What Goes Down Has To Come Up! Kundha Loop!
Around Ooty, the beauty is always accompanied by copious amounts of climbing. So, any ride around 100km would mean a minimum of 2000m of climbing. After yesterday’s beautiful Kodanad loop, today was time for a 108km Kunda dam loop via Conoor with a more than 2300m of elevation gain.
Having had very little sleep yesterday, I decided to take a nap after the breakfast and start my ride late while the rest of the riders were flagged off at 7:30am keeping the long tough day in mind. I woke up startled from my sleep wondering if I missed the entire ride. It felt as if I slept for a long time but it was just for 30mins. The half an hour power nap was very refreshing and kept me from feeling like a zombie. I quickly got ready and joined Rajani, Naveen Raj and Kiran(Tusker) who were also starting late around 8am.
Although the sun was out, the wind chill made it for a very cold descent towards Conoor. As we approached Conoor, it became very foggy and even colder. The legs felt like logs and refused to move on the odd uphill along the way. Rajani and Naveen Raj disappeared in the first downhill while Tusker and I rode slow. As we approached Conoor we saw Siva struggling up hill. He was a bit unwell and the long ride in the cold weather didn’t seem to be making him feel any better.
Cycling Family: The Army Hospitality!
We kept riding and reached the Wellington, we were welcomed into the Wellington Defense Services Staff College for refreshments. Wing Commander Pramodh and Colonel Ganesh Nagarajan gave us a warm welcome by arranging hot tea, biscuits and cake. The Colonel organizes a local cycling club called Wellington Pedal Pushers and some of the club riders joined us for today’s ride. We walked into the Staff college bar and posed with the artillery on the walls before thanking him for the hospitality and started riding again.
On the way out of Conoor, I rode with Srinivas Padmasola for a bit. He is originally from Hyderabad but has settled in Hongkong since 1995 and works in equities trading. He started cycling 3 years ago just to keep fit and having just turned 50 this year, wanted to do something fun and challenging. He signed up for TFN as a charity rider, raising funds for Vidyodaya School in Gudalur. He trained hard on a 3km 10% climb that he had access to back home but he says nothing could have gotten him ready for what he experienced on Kalahatty which is more than 4 times in length and difficulty. Having spent a few hours interacting with the school children in Gudalur on Day 4, he didn’t have enough time to complete Kalahatty. He hopes to return next time better prepared to take care of the unfinished business.
Two Different Worlds!
The scenic beauty of the route was amazing as we rode descended through some of the most beautiful of tea estates through the fog. Suddenly a thought sprang to my mind saying you will be back on your morning commute in Bangalore in a couple of days. The contrast couldn’t be any bigger as if between two different world.
The route took us through some winding descents and washed out and winding gravel back roads. It was amazing but we needed to be a bit watchful on the descents. On one of the descents, I almost washed out as I went into the turn too fast and had to brake in the corner resulting in the back wheel slipping under me. Thankfully, I was able to correct in time and avoided crashing.
The ride through the gravel section covered with a canopy of wildly grown vegetation on both sides was one of the best stretches on the route. It felt as if we were riding through some untouched forest somewhere.
After about 66km, we reached Chamraj Tea Center. We took a brief stop there to order some hot and refreshing lemon tea. The staff were a bit overwhelmed by the hoard of cyclists vying for hot tea in the cold climate.
Competitive Section: One Last Dig Into The Pain Cave:
After a brief stop at the Chamraj tea shop, I joined KKR towards Kunda dam 6km away where the day’s competitive segment was going to start. The CS was only 3.6km long with an elevation gain of nearly 270m. Although short, at an average gradient of over 7%, it is not an easy climb at all. I warmed up a little and lined up to start the CS.
Veera, who is 1:33 behind me on CS lined up behind me. For him to move up from 4th in masters to 3rd place he will have to gain at least 1min 34 secs on me in the 3.6km CS. I knew it was highly unlikely but I didn’t want to leave anything to chance and if he wanted to use me as a carrot I would use him as a whip and try to stay away from him.
