Kalahatty – The Stuff of Nightmares! Day 3 – Indian Terrain Tour of Nilgiris 2016!

Kalpetta to Ooty!
If Day 2 ride from Mysore to Kalpetta was a tough ride with innumerable rollers, day 3 ride from Kalpetta to Ooty via Kalahatty has been a stuff of nightmares for most TFNers from the day they signed up for the tour. Everyone was justifiably apprehensive about how they would complete the ride on the third day after a couple of exhausting days. Days like these are what motivate most riders to train hard for TFN and get stronger. They give them the incredible feeling of accomplishment once overcome and make them comeback asking for more. 

The morning started with a complete fog cover and delayed our ride start by about an hour. We utilized the late start for extra rounds of breakfast and enjoying the crazy comedy from my teammates Siva and Arvind at the breakfast table with a big audience gathering to join our laughter riot. When we finally started around 8am, the fog was lifting and the visibility improved. 

We rolled easy towards the first support station via Meppadi. As the Sun rose and the fog dispersed, the beauty of the surroundings transformed from one level to the next. The misty magic gave way to the verdant splendor of the tea plantation in the valleys. The views were just out of the world and reminded me of yet another reason why I love riding TFN every year. The amazing views just take the mind off all the suffering that lays ahead and all the suffering you went through. So, forgetting about Kalahatty, we soaked in the views as we rode on at an easy pace.

Competitive Segment:
The day’s competitive segment was a 6km climb starting from around 44km mark. KKR and myself decided to start our warm up from around 38km mark and rolled into the start all warmed up. We started with Arvind going first followed by me and KKR starting behind me. The first 2km of the CS was a bit of a technical downhill followed by a 4km climb. There was no chance of putting any sort of power during the downhill. I took it as carefully as I can to avoid any drama. I got lucky with the traffic and cows didn’t obstruct which wasn’t the case with a few others like Nikhil. The poor guy had a herd of cows, a truck obstructing his progress and a bee stinging him above the eye, all during that 6km! 

Having taken the downhill at a reasonably fast but safe pace, I began to drill the uphill section. I developed a bit of a mysterious chest pain after day 2 CS which bothered me every time I took a deep breath or laugh. It was very worrying with a tough day ahead on day 3. But, the pain killer and antacid tablets that the medical team from Sita Bhateja seemed to have helped and I didn’t feel any chest pain as I was panting my way up the climb in the CS.

KKR went past me 4km into the CS and disappeared into the next bend. It was a great course for him where he can put his downhill and MTB skills to great use during the descent and put his light weight powerful frame to good use on the uphill. So, I wasn’t surprised to see him go past me that quickly. He’s in good shape this year.

This time, I managed to muster some strength to get off the saddle and sprint past the finish line. I was happy with the effort but felt that although it was for a short time, I might have pushed a little too hard with Kalahatty scheduled for later that day. 

Where’s The FOOOD(WTF)??
After the CS, we refilled our bottles at the support station and began to ride towards our lunch stop which we were told was 18km away. We stopped to take pictures of the lovely views on a couple of occasions but knew if we stopped too often we will struggle to complete the long and hard ride that was ahead. We rode 18km but found no support station. Kept going hoping to see one at the next bend or the next but we only kept encountering climb after climb. 

We were getting hungry and stopped just as we were entering Gudalur to have some bananas. We finally made it to the lunch stop setup at a coffee plantation at 83km mark just outside the Bandipur forest entrance. We all breathed a collective sigh of relief seeing the food and the shade that the coffee plantation offered. We had a good meal and relaxed under the shade for sometime before starting to ride again.

We had to form into groups and be escorted by a lead vehicle while riding in the forest area. So, the progress was slow to let everyone stay together as a group. The roads through the forest were freshly laid and were in great shape. I remember the horrible shape they were in the last 5 years and it isn’t fun riding with rattling bones. This time though, they were smooth as butter, of course, apart from the usual 100001 speed breakers.

The ride to the base of Kalahatty itself has so many steep climbs that it feels like we are watching the trailers before the main feature starts. On the way, we sighted a baby elephant sleeping on the road side quite close to the road with her mother standing guard and trumpeting occasionally to ward off the passing, click-happy tourists. 

Kalahatty: The Beast That Humbles Most!
We got to the start of the Kalahatty competitive segment by around 3:30pm. I decided to get a bit lighter by visiting the loo before the start. Talking to a few of my trainees at BVcoaching who are doing TFN, on how to approach the climb helped clear my own mind and helped me calm down. I’ve put in a strategy to survive the climb by getting into a manageable tempo and staying there. 

I knew that with my current fitness levels, if I tried to go hard in an attempt to go faster, I might at best come to within a few minutes of my previous best. But it puts me in a risk of not being able to complete the climb at all if I end up cramping in the process. Once I decided on how to approach it, I was in a calm place mentally. I knew when I get into that calm zen mode, I will survive. Tackling a challenge as huge as Kalahatty needs as much mental strength as it needs the physical reserves.

Start of Kalahatty KOM/QOM CS!  Pic: Milam Saxena

I took it easy on the 4.5km rolling approach road before the climb starts. Once the climb starts, it just kicks you in the nuts right away. The initial part before the 36 hairpins start is quite steep and sets the tone for the 11.5km of brute of a climb. I went to my granny gear right away and stayed there. I told myself to just take it one pedal stroke at a time. The inital couple of kilometers of the climb gave me a bit of confidence. I told myself that if I could do this another 5 times, it will be over. I felt calm and kept grinding up one pedal stroke at a time.

