It was 10 degrees here in Ooty when riders were getting ready to head out this morning. In front of them was a challenge of 114 kms; a loop around Ooty and Conoor, with crazy winds, cloudy skies and no sign of the sun.
Clearly, apprehension was thick in the air, what with the first 40 odd kms being all downhill. The super narrow roads with steep hair pin bends added to the fear. But this had to be done, riders had to face this challenge. Onwards they went, after being flagged off by the district commissioner and into the wild.
Today, riders headed deeper into the Nilgiris, covering 114 kms over a 1300+ metres climb.
Day 6 has been gruelling. But the riders have faced and completed this challenge. While some did hop on to the sweep van, most pushed themselves with their, ‘I will not quit’ attitude. It was tough, more so because at so many of the stretches, riders had to navigate through human, vehicular, cow and will you believe it – Bison traffic!
But for most of the route, the dense forests, orange lantanas, pink passion flower and Christmas red poinsettias along the route made it a soul healing ride. And the heavenly fragrance of the freshly harvested and soon to be processed tea leaves added to the magic in the air.
Riders mostly flew past support stations, except for a few refills here and a physio session there. But all made sure to spend some leisure time at the famous Chamraj Tea Factory and sample some of their fresh brews. The place looked like we had stepped into a fairy tale. So beautifully landscaped, green and quaint – everyone just wanted to sit back with their cuppa lemon tea or masala chai and soak up some crisp sun.
While pro riders like Naveen John and Kiran Kumar Raju took the descends easy, as soon as the climbs were in sight, you could see them suddenly stand up on their bikes and power those pedals, zooming right past bullet riders on the road!
Not just the pros, the science behind how all TfN riders crack the over 950 kms over 8 days is quite mind boggling. It involves hours of training, great gear, overcoming personal fears and more. But one thing is at its core – having the right form before you start – else you’d just invite injuries. Case in point was Dr.Dhananjey’s observation on tour this year. A rider had asked him for feedback on a nagging pain he had in his hip. He said he’ll sort it out for him and set him off for the day with some stretches.
Normally while driving along, he is chatting away, talking about the route, the scenery and so on. But today, while trailing the riders he was silent and keenly observing them. His vision tracked their every move, scanning right through the jersey, surpassing the muscle structure and right through to the bone joints. He explained to his colleagues how while on the bike, the rider’s gluteus maximus should move like a pendulum from left to right, balanced for the right bike gait so as to avoid injury. And back at the hotel, he managed to fix that nagging pain for the rider in question after that observation. Riders have been super grateful to him and his team at Spectrum Physio for such a keen service to all riders.
Oh and by the way, I just found out that on the rest day yesterday, while you’d think everyone would want to rest, Ganesh and Sheel went out early morning for a run. They ended up doing a loop up and down Kalahatti – the beast that all riders had faced the day before on their bikes! That’s the stuff of legends, the kind of riders we have here at the 11th edition of the Tour of Nilgiris.
Another anecdote of pure grit from the TfN lineage is of a mother and son duo. A genial senior lady has been with us on this tour, consistently staying updated with timings of all riders, checking in with them about how they feel each day and blessing them along the way. She is Padma Upaadhyaya, playing mother to all, and one Hemendra in particular. You can see them fondly catching up with each other at support stations, him bringing her a glass of water at lunch points, her admonishing him for not keeping warm enough in the chilly weather of Ooty; it is adorable.
Hemings as he is fondly called by the TfN family, is a tough one. Padma shared how he was part of the 10th edition of the tour of Nilgiris in 2017 with the strong intention of ticking off Kalahatti from his list of cycling trysts. All was going well until Day 3 when at Sultan Bathery he caught a bad case of food poisoning. He was so weak and in pain that there was no way he had the energy to step out of bed, forget riding up Kalahatti. So he made sure to train like hell for the next 356 days and came back this year. And what a comeback – he came in third as King of Kalahatti! Kudos to the mother and son duo for their love for the tour and each other.