Tour of Nilgiris! What’s So Special?
For a lot of us, Tour of Nilgiris(TFN) is a special tour not just because it is an immaculately organized tour but also because it had been an important catalyst in the growth of the sport and cycling tours in India. It captured the imagination of many riders who took up cycling just so that they could complete the TFN and organizers who are inspired by the charm of this tour and set about creating similar events. One could say that TFN grew along with the cycling culture in the region over the last 10 years which is true but I think events like TFN have made a huge contribution towards that growth. The birth of this phenomenal tour started with a small discussion on an online bike forum 10 years ago between a few friends who wanted to ride around for a week in the Nilgiri hills and ended up with an entourage of about 50 riders in the first year itself in 2008. From the humble beginnings 10 years ago to the ever improving and amazingly orchestrated 10th edition this year, the Tour of Nilgiris has come a long way.
10th Edition? So What?
For this special 10th edition of the tour, the field is brimming with special talent and really special 128 riders from all over the globe. It has former Olympic champion Alexi Grewal(1984, Los Angeles), the first Indian to finish the Race Across America (RAAM), Srinivas Gokulnath, finisher 4 time TFN champion from Denmark, Nils Egil Bradtberg, multiple time ITT champion and the current Indian National Champion(Road and ITT), Naveen John; former National MTB champ and multiple medal winner in MTB nationals, Kiran Kumar Raju; former Karnataka state TT champion Naveen Raj; many awesome riders from Bangalore, Mumbai, Chennai, Delhi, Pune, Ahmedabad and other cities from all over India; riders from Belgium, Holland, Australia, Denmark and a few other countries around the globe make up the 128 riders this year.
After a sumptuous breakfast at the hospitality partner, Radission Blu Atria on Palace road, Bangalore, the ride was flagged off at 7am by Sri Bhasker Rao, ADGP(crime) along with representatives from Jayanth Probikes, Firefox, Heini Sportswear and TFN race director, Mr. Sridhar Pabbisetty. We rode in front of Vidhansoudha savoring the calm and majestic structure that houses the state assembly before entering the chaotic traffic of Mysore road before getting on to the NICE road.
We spent a bit waiting for the NICE road authorities to review the permissions before letting us get on the NICE road. The super highway is closed to cycles all year round and only those on TFN get to ride on it once a year. Once on the NICE road, the inviting road immediately got riders enthusiastic and form fast trains. The freshness of the first day definitely helps and quite a few riders get carried away riding too fast too early on such a long and arduous tour.
Once we got on the Kanakpura road, Rajani Kanth, Gagan Reddy, Ravi Nagaraja and I formed a train and got to SS1 relatively easily. A quick refill of water and a couple of bananas later, the Mumbai gang of Anand Kapoor, Sai Pratyush and young Aman Tripathy joined up along with Kiran Kumar Raju and Vivek Bhateja. A few guys new to riding in a pace line needed some lessons in holding a steady pace and not accelerating when they intend to contribute to the pacing. It worked for the most part although we ended up being a smaller group as Gagan and Rajani got enthusiastic in pace setting.
Rider Profile: Alexi Singh Grewal
On the way to the second support station before the race section, I spent some time with the 1984 Olympic road race gold medal winner Alexi Singh Grewal. He was born in Aspen, Colorado USA. His Indian connection is from his father’s side who was from Punjab. This is only his 2nd trip to India, his first trip being 12 years ago. He apparently happened to know about tour via facebook earlier in the year and added it to his planned trip to India during December. After retiring from professional cycling he apparently didn’t touch a bike for 18 years and only got back to some riding again in 2011. He has been mostly regular ever since, riding for about 4-5 months through the year though his farm in Colorado keeps him busy. He is going to start a new chapter in his life by starting a new family later this month which was the primary reason for his India trip. Wishing him all the best on the tour as well as with his soon to be new family.
Lunch Before The Launch!?
The day’s competitive segment(CS) was a 10.7km rolling terrain with mostly gentle climbing starting after 115 kms of riding. The funny part though is that the lunch stop was just before the competitive segment and we got there by almost 11am. A lot of us did not want to have lunch and then ride hard during the CS. But we couldn’t go ahead and start the race as well because the race crew had to eat or remain starving until the last of the riders finished their race. So, we let Khuram and team have their lunch and we settled to have some fun under the shade of the lunch area tents.
Others chose to have the delicious freshly cooked and served lunch.
