Verb(used with object) He got Kalahattied!
- Experience of supreme discomfort, of the pounding heart, of the dripping sweat, of the taut screaming of muscles while climbing Kalahatty!
- Experiencing the immense satisfaction and incredible pain at the same time having just climbed Kalahatty!
Do I have it in me to get over on top of this beast today? Do I have the fight in me to take it on and survive it? All the questions that pop into my mind have only one thing in common. Fear! Fear for the mighty Kalahatty. As I lined up at the start of the CS, and the timing crew asked if I was ready, all I could think of is, ‘can someone ever be ready for something like Kalahatty?’ Is anyone ever ready to be Kalahattied?
I took a gel in, took a sip of water, clipped in and started pounding on the pedals. I told myself to calm down and survive just that one moment. Live just that very moment. Don’t think of the next 16k but just that one pedal stroke. Don’t think of whatever time it was going to take but be immersed in that moment. Immerse in that experience of supreme discomfort, of the pounding heart, of the dripping sweat, of the taut screaming muscles, of being Kalahattied!
At the end of the first 4.5km flat section before the start of the climb, I knew I did better than ever before and I wasn’t going all-out knowing that the real deal was ahead. That felt good. But the moment I hit the climb, I quickly went to the lowest gear that was available to me and that fleeting moment of feeling good has vanished.
The cadence dropped to the 50s. It was like doing leg presses on the bike. I reminded myself to loosen the death grip I had on the bars and drive the power through the legs. Seeing the speed drop to 4-5kmph was depressing. So, I started focusing on the pedal stroke, trying to keep the upper body steady to take my mind off the negative chatter that started making an appearance. ‘One pedal stroke at a time’, I kept telling myself.
The first part of the climb was hot and humid and at those slow speeds the body gets hot real quick. The sweat began pouring in bucketfuls even before the hairpin bends started. I haven’t done much climbing this year but in the 6 weeks leading up to the tour, I did some long tempo efforts. So, I knew I could survive a high tempo effort for one and half hours. But the question was if the legs were up for the thousands of high torque leg presses they will be doing during that period. I decided to test them.
I remember being on 28 cog for most of the climb last time when I felt like I was in the zone when I was climbing Kalahatty in 2014. But, this time with no climbing in the legs, I was in my 32 for the most part and only shifting down when I got off the saddle for a few seconds. I wondered if that’s going to make me slower but I didn’t have a choice. I just couldn’t mash any harder. One thing new I tried this time was to take on the hairpin bends from the inside, which I never managed to try before.
Focusing on technique and just pushing one pedal stroke at a time kept my mind away from the negative chatter and that was a lot of load off. Although it wasn’t any less painful physically, not adding the mental agony to it definitely helped.
I went past a few riders on the climb. A few were walking their bikes and a few were leg pressing their way up the hill like me. Sinivas Gokulnath and Rajkumar Khot were riding together encouraging each other and keeping each other company as I went past them. Around 10km into the CS, Shiven went past me as if I was standing still. The tall and light MTB rider from the hills up north seemed to be in his element. He was pedaling smoothly and seemed to be spinning at a good cadence. It was inspiring to watch.
As I got closer to the Hail Hitler section, I could see him criss-crossing up the road. May be I should have tried that but I struck to keeping my head down and keeping a straight line, leg pressing my way up. After I managed to go past it, with 2.5km to go, the left leg began to cramp.
I have had really bad memories from TFN2013 when Kalahatty was first introduced. I started cramping with 4km to go and had to stop multiple times before I got to the finish line. But, this time I didn’t panic and took the load off the left leg and continued to spin after taking a gulp of my Fast&Up reload drink. It took a minute but it settled.
With 2.5km still to go, I wasn’t sure how much I could push and get away without the cramps making a comeback. I backed off a little on the effort but kept going. With 1k to go I began to see Alexi ahead of me. I slowly made my way up to him and went past him with 500m to go. I took a chance with 500 meters to go and increased the intensity to the previous levels and crossed the line completely cross eyed and Kalahattied.
I have improved my personal best by about 3 mins from 2014 when both Vivek and I did close to 1:30 for the entire CS. I finished 20secs behind him at that time. This time Vivek bettered that time by about 7 mins while I bettered mine by 3 mins. He completed the CS in 1:22:41 while I took 1:27:36. At that time we were about the same weight while he is 4kgs lighter. It was inspiring to see him almost fall off the bike from the effort as he crossed the finish line. He had nothing more to give. I have been able to manage 1:37 for the last two years. So, it is very satisfying to be able to cut 10mins from that to finish in 1:27 this time. Veera Manikanta who finished the CS in 1:47 last year in TFN demolished his personal best by 23 mins to finish 1:24. It is amazing how strong he has become from last TFN to this one. Kudos!