A bit into the climb, I saw Nikhil Ram Mohan helping Mikael Kyander who was down by the road side along with his bike. A Maruthi Swift was on the other side of the road crashed into the railings. The drunk youngsters in the car coming down the climb rode into Mikael head on and then crashed into the railings apparently. It looked bad but I saw that Mikael was conscious and Nikhil was calling for help. So, reluctantly I kept riding while hoping he didn’t get hurt badly. Up ahead, I saw Anand Kapoor stopping and clicking pictures and asked him to go and help Nikhil reach the organizers. Later came to know that the Sita Bhateja ambulance arrived quickly and took care of Mikael. He was thankfully not hurt too badly and no broken bones. I felt relieved seeing him cheering the other riders as he went up the hill later in the support vehicle.

As I rode up, I kept telling riders who were using the zig-zag technique to climb up the steep sections to be careful with the oncoming Sunday traffic and not weave too much on the road. I kept taking my Fast&Up gels every 20 minutes, although it was not a race pace effort, as I needed all the help I could get to the top. I kept drinking the reload electrolytes to keep myself hydrated. The sweat that was pouring down my face also making it back into my mouth helping the salt replacement a bit. 

With about 5km to go, KKR and Murali went past me. They were riding together and disappeared into the distance within no time. It felt like they were floating.

I was in a positive frame of mind and kept going forward in a meditative state of mind. With 4km to go, I was adament not to let the hail hitler section faze me although I was seeing less than 5kmph speeds. I reminded myself that it was probably the toughest part and if I could get past it, it would soon be over. I kept saying hi to the familiar not so friendly boards at the hairpins and kept talking to myself and tried to keep a smile on the face. But may be it was a grimace.

Seeing the 1/36 bends was a relief but I knew that it was another steep 200 meters of crawling before the finish line. So, I didn’t get excited and kept calmly grinding away. There was a religious possession coming down just then with loud music band playing. They were on the both sides of the road and I had to squeeze through the middle. It felt like I was going through the crowd just like on the famous climbs in the pro tours. I was happy to cross the finish and it was probably the first time I didn’t collapse and cry after climbing Kalahatty as I had some reserves left. That felt good although I was much slower than I was during my best effort from a couple of years ago. 

Posing along with two inspirational riders after the climb!

It was already 5:40 pm and lot of riders are still climbing. A few have decided to pack in early from the base and took a float to the hotel as they knew they are not going to make it in time. The one hour delayed start has had a rippling effect delaying the proceedings and not leaving enough time for the climb for a lot of people. 

In the Elite Category, for the CS that counts for the GC, Nils added 39 seconds to his lead and now has an advantage of 1:17 over Jamie in the GC. KKR finished 2nd in today’s race with 2 seconds faster than Jamie. Jamie has a 1:45 lead over KKR. With more climbing in the next two stages, it is going to be an interesting duel to watch with Murali and Vinayak possibly giving them a run for their money for podium places. 

In Women’s category Lena finished first followed by Belinda and Harshita Mehta for Day3 race. But the order of the GC remains the same.

In Master’s I managed to keep the lead and add 1:50 to it. Anurag Sharma and Veera Manikanta finished 2nd and 3rd for the day but Sai Pratyush still is at 3rd place in the overall GC. Will be interesting to see if Veera Manikanta and Ganesh will progress further up the GC given the fact that they seem to be climbing better than Sai Pratyush. 

In Veteran’s category, Arvind had a great race and finished first taking back 27 seconds from Richard. Richard still holds the blue jersey but the lead now is 52 seconds. Russell Bell finished 2nd on the day and adds to the lead he has at 3rd place on the podium. With the climbing in the next two stages, it will be quite interesting to see how this plays out.  

KOK/QOK Results:
For King of Kalahatty in Elite Category this year, it was an intense battle. Nils has a clear disadvantage being more than 20kgs heavier than Murali, KKR and Jamie. On such a steep and long climb the power to weight ratio plays such a big role. Jamie has a disadvantage of not seeing the climb before while the other three have climbed it multiple times before. But both carry a lot of experience.

Nils started early and finished the KOK CS of 16km in 1:13:30. It was exactly 1min less than his best effort on the segment in 2014. Jamie Anderson apparently went out too hard at the start of the climb and faded a bit towards the end. His time of 1:15:49 for the first time climb is pretty impressive.

Murali started behind KKR and caught up with him on the climb. They then rode together for most of the climb and then KKR attacked towards the end to finish 3secs ahead of Murali to take the King of Kalahatty orange jersey. It was a thoroughly deserved jersey for the MTB champ. His timing for the segment was 1:11:43.

In Women’s Category, Lena completed the climb in a super impressive 1:41:37 and took the Queen of Kalahatty orange jersey. 

In Veteran’s category, Spectrum Racing team skipper, Dr. Arvind Bhateja finished first and took the coveted orange jersey. Will he be able to add the Blue jersey to it in the coming climbing stages, we will have to wait and see.

In Master’s category, I have climbed almost as slow as I did last year but managed to finish ahead of the others. I wish to be able to come lighter and better my timing from a couple of years ago to justify the awesome orange jersey. 

I’m so happy for Kiran, Arvind and Lena for their well deserved hard fought orange jerseys. Kudos!

What’s Ahead?
Rest Day today. Time to unwind and enjoy the beautiful weather of Ooty. Tomorrow we do a local loop with a competitive segment on a climb. The climbs on the way back are quite challenging and the route itself is amazingly beautiful. Have to see how the CS changes the GC across the categories.

More pics from day3 are here

Also Read:
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

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