Tour of Nilgiris: The Kalhatti Climb

Each day of the Indian Terrain tour of Nilgiris has something or the other special to offer to the riders. When it comes to testing your mental will and your ability to go beyond your boundaries, day 4 of the tour overshadows all. On day 4 of the tour of Nilgiris, the riders are required to take a shortcut to reach their destination — Ooty. Unlike other shortcuts, this one is completely deceiving for cars, bikes as well as cyclists with years of training and skills.

The battle at The Kalhatti Climb -

The Kalhatti climb also known as Sigur Ghat is spread over a distance of 12 km with an elevation of 1200metres. With an average gradient of 10%, there are also a few segments that go up to 15%. If that’s not enough to convince you, maybe the 36 hairpin loops certainly will. Avoiding the Kalhatti climb was no choice and the rides had to battle it out for the king/queen title.

While the leaders were wishing to get a good timing, there were also a few who were looking to improve their personal best.With riders getting familiar with one another and their abilities, there were also quite a few personal favorites.

Having a good day on any other day of Indian Terrain tour of Nilgiris can seem quite achievable. With Kalhatti things are completely different, that makes it impossible for even the best to have a great day. Copenhagener and two-time winner of the tour of Nilgiris, ‘Nils Eigil Bradtberg’ compared the unforgiving Kalhatti climb to ‘Alpe d Huez’ saying that it beats everything he has tried. He also said that the fight is equal parts psychological and physiological that makes it real. He ends his narrative by saying, Alpe D’Huez is water next to this.

In case if you thought you were at the peak of your form, try Kalhatti. Firstly, it will deceive you with the 9% at the start. You will feel it is possible, but as you pedal further the gradient rises to 13%. While this might still seem doable for few of you, wait until it kisses magic at 20%. The loops get steep and he distance too between the loops increase by a couple of meters making it never ending. Because no kind of training can make you have a good day on this mountain.

As the riders left from the base, Masinagudi to tame Kalhatti, they covered a total distance of 4km to get their first taste of the notorious Ghat. The heat had subsided with just a few rays entering the thickly covered mountain with trees. As our own Abhishek Tarfe sat with the photographers at loop number nine, watching cyclists crawl up one at a time. Some huffed and puffed, some swore, some thought it was stupid and boring while the others pedaled on granny. The cool weather and fresh air filling their lungs seemed to fail to meet their body’s demands, but that didn’t stop them. They pedaled on.

It was a pleasure to watch some of the favorites among the tour riders and volunteers to watch them huff and puff their way. Nils Eigil Bradtberg, Lord Venky, Mumbai’s Preet Singh, young lad and promising star Rajat Shubra Roy of Pune’s Wolfpack were a few were looking forward to. Coated with a shiny layer of sweat they all rolled one by one of the deadly Kalahatti just waiting for you to crack. While the personal favorites marched on, there were plenty of them who walked up certain parts of the ghat.

There were many factors that come into play when it comes to the Kalhatti climb. Your training, experience, patience, will fight is just a few to name. A lighter bike, compact group set would be highly preferred that can make life simpler on the mountain. No matter what the riders had on hand, the task had to be completed and as gave it all, we are certain that everyone had their own story to express.

As we moved higher, we stopped for a special Chai at Support station 3 that was placed at loop number 19. At the mid-point of the climb, we saw many riders whose body and faces showed signs of fatigue, tired and frustrated. Sprinting on such a gradient would be foolish as you would burn out and eventually fall prey to Kalhatti.

With every loop, it was obvious for a number of thoughts to bloom and staying positive were another challenge for them. At some point, walking or running up the climb might have seemed to be sufficient. Riding up this lonely self-struggling battle required you to through away your heart zones, cadence, power meters and just push the pedal. Some even tried riding zig-zag, on the edge as staying on or off the saddle on granny gears was a problematic task.

All you have to do is be patient and push on because this is the day rider’s fight with everything they have got and create their own legacy by conquering Kalhatti. Soon we saw riders drenched in sweat, riders out of breath pushing their bikes all the way up. Some set their foot for a moment to catch a breath until they were strong enough to carry on. Everything was allowed until you do not get swept by the sweep truck, crawling, walking was legal.

In the meanwhile, the race leader and the others had made their way at the top where it’s cooler. The tour organizers along with the volunteers made sure that the life of the riders is as easy as possible. Providing them enough of water, energy drinks, warm wear, and other things ensured that the riders were comfortable at 2300 meters.

Soon we moved to the top and got a taste of the riders who walked or came rolling down towards the final support station that marked the end of Kalhatti. The mix of emotions on the riders face was worth watching as some swore never to try this again. Some just smiled, some relieved, some wouldn’t mind doing it again, but some other day. Many just came and slept and were glad that is was over.

While we stood at the end point watching riders crawl and walk up, the weather underwent a complete transition. Many of them simply lay down for a while trying to get their senses back to normal. The heavy breathing of the riders as their heart rate overshot and the lactate accumulated legs made it even hard to think or walk around.

This might seem to be the end, but unfortunately, there was more on their plate than they could digest. As many of them sat, waiting for the pick-up vehicle to drop them to the hotel, there were a few warriors who left for the hotel. On their way, riders were required to climb another small mountain that seemed to be a bigger challenge after Kalhatti –‘The Doddabetta climb’. The brutal climb is around 9 km long has a gradient similar to Kalhatti that made things impossible for many. It even messed with the riders mind as they were all prepared to spend the rest day as soon as they reached the hotel.

On the overall, a total of 73 riders out of the total 109 completed the Kalhatti making it a record in the history of Tour of Nilgiris so far.

What’s in for the riders tomorrow?

With no competitive segment tomorrow, the tour of Nilgiris participants will to Palakkad. With a breathtaking downhill via Mettupalayam, the riders are promised a joy ride with a spellbound view.

Picture Courtesy: RAY Photography




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