Tour of Nilgiris 2018! A Royal Start to A Royal Tour!
Mysuru to Hassan!
After 10 years of starting from Bangalore, Tour of Nilgiris decided it’s time for a change and start the tour from the beautiful city of Mysuru! So, yesterday after pre-tour briefing at Ibis-Novotel in Bellandur, Bangalore, the bikes were loaded into trucks and we loaded ourselves into buses and reached the city of palaces!
The evening was spent unpacking the bikes and getting them ready for the tour. Hotel Rio Meridian basement probably housed the costliest and the coolest collection of bikes in India on the day. Two eyes were not enough and there was a serious danger of the drains overflowing with all the drool we were generating just ogling the bikes the entire evening!
In the morning the ride was flagged off by Dr. Subramanyeswara Rao, Commissioner of Police, Mysuru and Alexi Grewal, first American(of Indian descent) to win an Olympic gold medal in road cycling in 1984 summer Olympics. Alexi rode the tour last year and won it in Veterans category. He returned this year along with his wife Mrs. Kamalmani Manjeet Grewal to be part of the volunteer team!
I love the calm elegant charm of Mysuru. We rode past flower markets, beautiful palaces, palaces that were turned into institutions, play grounds with the morning footballers and cricketers etc., as we exited the city.
I joined K Kiran Kumar Raju(KKR), the current MTB National Champion(XC), who was just back from MTB Kerala that happened on Saturday(He finished 6th overall and 1st Indian there). He made it to Mysuru late Saturday night and was planning to get to Hassan early so that he could have a hearty lunch and catch up on some much needed sleep. I wasn’t in any hurry but I didn’t mind good company as we chatted away on our way to the first support station at 33km mark. From there we joined Naveen John(NJ) and rode to the start of the day’s competitive segment at 55km mark.
Competitive Segment! Get Set.. Wait!!
The line at the start was long and I didn’t fancy waiting in the sun for my turn which could be as much as 30 mins. So, I found a chair and decided to practice staying aero with head low and staying crouched. I don’t know how long I stayed that way but when I woke up, there was no line and no riders left. I was the last rider to start the race.
The day’s competitive segment of 15km was a bit of a challenging rolling course. The winding road with some decent climbing and fast descents had plenty of animal and motorized traffic throw into the mix.
As I hadn’t done any kind of intensity or much riding at all in the last two weeks because of iffy health, I decided to tone down a bit on the warm up and let the first few kilometers be the warm up and take it from there. I picked a number that was able to do on my third 20 min interval from a workout I did 3 weeks ago as a power goal but told myself not to freak out if that felt too difficult. First intense ride for body that’s just recovering from illness can be a bit of a shock to the system could put you back in the bed if you put it under too much stress too early. With 7 more days of hard riding left to deal with, it was time to be a little safe rather than sorry.
The stochastic nature of the course meant you could benefit by going a bit harder than usual on the uphills and try and recover while maintaining decent speed on the downhills. The first 3km was going well but I noticed that the perceived exertion for the power I was putting was disproportionately high. I knew I had to tone it down a bit. A flock of sheep decided to chip in and help my recovery by spreading out to cover the entire road and forcing me to come to a complete stop. I had to un-cleat, let them pass and restart again.
The fight against the inclines and headwind was a bit excruciating physically although I was mentally calm. I was counting down every meter and waiting for this to end. Thankfully, most of the last km was downhill and I was just happy that it came to an end.
The Longest Time Trial of the Day!
Christina May Hudson from Hong Kong’s Wolfpack was in the zone in the competitive segment and missed noticing markings on the road indicating a turn and went on blazing down the wrong road. She apparently noticed that something was amiss when she didn’t find any organizers even after she was way past 15 km mark and found herself in the middle of a town. Thankfully a passerby on a motorbike called the emergency contacts she had on her and reached the TFN organizers. The motor bike crew went out to meet her and got her back on to the route. Her adventure lasted about 90 mins and 35km. Her teammates were eagerly waiting for her at the end of CS long after they were done with their race and were all smiles when she made it back. Although the 1 hour plus detour would typically put her out of contention for GC, it is being reviewed in consultation with other women riders so that she can still be competitive and enjoy the race segments.