The race sections being short only mean that they are going to be extra intense and extra painful. Pacing is critical for an individual time trial be it a 400m sprint TT or a 40km hour of pain. If you over cook the start and don’t pace yourself well, that’s going to have an adverse effect on the result. I told myself to stay extra vigilant about not overcooking it in the first 500m and then go by the feel to gradually push it at threshold. The first 5km went alright because there was a bit of tailwind and not too many climbs.
But once we turned right in the second half, both headwinds and the climbs made the going quite a pain. The drop in speed was a bit demotivating and I think I let it get to my head instead of focusing on pushing as much as I can. The pacing in the second half suffered a lot due to that. The last one km was on an uphill and it was slow going. I was glad the race was cut short by 400m due to safety concerns of the previously planned finish line. No one really complained, I guess. Glad it was over.
Everyone suffered at various levels and everyone had bad/good day in various degrees, I guess. Despite thinking that I did pretty poorly(which my pacing and power numbers attest to), I finished ahead of everyone else in 35-45 except Nils. Nils thinks he registered for open category and wants to move to under 35 category because it gives him a fair chance to compete with stronger riders instead of beating everyone in the master’s category by miles. The race team is reviewing his request and will take a decision. If his request was to be respected, he will be wearing the leaders jersey in open category tomorrow. If not, he will be wearing the same in master’s category.
Vivek is 9 seconds behind me and Rajani is 41 seconds behind. With the 10km climb tomorrow, I’m sure those seconds will be wiped out and they will get into the lead. At 64kgs, Vivek is 4kgs lighter than me and at 60(?)kgs, Rajani is 8kgs lighter. So, the question is, who and by how much.
Naveen John is 25 seconds behind Nils and 1:14 ahead of KKR. Naveen Raj is just 4 seconds behind KKR. The shorter competitive sections ensured that the gaps were quite close between riders of similar abilities and made for interesting racing. Although that is likely to change with climbs coming up.
In Veterans category, Alexi Grewal took the lead by 16 seconds gap between him and Richard Mueller. Louwrens Van Der Steen(Louwke) finished 3rd 27 seconds behind the leader.
In Women’s category, Lena Robra gave quite a few men a run for their money and finished 9th overall and first in women. Belinda is 3:28 behind Lena. At 3rd place is Belinda’s daughter, Ayesha Mueller 1:06 behind her mom.
Post Race Fuel: Bannur Mutton Biriyani!
After the race was over, near the support station, the volunteers thoughtfully got lunch for those who didn’t want to eat before the race. But veg biriyani and paneer burji that was being served didn’t distract a few of us who had the pull of Bannur 10km away. Rajani and gang wanted to see what that famed Bannur mutton was all about. So, we rode on to Bannur and stopped at our usual hotel and ordered biriyani and all the mutton dishes they had on the menu. We polished them off in 30mins flat and got up satisfied.
The Home Stretch:
Having fueled with biriyani, we rode on the last 25km to the hotel eager to get out of the sun. After a bit of Mysore darshan towards the end, we reached Rio Meridian hotel which is new this year. Although it was quite a long day, it was a fun filled start to the 10th edition of the tour. It is my 7th consecutive year at the tour and I’m really looking forward to riding with all old and new friends.
Tomorrow is another long day in the saddle with a ride to Madikere where the 10km climbing CS is going to be held. After the CS, we ride back to Kushalnagara where we will end the ride at a resort. The 10km 3.5% climb is not a pure climbers climb and allows for big guys with big power numbers to put in a decent performance. So, it will be interesting to see how the leads change tomorrow.
The Mueller Family:
Richard and Belinda Mueller came on to TFN 3 years ago for the first time and got hooked to it. They returned last year and this year, they got both their son and daughter to the tour. 23 year old Rohan Mueller is a club level football player in Goa. He picked up cycling 10 months ago in February as a way to get fit again after his knee injury that he had from football. He began to enjoy cycling and lost 17 kgs in these 10 months. He finished 6th overall after the first day’s CS, faster than his dad. Ayesha Mueller had recently completed her master’s in Architecture in Germany recently and picked up cycling 2 months ago when she came home for holidays as she wanted to join the rest of her family on TFN. She finished 3rd overall just about a minute behind her mom. How’s that for a family that is now part of the TFN Family!?
All the awesome pics in the post are by the awesome Chenthil Mohan. Check more of his great pics from day 1 at https://m.facebook.com/story.php?story_fbid=10155971596016972&id=155073231971