Day 4 saw all riders doing the chicken walk, as they gingerly entered the breakfast hall. Saddle sores,
cleated shoes, aching calves and quads were the talk of the town. After all, they have now covered
close to 500 kms and have another 400 to go. But to see them gingerly trying to sit on the couch to
savour the fresh iddiappams for breakfast was quite a funny sight.
Post a hearty meal, tour director Satish briefed riders about the day ahead, especially the most
important competitive section of the tour – on everyone’s mind was today’s climb up Kalahatti.
Kalahatti – The Wall as it is gently known, is the toughest climb of the tour. It is a 12km stretch with
36 hair pin bends just a few kilometres before reaching Ooty. Climbing up the route on a four-
wheeler itself is a challenge, but our riders were all set, nervous energies and all, to head out there
and face the challenge.
Before facing the beast, riders celebrated the winners of yesterday’s competitive section jersey
winners. From the womens and mens open categories, Katja-Lill Jensen and Nils Eigil Bradtberg
scored the winning jerseys yet again, while Kris Guns and Paul Stuart Wright bagged the jersey in the
Mens Masters and Mens Veterans category.
With that, the riders were flagged off, this time by Padma, who is one of the parents accompanying
her son Hemendra, fondly called Hemings by his team mates. As they rode out of the town of Sultan
Bathery in Wayanad Kerala and towards Ooty in the neighbouring state of Kerala, hey passed
through some beautiful bamboo forests before reaching support station 1. A quick stop to refuel, get
a little stretch or cold pack from team Spectrum Physio and then onwards to SS2, which was also the
lunch stop for the day.
From bamboo grooves to coffee plantations, the undulating landscape of the route gently
transitioned into a wide expanse of tea estates; the most visual sign that we had left the state of
Kerala and were being welcomed into Tamil Nadu. After a short, congested stretch passing through
the local town, we reached SS2 at 10.30am. Lunch was ready so everyone just decided to dig right in.
And what a lavish one it was! From a mixed fruit and veggie salad options in the starters, to a mixed
veggie gravy and soya bean curry along with the usual suspects of juice, rasam, chaas, rice and rotis.
It could be said that this was the feast before the torture ahead!
Lunch was set in a beautifully designed home, in the midst of a coffee plantation, surrounded by
nasturtiums and marigold blossoms. The property belonged to a friend of the TFN family and riders
were welcomed by Mr. Ramdas, one of the founders of Vidyodaya. Vidyodaya is an NGO that
supports tribal children and their education and the charity riders Parag Chedda and Rahul Kaliya
were thrilled to visit a school in the vicinity. The children interacted with them and also presented
them with little hand-made gifts and cards.
Riders and volunteers had almost an hour of rest at the beautiful property till it was time to head out
for the next leg of the tour. They could choose to ride till the CS start point or be ferried till there,
there would be no penalty to their overall time. A relief that was, as most wanted to save their legs
for the challenge ahead.
It is vital to tell you about the epic work that the marking team of volunteers has been doing. While
they are up and about, marking the entire route from 3am, today was their best yet. The entire
route was marked with the funniest quotes and sketches, directing and egging the riders on.
And we got to see the best of their artistic skills at the CS start point with the Tour of Nilgiris logo
painted out on the road in vibrant shades of blue and green. The riders sure needed something that
grand to kick-start all the saved-up energy to fire those pedals.
The riders got to the CS start point by around 1.15 pm and were to wait till the official rolling start
for 20 minutes or so. The natural tendency would be to rest and relax, you would think. But instead
of doing that, the reigning MTB India champion Kiran Kumar Raju set off for a 20-minute warm-up sprint – while
the other riders looked on in sheer admiration.
90% mental, 10% legs – that was the mantra for the 36 hair pin bends that the riders had ahead of
them. One pedal at a time, getting off the bike and running, walking with it – anything to get to the
finish. From pro riders who completed the course in under 60 minutes to amateurs who were still
pedalling up the course even after the sun had called it a day – the fighter in everyone was alive.
The volunteers made sure to be there for the riders at support station, refilling bottles with Enerzal,
Aquarius, bananas and chikkis. But more than that, their unconditional service just gave the riders a
shot of energy – helping them believe they could do it.
And as the countdown of the hair pin bends went from 36 to 24 to 10 to 1, you could see the
overwhelming emotion on each rider’s face, the pain, the joy, pure relief that it was finally done –
they were Kalahattied!