If he starts one minute behind me, he not only has to catch me but also drop me by more than 33 secs to move up in GC. I started in the big ring knowing that the initial few meters is flat. After the flat section, I stayed in the big ring to see how long I could push it. I went hard and perhaps a bit too hard for the first 2km and began to suffer really badly. I shifted to the small chain ring to try and recover but it was of no help. The damage was done and I decided to consolidate and ensure that the losses were minimal. I kept going as hard as I can but it was immensely painful.
I knew that as long as I don’t let Veera to pass me, my 3rd place in Master’s was safe and I kept hanging in there. As my Garmin showed 3.3k, I saw ‘500m to go’ and my heart sank as I was expecting it to end in a couple of hundred meters. It felt like it was taking forever for the finish line to appear and as soon as I saw it, I could no longer pedal and stopped dead. I stopped the clock close to 15:26. Vivek who started a few riders ahead of me finished 15:04. Veera finished a few seconds behind in just under 15mins beating both Vivek and me on the day with a brilliant performance. He was the most improved rider from last year’s TFN. He is just getting warmed up and like a tiger that tasted blood, he is sure to get better from here on. Congratulations on the great show, Veera. Note: These are our Garmin times. The results will be announced only after tomorrow’s stage but the GC standings in Master’s category seem to stand as they were after yesterday’s stage.
In Under 35 category, the Garmin times suggest that NJ and Kiran again finished very close. But their GC standings won’t be affected. We have to wait and see if Shiven managed to put enough time on Naveen Raj to move into 3rd place from 4th. He needs to be at least 35 seconds faster than Naveen Raj to displace him from the podium. At least going by the strava segment he fell short by 3 seconds. Strava segments can be a bit off depending on where the segment started and ended. So, the tension remains until the organizers announce the result at the end of the last day. Nils seems to have lost a few seconds today too but will likely keep the overall lead across categories.
After the CS, we rode a couple of km to reach the lunch spot and had a nice lunch. After discussing our timings and how difficult the CS was, we unanimously agreed the CS felt tougher than yesterday’s CS. It was steep and a bit uneven. It was difficult to get into a rhythm. Perhaps since it is the final CS for the tour that determines overall standings, all of us pushed to the limit and hence felt it to be all the more harder.
After lunch, with more than 30k to go, I decided to start riding and reach the hotel as soon as possible. It was difficult to ride on tired legs and fully tummy. The climbs kept on coming gradually one after the other. We gained 1000m of elevation in the first 75kms and about 1400m remained to be done in 35km. Alexi and I began riding after lunch but he was flying while I was crawling.
I decided to keep going at my own pace and we kept meeting when he stopped for pictures or at the support stations on the way. We reached the hotel together just before 4pm having climbed nearly 2400m for the day. It was a long tiring and a very challenging day.
Test of Grit and Determination:
As we approached the Chamraj Tea factory, I saw the mother daughter duo of Belinda Mueller and Ayesha Mueller riding together. Belinda was giving her daughter company and ensuring that she is on track to complete one of the most difficult days of TFN. It was lovely to watch them ride always smiling through some of the most difficult of terrains. After we made it to the hotel, I heard Richard and Rohan worried about Ayesha if she would be able to complete the hard ride of the day. If Belinda stays back to give her daughter company and they both get swept as it is not allowed to ride after dark, she is at the risk of losing her second spot on the podium. So the guys were eagerly waiting for them.
Just before 6, Belinda and Ayesha made it to the hotel and it was great to see Ayesha completing one of the toughest days of TFN. Richard and Rohan were immensely relieved to see them and were overcome by emotions seeing the girt of the girl who started cycling just two months ago. It was heartwarming to see the love and support for each other in the tight knit family.
Tomorrow is a ride to Mysore where the tenth edition of TFN comes to an end. We descend via Gudalur and go through Bandipur forest to reach Gundlupet. After lunch at Gundlupet, we will be doing a fun Team Time Trial of 7km before reaching Mysore. We plan to do a team with top under 35 riders and top master’s team along with Dutch team etc. In case of Master’s team it would be Vivek, Veera and me trying to hang onto Nils while the Under 35 team might be more balanced with Naveen John, Naveen Raj, Kiran, Shiven etc. It would be fun to see how it goes.
Checkout Ben’s Vlog for the day here.
The ordinary pics from the post are mine and the awesome pics are from Che! Follow his work here.