Beautiful Suffering on Kodanad Loop!
After a cold and overcast weather on the rest day yesterday, the sun was out in full brilliance today! The clear blue skies and the multiple shades of green of the hills and valleys made for some spectacular views radiant in the sun. Although the sun was out in full glory, it was still cold at 16 degrees C.
The first part of the ride is mostly descending towards Kotagiri and Kodanad view point. So, to take care of the wind chill we had to start with multiple layers and wind cheaters. In the hills in those temperatures it is a bit okay while in the sun but as soon as you pass through a shaded area, it would be very cold. We were able to shed some of the layers at SS1 at 28km mark as by that time the temperature increased a bit and we were also a bit warmed up.
Rider Profile: Ultra-Vaibav!
After Kotagiri, we rolled towards Kodanad view point. I rode a bit with Vaibhav, a free-lance journalist from Delhi who mainly writes about sports. He is an Ultra-runner and tri-athlete who has done all the major city Marathons and Sprint triathlon in Srilanka and 70.3 in Malaysia. He says swimming is his Achilles heel when it comes to triathlons and hence sticks to shorter versions instead of Ironman distance. Now-a-days he gave up on running in the city due to the pollution has been focusing on trail running for the last couple of years. His next goal is running 101km in the Run of Kuchh event. When he said there is also a 161km run in the same event, I asked him why he stopped at 101 instead of 161km. He thought 2.5 marathons was okay but not nearly 4 marathons and he might take some more time to upgrade to that level madness. All the best, Vaibhav!
Wait! What’s Your Weight Before and After TFN?
After that I joined Ravi Nagaraja for a bit. As we talked about the rest day and the food at Highland hotel where we are staying 4nights this TFN, he said the food and hospitality is so good that he’s sure to put on at least a couple of kilos by the end of the tour. When he signed up for TFN, he thought riding so many kilometers will help him lose a few pounds and he could be lighter for the marathon he signed up to do soon after the tour.
As we neared the Kodanad view point, the views changed to mind-blowing from spectacular. This was the 5th time I’m visiting Kodanad and each time it blows my mind. The clear skies meant we could see the spectacular views of the most of the valley.
After taking tons of pictures there, we rode back towards Kotagiri where lunch was arranged. The day was a 98km ride with a competitive segment of 4.5km right at the end. We had completed 51km by about 10:30am despite multiple stops to take thousands of pictures as it was mostly downhill. The majority of climbing was in the last 40km. So, most of us decided to wait for the lunch to arrive, eat and then continue to the return loop.
Oh No! I Don’t Want to Descend ‘Cause I’ve To Climb It Anyway!
After the lunch, we reluctantly started riding dreading the climbs on the way back. We descended for a bit and soon hit a Kalahatty like climb that lasted for 2km. The lunch was almost about to make its way back up although we were riding easy. After a bit more, a 4km steep descent on pretty rough roads came. The rough sections in climbing don’t cause as much pain as they do on downhills. The steep descents with rough roads and technical turns meant you got to be using the brakes all the time. The hands go numb and wheels heat up very quickly. Today’s descents cost a couple of riders including Maggon Benson their carbon wheels as they just melted due to constant braking during downhills.
After many steep descents and steeper climbs, I have made it to SS3 which was 12km away from the start of the CS. I was really struggling and decided to rest there for a bit before heading to the start of the CS. 10-15mins of nap also didn’t help me regain my energy. As we started riding again with Lena, Richard, Aman and Rohan, Richard observed that I was really struggling and asked if I was okay.
I told him I felt completely drained and low on energy. He kindly offered an energy bar but I had enough bars on me. So, I ate a bar and decided see if I can start warming up for the CS. I felt like I was crawling even during the warm-up sprints. I decided to have another bar and tried again. That was a little better. By the time I reached the start of the CS, I felt a little better. I took my Fast&Up gel and the energy levels are completely back up.
The Suffer-fest Of Competitive Segment And Strategies!
After day 3 CS, I was 1min 31 secs behind Vivek in Masters category GC and Veera was 1min 13 secs behind me. With both of them being very strong on the climbs, I knew I couldn’t make up the time on Vivek unless he has a really bad day but there is a real danger of losing the lead I had on Veera. I had no choice but to push to the best of my ability. So, I asked Rajani to start one minute ahead of me and Naveen Raj to start one minute behind. I wanted to use Rajani as a carrot and Naveen Raj as the whip to motivate me to get going.