The Wolfpack Story:
This happy bunch of really strong cyclists are all close friends from Hong Kong. They all decided to join Tour of Nilgiris as a birthday tour for their friend Sheel Singh Kohli who’s going to turn 50 during the tour. In the honor Shiv’s nick name, The Wolf, they decided to call themselves ‘The Wolfpack’ and got a nice kit made for the tour! They intend to celebrate his birthday all of 8 days by riding hard during the day and partying harder in the evening. What a bunch of mates to have! Happy 50th, Sheel!
After the CS, I and Nils rolled to the lunch stop which was at 82km mark.
The freshly cooked food was rejuvenating and I started rolling, intent on getting to Hassan as soon as I can and hide from the hot sun that was blazing down on us. I caught up with Tanmaya and started riding with him.
Iksha Foundation and TFN Connection: Tanmaya BP
This is his 3rd TFN as a rider and 5th TFN overall including two years as a volunteer. His TFN connection began in 2013 when he first rode the tour and started raising funds for Iksha Foundation, a public charitable trust to focus on Retinoblastoma (eye cancer) to create awareness, to provide aid for its treatment and to support research for cure.
In 2014 he signed up again but had to drop out in the last minute due to a family emergency. He was back in 2015 raising funds and riding the tour again. In 2016 and 2017, he came back as a volunteer instead of as a rider and now back to riding it in 2018. Having been both a volunteer and a rider, he says that it is more difficult being a volunteer than being a rider on the tour. As an example he says, as a rider he was able to go to sleep at 8pm but as a volunteer it is usually only after midnight they get to rest after running around all day ensuring all things are going smoothly for the riders. I completely agree. We riders are a pampered lot at TFN. We hardly need to worry about anything and just focus on riding enjoying the beautiful routes!
The Non-Existent Roads to Hassan!
After riding with Tanmaya for a bit, I moved ahead and caught up with Anand Kapoor, Dr. Rahul Kalia and Sai Pratyush at the last support station and started riding with them to cover the last 20km to Hassan.
After about 5km, we found ourselves searching for road. It all but disappeared. It reminded me of the road conditions in some of the routes during my initial tours in 2011 and 2012. I guess the rains of the monsoon washed away most of the road and everything was in reconstruction mode. It was a bone rattling end to the day but we survived to reach the hotel Southern Star in Hassan and ready to take on a new day tomorrow on the way to Kushalnagara.
In the open category, Nils finished first with NJ 13 seconds behind him. Clinton Ian Leong from Hong Kong finished 3rd, 32 secs behind NJ and 45 secs behind Nils.
In Master’s category, Chris Guns took the top spot followed by Peter Roper just 6 secs behind him. Hemendra Upadhyay finished 3rd 2mins behind Chris and 1min 23 secs ahead of me at 4th! Super job by Hemendra. His performance is a massive jump from last year and it is really heartening to see big leaps being made by riders like him who started riding just a few years back as a way to lose weight. Just shows what can be achieved with structured and focused training.
In Veterans category, Paul Stuart Wright took the win followed by Reid Hamilton at 2nd and Richard Mueller at 3rd.
Women’s category, the win is taken by Katja-Lill Jensen followed by Cora Van Laer at 2nd and Lena Robra at 3rd. The competition is super close with many strong riders in the category this year.
With riders sizing up their main competitors, things will get much more interesting from Day 2 with the competitive segments!
The Road Ahead..!
Tomorrow is 143km ride to Kushalnagara from Hassan with a 11km competitive segment! It is unlikely that anyone could make significant gains tomorrow but it will be interesting to see if things change as many positions are quite close to each other.
Awesome video of day 1 from the content team is posted on TFN YouTube channel here: https://youtu.be/S-93MTdO0A0