When I saw Nils this year at the pre-tour briefing, I told him that I thought this was the leanest I have seen him in the last 5 years I have known him. He’s still 83kgs but he has put in another massive effort to set a course record for the CS section. He finished the CS in 1:08:32. This guy never ceases to amaze me. He was only 2 seconds slower than KKR on the Kalahatty climb segment on Strava and KKR is 25kgs lighter than him. He was of course faster on the flat 4.5km approach to the climb and hence took the overall fast time. KKR set a new Kalahatty KOM with 59:21 and finished the CS in 1:09:19. NJ is 21 secs behind KKR for the CS!
Lena has improved her timing from last year by 13 minutes! This might be a rare pic where she is not smiling! Or was she!? 🙂
Sultanbathery to Kalahatty!
The ride from Sultanbhateri started in cool foggy weather. We got out of Kerala and got into the beautiful tea estates of Tamilnadu. The scenery change is pretty evident as the ride became immensely more beautiful.
I was riding with Aman Tripathi from Mumbai who trained a bit on a similarly steep climb in Matheran but was still very apprehensive of Kalahatty. I told him at 55kgs, he has less to worry about than most of the riders at TFN, especially on Kalahatty where power/weight ratio plays a big role. That seemed to have slightly eased his nerves.
After reaching SS1 at 28k mark, rode a bit with Jamie Anderson talking about his racing season and the racing scene in Belgium. In his off season now he goes and supports his 14 year old son racing cyclo-cross races in winter. He intended to use this TFN as a part of his winter training but is not able to stay for the entire tour as his work commitments clashed. But he wanted to make sure he climbed Kalahatty before leaving.
We made it to the lunch point in Gudalur(50km) pretty early around 10am. But a lot of us decided to eat before attempting the beast. After lunch we had to wait to form groups of 15 riders and be escorted by support vehicles through the forest. The forest officials made the wait longer and it was almost 1pm by the time we reached the start of Kalahatty CS.
Some of the riders have been taken in vehicles through the forest and dropped at the CS start so that they can experience Kalahatty instead of waiting in forest for long. Many riders who had been on the previous TFNs have improved their timings by big margins and it is great to see them all happy at the dinner table. Many riders who have come for the first time got Kalahattied and ended the completely exhausted but immensely satisfied. Some of the riders couldn’t make it to the top this time but I’m sure they will be back to get Kalahattied.
It is rest day today and after the traditional TFN rest day photo shoot, the riders will be busy washing clothes, cleaning their bikes, going chocolate and tea shopping and just chilling in general.
Day 6 is a Ooty local loop with a 5km CS at the end of a 98km lumpy ride. So far the time gaps between the main contenders has been quite close in various categories. We have to see if this 5km climb will widen those gaps or close them.
There are almost 7 doctors on the tour this time. Among them is a couple originally from Chennai and now settled in Delhi for the past 7 years, Dr. Parthasarathy Gopalan and Dr. Shailaja Parthasarathy. Parth was a pathologist in Navy and had been posted in Portblair for a few years. He happened to buy a bike from one of his diving friends, Vandit Kalia(my Spectrum Racing teammate and owner of, DiveIndia). When Vandit signed up for TFN in 2011(also my first TFN), Parth had also registered for TFN but his entry was not accepted. He felt a bit hurt and told himself he was never going to do TFN. But when earlier this year, Shailaja wanted to sign up for TFN, he had no choice but to accompany her. Although he wasn’t able to train at all for the last few months due to travel, he says he is glad that he made it to the start. Shailaja’s fear that she will not be able to climb anything over 10% has reduced a bit after completing more than 3/4ths of Kalahatty. Now that they know what it takes to ride and complete a tour like TFN, they owe to come back better trained next time.
5 thoughts on “TFN 2017 – Sultanbatheri to Ooty! Everyone got Kalahattied!”
I love reading your blog. Such Vivid description makes me feel that I should have been there too… It’s nice to read that my good friend Veera Manikanta is doing very well in TFN.
I’ve not attempted the Kalhatty, looks like a little demon. I have climbed Mount Washington in New Hampshire which is called the toughest climb in the entire Appalachians and certainly in top 10 in mainland USA. Kalhatty is very similar.
Forgive me for getting somewhat pedantic here but comparisons between both climbs tell me the following :
1. Kalhatty is shorter and steeper.
2. Kalhatty’s roads are much smoother. Washington’s roads are what you’d expect of North American road surface with severe weather fluctuations. Due to steepness, certain places are exclusively unpaved so you can lose tire traction.
3. Very comparable altitudes smooth out the effect of oxygen debt both climbs, as you’re
Haha! Thanks for the detailed comparison, Ron! Since I haven’t seen all of the climbs in the world, I’ve always been cautious and said that it is one of the toughest in the world. That conclusion too is arrived at after interviewing all guys from various countries who have climbed Kalahatty as well as other famous climbs in Europe. All of them were of the opinion that this was the toughest they have ridden. Perhaps more of them did the Mount Washington climb.
But, yes we are very fortunate to have one of the toughest climbs very near to where we live. There have been training camps here in the past and I’m sure many will be in future as well. 🙂
Fantastic write up Venky !