One minute after Rajani started, I saw that the starting few hundred meters is flat and shifted to the big ring. I struggled a bit to clip in at the start and lost a few seconds but after I managed to clip in, I sprinted up to speed and began to pound on the pedals. As the climb started, I shifted up to the biggest cog on the cassette but stayed in the big ring to see how long I could push that gear. I told myself that I would shift to small chain ring if the cadence went below 60. I got into a rhythm and continued to push as hard as I can. Within no time I was panting hard and the sweat started pouring even in that cold weather.
I took it one km at a time and by the time I completed 2km, I could see Rajani one curve ahead. I pushed further but the cadence was dropping quickly in the steep parts. I shifted to smaller chain ring and began to try and spin. I don’t know if that slowed me down but I was not able to close the gap to Rajani. He later told me that he wanted to push me further and so increased the intensity a bit until he blew up by 3km mark. As I closed the gap a bit after 3km, he said that he was done. I pushed ahead trying to spin as much as I can but I was not able to. I had loud panting ringing in my ears and looked back to see if Naveen Raj is closing in on me.
He was nowhere to be seen. I then realized it was only my panting that I was hearing in digital dolby in the otherwise complete silence of the hills. The high altitude(nearing 2500m) meant the air was thinner and less oxygen was going in. That was obviously making the effort all the more difficult and I felt that I have not pushed that hard in a while. By the time I crossed the line after 17mins 59secs, I was completely out. It took me a while to stop panting and Naveen Raj crossed the finish line having done 17:11. Vivek did another solid ride to finish the CS in 17:29 adding another 30 secs to his lead while I managed to add to my lead on Veera Manikanta by another 20 secs. He did the CS in 18:19.
In open category, NJ did a 15:22.20 climb and KKR did 15:22.63! Yup, the gap was literally fraction of seconds. Nils started out too hard and going by the strava flybys, had more than a 30 sec gap on both NJ and KKR. But the big guy paid for it in the second half where he gradually lost time and ended up with 30 secs deficit by the end of the CS. This is the first time he didn’t finish a CS in the first place overall. The 2000m plus altitude keeps the bigger guys at a bigger disadvantage as they need higher amount of oxygen. To add to that disadvantage if you make any other mistakes it becomes almost impossible to recover. So, he struggled to breathe in the second half and finished the CS in 15:52. Shiven did another great climb and is closing in on Naveen Raj for the 3rd spot on the podium. With another short climb of 3.6k on Day 7, will he be able to close the gap?
In veterans category, Alexi did a superb ride and finished in 17:16, an incredible 6th fastest on the day. He not only leads the veterans category by a big margin but with today’s performance moved to 9th overall. Louwke finished in 20:26 while Richard did it in 22:29.
Lena killed it again with 18:50 climb. Belinda stopped the clock at 26:23. Maggon Benson borrowed my Lemond after her carbon wheels got toast in the downhills and finished the third for the day with 27:16!
Tomorrow is a 105km loop around Ooty towards Kunda dam and back with another 2000m+ elevation gain overall. If the weather holds, it should be another fantastic day tomorrow. The CS for tomorrow is a 3.6km climb. The short climb makes it difficult to make up time. So, the GC standings might stand same unless someone has a really bad day.
Rider Profile: The Doctor Duo From Pune!
The two doctors from Pune Dr. Aditya Ponkshe and Dr. Avinash Phadnis have started cycling about 4 years ago but have been training more seriously for the last one and half years. Dr. Avinash is a Gynecologist while Dr. Aditya is an anesthetist. Both the 57 year old doctors are thick friends and have been working together for the last 27 years. Aditya says he loves climbing and that the flats are too boring. He feels one has to ride the hills or not ride at all. Living in Pune, he is fortunate to have man good climbs around and his favorite climb is Sinhagad which is 15km away from his house and gains 600m of elevation in 8kms of the climb.
But since the roads are almost nonexistent on the climb he bought an MTB only to practice on that climb. With it he could ride to the hill, climb it a couple of times and be back at home and ready to go to the hospital in 2hours. He practiced for Kalahatty on that climb regularly. Early this year both Avinash and Aditya did a cycling trip to Europe for 8 days to ride the 8 major climbs of Tour de France like the Mt. Vontuex, Gilibier, Telegraph etc.. and says that Kalahatty is many times tougher than any of those climbs they have done. According to him TFN is an experience of a life time that every cyclist needs to experience. With perfect organization and beautiful and challenging routes he says, TFN gets 10/10. I think, I agree! 🙂
The awesome pics from the blog are from Chenthil Mohan while the ordinary ones are from my phone. Follow Che’s superb work on Insta and FB!