Tour of Nilgiris – 2018 – Kalahatty – A Challenge Like None Other!

Kalahatty! What a climb! It is so brutal! I just loved it! I will come back next year just for doing this again; with my climbing bike and better gearing! – Clinton Leong!

Sultan Bathery to Ooty!

We rolled out of Sultan Bathery in a slight fog but all our minds were heavily fogged with the thoughts about Kalahatty! The brute of a climb has this tendency to take over the mental space of the riders at TFN like none other and rightly so. But, that mental fog clears out pretty early and is taken over by the idyllic scenes almost immediately after we get out of Sultan Bathery.

It is so beautiful that many of us were stopping to take pictures every few hundred meters of riding.

I would bet that terabytes of digital memory ware used up collectively by all the riders and the photographers on the tour trying to capture the scenic beauty of the region. But, I don’t think it is possible to do justice to it.

The scenic beauty just brightens up the day and puts a smile on the face that is difficult to wipe out.

He Finally Makes It!!

On the ride, I met James Stevenson from Goa who was riding his beautiful orange Open bike. It is James’ first year riding TFN but his association with TFN is almost 3 years old. That’s because it was in 2016 that he first signed up for TFN after hearing from his friends Russell Bell, Richard, and Belinda Mueller how much of a fun the tour was. Unfortunately, he had to miss the tour that year due to a cycling accident that resulted in a couple of broken bones. He signed up again in 2017 but had to miss it again due to a family emergency. This year, finally, he managed to join the tour along with the father-son duo of Richard and Rohan Mueller from Goa. This 68-year-old rides better than most of us half his age and having a time of his life at the tour.

The Boys From The Denver Bicycle Cafe!

This year, 3 riders, Mark Steger, Ashish Chaudhari, and Peter Roper, from Denver Bicycle Cafe, an amateur cycling club from Denver Colorado joined the tour. It was interesting to hear how they came to know about the tour. 3 years ago, Peter joined Ashish, who is from originally from Pune, for a trip to India. After visiting Goa and other tourist destinations, they got on their road bikes and went Strava segment hunting on all major climbs in Pune.

Mahesh Iyer who was a victim of their hunt and lost a ton of KOMs to them, messaged Ashish on Strava wondering who the hell was snatching away all his KOMs. They had fun chatting and became friends online and in person. It was Mahesh who had done TFN by then and recommended that they do it.

Ashish moved to Denver 8 years ago and has been cycling for 7 years. He and Peter are mostly mountain bikers but have been taking part in road cycling for the last couple of seasons. They came here with their cross bikes with 1x set up. Peter is a beast on the bike but I think he didn’t consider Kalahatty when he chose a bike with 46 chainring at the front with a 32 cassette at the back to bring for TFN.

The three musketeers from Denver Bicycle Cafe!

Ultra-Visitor!

On the way to SS1, I suddenly see a familiar face by the roadside. Dipankar Paul, started from Bangalore at 7:30 pm the previous day, rode through the night and reached there to meet us and ride Kalahatty. Knowing the craziness of this Ultra-endurance rider, I wasn’t surprised but everyone else was!

Nikhil was unable to believe his eyes seeing this apparition!

I began to ride with him and reached our lunch spot near Bandipur forest check post. We reached there by 10:30 am but we were not able to move forward as the officials needed time to check the permissions we had. We had lunch and took a nap, spending a good couple of hours before we were ready to move.

Enjoying a leisurely lunch break! PC: TFN Media Crew!

We rode in groups of 10-15 riders with an escort vehicle through the forest, enjoying the scenery. The kickers leading up to Kalahatty always manage to wake every muscle in the body up and the fear of Kalahatty looms back into the minds again.

Group riding through Bandipur tiger reserve! PC: TFN Media Crew!
The calm before the storm of Kalahatty! PC: TFN Media Crew!

Ride, Walk and Crawl – But Get To The Top! Get Kalahattied!!

Once we got to the CS start, we had to wait for sometime before we could start racing. Once they began to let the riders go one by one, the line grew so big that I decided to take a nap. I had no intention of racing on the day as I was in no physical or mental shape to take on the beast on the day. The plan was to survive by riding well within myself and take breaks if I had to in between but complete the climb.

Many riders kept at it and got to the top, stronger than the started! PC: TFN Media Crew!

