45+) and Elite is in balance with the possibility of the Blue leaders jersey changing hands.
|The morning train to Valparai was fully loaded.. Pic: Milam Saxena|
The Race: Grand Finale!
As I set a steady pace, a long train formed and we all reached the start of the CS in a two and half hours. We have decided to use the same strategy that has worked for us before and sent out Russell followed by Nikhil, Milam and Arvind. I started 30 seconds behind Arvind.
The pacing strategy for everyone was to try and hold a threshold effort for about 40 mins while also using each other as carrots. Going by the previous four competitive segments, I was so confident of catching Arvind that I told him, once I go past him, he should try and keep me in sight and make time on his closest competitor and leader in Veteran’s category, Richard Mueller. He was only 30 seconds behind Richard and if he could gain at least 31 seconds, the coveted winners jersey in the category would be his.
As I started the competitive segment, I knew right away that it was going to be a difficult 11km ahead. The legs didn’t feel good at all and I chalked it down lack of proper warm up and decided to use the starting 2km flat section as warm up hoping that they feel better once the climb started. The climb started but the life in the legs didn’t return. I guess it was due to the fatigue of the last two days where I was controlling the pace to keep my friends fresh for the last race where they had more at stake than me.
While the legs felt like logs, the bike began making loud noises. It felt like one of the spokes in the front wheel broke and was touching the fork. But I couldn’t see any spoke hanging out. The loud screeches drove me nuts but I didn’t want to stop or go back to the start and start over again. I decided that I will keep it rolling until the bike fell apart. It would stop screaming for a while and would start again. I’m not sure if it drove me nuts or helped me calm down in resignation. As I later figured out, it was hub bearings in the front hub that decided to die on me screeching. I kept trying to keep as steady an effort as possible and kept going.
I began to see Prashant Tidke who started 2mins ahead of Arvind and slowly over took him. I saw Milam who started 1min ahead of me and 30 seconds ahead of Arvind but didn’t see Arvind. That meant he was doing much better than me. I felt good. Richard Mueller started 30 seconds behind me and 1min behind Arvind. If he were to catch me, that would mean he would possibly be making time on Arvind. So, I kept looking to see if he was getting closer but couldn’t see him. But, as I later came to know, he was able to see me and keep me in sight for most of the way thinking if he was close to me he must be doing well enough to keep the overall lead. Little did he know that Arvind started 30 secs ahead of me and was finishing way ahead.
I downed a couple of Fast&Up gels in an attempt to bring the energy levels up and it helped a bit. The sweat was pouring in buckets and I was calmly counting down kilometers. 5 to go, no sight of Arvind. 4 to go, 3 to go, 2 to go and 1km to go, no sight of him. With each passing kilometer, I was becoming more and more certain that he had it in the bag. While I was suffering, I was elated that my teammate might have made it to the top of the podium in his category. I crossed the line and quickly hit the lap button and let the clock run to see how far behind me was Richard. Arvind apparently crossed the line in 39:xx while I took just about 41mins. Richard crossed the line more than 2mins after me. I jumped up and hugged Arvind. While we wait for the official results to be announced, the math says Arvind has it in the bag. That could mean that Spectrum Racing is on top in Master’s and Veteran Categories. Can’t wait for the results!
A Super Happy Meal:
After the hugs of elation and congratulations on the successful completion of all the competitive segments, we entered our favorite restaurant, ‘Hotel New Restaurant’ for lunch. I was a bit too happy to feel hungry but couldn’t pass up on the delicious meal and fish fry at this awesome little place. Every day this year, we had the TFN food truck guys cooking lunches on the way for us. But for this day, TFN has made arrangements for lunch at this lovely place. We devoured fish after fish along with sambar, rasam etc.
|The happy meal at Attakatti.. Pic: Milam Saxena|
A Spin Up to Heaven:
After the lunch, we began to climb up the remaining way to Valparai. Everyone was in a very relaxed mood and we began to spin the tired legs up slowly chatting away and having fun. Even the super fast champ and good friend, Nils, rode with us for a little making jokes laughing his way up with us.
|Rolling on.. Pic: Milam Saxena|
We stopped at the first sight of a tea stall and planted ourselves at the shop to have a nice lemon tea. We didn’t really mind that it wasn’t really special and was just made by dunking a Lipton tea bag in sugar water.
After lazing around at the tea stall for a bit, we began rolling again. I just couldn’t put my phone down without clicking. Every turn was a sight to watch and savor.
The weather was pleasant with a cool breeze and unlike the initial part of the climb which was part of the CS, this was more shaded.
We stopped at every opportunity to click pictures of the amazingly scenic climb. We were like kids in a candy shop. Everywhere we turn our heads, we only saw amazing views and we posed.
After a million pics on the way, we made it to the hotel Green Hills. After a few celebratory pints and lots of cycling chatter, we had some dinner and it was time for cake. The amazing youngster, Russell Bell celebrates his 71st birthday today. He and Deepak Chouhan, who shared the birthday, cut a cake that the TFN organizers have arranged and we all devoured it.
Today is the last day of this awesome tour. Can’t believe it is already the last day. We roll downhill to Aliyar dam after a bit of climbing in the initial 15km of riding around Valparai. We then head to Pollachi where we end our ride and head to Coimbatore for the cool off party in the evening.
More pics from the day are here.
TFN 2016 Day 1: Bangalore to Mysore
TFN 2016 Day 2: Mysore to Kalpetta
TFN 2016 Day 3: Kalpetta to Ooty! Kalahatty!
TFN 2016 Day 4: Rest Day
TFN 2016 Day 5: Ooty Thaishola
TFN 2016 Day 6: Ooty To Palakad
TFN 2016 Day 7: Palakkad to Valparai
TFN 2016 Day 8: A Beautiful End