I did just that. I had to stop 6km into the 16km segment to catch my breath. Dipankar was giving me company. After riding 300 km through the night without much sleep, he was fresher than me and had no problems climbing while chatting away non-stop and encouraging the riders we were passing.

I was really struggling even maintaining my tempo power and had to keep taking short breaks every few kilometers before I start riding again. Every pedal stroke was like bench pressing my way forward inch-by-inch. I made it to the top after an excruciating couple of hours but I made it. It was my personal worst of all my climbs up the beast. But it was great to see the fight other riders were putting up and encouraging them, in turn, helped me keep going.

Each of us was fighting our own battles against the climb to make it to the top. For some, it was a goal to get over the climb without stopping. For some, it was a time target like finishing under 1hr, 2 hrs etc. For some, it was about getting to the top even if they needed to walk or crawl to get to the top. For others, it was time to come back and fight another day. Many riders did their personal bests in the process.

A Day for Personal Bests!

KKR broke his own KOM for the climb section of the CS by almost a minute. The KOM for the climb segment is now at 58:23. He also set a new course record with a smashing time of 1:07:36!

KKR on his way to KOM for the climb and setting a new course record: At the limit and eyeing the next hairpin curve to attack! PC: TFN Media Crew!

NJ did a personal best as well with a 59:07 for the climb. It is amazing how this man gives the skinny climbers a run for their money every single time. He finished second for the CS segment with 1:08:06, just 30 secs behind KKR.

Shiven blew away his personal best by more than a couple of minutes. He rode out of his skin and did a 59:23 exactly 1 min behind KKR for the climb segment. This was his second climb after last year and it shows in how he paced himself. Knowing what to expect can help immensely. For the CS segment, he did 1:08:33, just 27 secs behind NJ. Nils finished 4th on the day 23 secs behind Shiven!

It is mind-blowing how close the battle was between these guys!

Shiven pain writ all over his face as he rode himself into his first sub 1hr Kalahatty climb! PC: TFN Media Crew!

Kris Guns took the honors for Master’s category with 1:11:08 climb segment. Followed by Peter at 1:15:48 and Hemendra 1:22:37! For the CS segment they did 1:20:39, 1:25:48, and 1:33:24 respectively. Super impressive show by all of them, especially considering that this was the first them they were climbing it.

When you do not know what to expect, it is really difficult to pace yourself on a climb like this. Many first-timers were under geared and paid the price. Peter is a good example, despite being a really strong rider, having 46-32 as the smallest gear he can go to didn’t really allow him to get on top of the gearing. He apparently climbed 90% of the time standing up as he couldn’t push such a big gear sitting down. Despite that, he managed to do a 1:15 climb.

Cora, elegantly climbing her way up Kalahatty! PC: TFN Media Crew!

In Women category, Katja blew away the QoM with a 1:26:35 for the CS segment. She is not only leading the GC for the Blue jersey by a big margin, but she also managed to take the Orange jersey of Queen of Kalahatty. Lena finished second with 1:29:39 just 54 secs ahead of Christina who finished 3rd on the CS with 1:30:35! What a super strong show by the ladies!

Christina smashing her way to 3rd place on Kalahatty! PC: TFN Media Crew!

In the veteran’s category, Paul Wright took the Orange jersey with a superb climb segment time of 1:10:14 and overall CS time of 1:20:35. By finishing 4 secs ahead of his teammate in master’s category, Kris Guns, he gets to tease him for the rest of the year. His other teammate, Ried Hamilton took second place by finishing 1:29:46 while Richard Mueller finished 3rd in 1:33:45.

Pain writ all over! NJ Kalahattied! PC: TFN Media Crew!

Kris Guns after riding his way into Orange jersey in master’s category! The expression says it all – Properly Kalahattied! PC: TFN Medial Crew!
Kings and Queen of Kalahatty – TFN 2018! PC: TFN Media Crew!

Here are the timings for Kalahatty segment for various categories!

What’s Ahead?

Riders and Volunteers of class TFN 2018! PC: TFN Media Crew!

It is time to enjoy the rest day before we get ready for a 110km loop around Ooty with a 3.9km climbing CS on Day 6. With it being the final CS, and the timings for GC positions being very close, it will be a very interesting day.

Enjoying the rest day for some meant taking a car ride to the base of Kalahatty and running back up. Ganesh and Sheel did just that. They weren’t joking when they were making plans during our lunch stop. Ashish and Peter took an option closer to the hotel and ran up Doddabetta peak. What a crazy bunch!

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