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  1. #1
    Join Date
    Mar 2009
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    MTB Himachal 2010 - another epic edition of India's toughest

    Well, it lived up to its billing, the toughest MTB challenge in India,
    that was no hype, I can tell you
    it was rough, tough, hard, just the way we like it, even though we had
    somehow understood it would be shorter and a bit easier than previous
    editions ... well, shorter yes, but perhaps the "easier" was my
    imagination/wishful thinking because some of the new stages were
    definitely steeper and rougher (in both directions, up and down) but it
    was great to discover these new routes, and great to revisit the ones we
    already knew from before - especially of course the flagship "queen
    stage' up the Jalori Pass and the campsite at Kullu Sarahan

    The flagoff from the iconic Shimla Ridge was a great improvement on the
    previous year's start from the Peterhoff hotel grounds - more accessible
    to the general public so more of an occasion, and the first day's stages
    were a bit of a warm up (we needed to warm up! it had been raining the
    day before and was still overcast) for what was to come. (for google earth
    of the first three stages)

    Day 2 briefing Vineet predicted we would be cursing him before the end
    of the day, and in the middle of a seemingly never-ending bike and hike
    up a stony mountain footpath, feet wet after having to cross a stream, I
    didn't hestitate to make his prediction come true, yelling V.... you ...d across the valley .... though I should have conserved my
    energy because the competitiive stage that followed was almost as steep
    as the bike n hike, many riders down pushing their bikes in places (it's
    a lot steeper than it looks in the photos)

    Day 3 took us down the same route as last year, first a blistering 20km
    + downhill on a small winding tar road, then a ride along the highway
    till we crossed a bridge over the river and started the second stage
    with a horrible climb through a quarry, then up a steep and winding
    (again, they wind in those parts) tar road to a bus shelter from which
    we could look down and see the start point we had come from.

    We knew what was in store for us in the afternoon - a third stage of
    relative quiet climb along the side of the valley followed by another
    fast downhill to the bridge over another river in the middle of another
    town - and then the cruel climb up to the fabled campsite at Kullu Sarahan.

    Last year we reached the top only after dark, this year there would be
    less daylight so we started immediately on finishing the stage. The road
    was rumoured to have been improved but turned out to be worse to ride
    on, a lot more loose stones and rocks that had been laid to - eventually
    - improve and widen it, that after the heavy monsoon rains were messed
    up all over the place. Pretty soon I for one was walking, pushing as
    fast as I could, wondering whether to wait for a sweep vehicle but
    realising that I would get colder while doing so, and colder still once
    inside. That turned out to be the right choice - several of the vehicles
    had a lot of difficulty getting up, including the army truck which was
    too big to cross a narrow log bridge. I finally reached the camp at
    7.30pm, thanks to being revived by a dose of energy gel from another
    rider, but those riders didn't reach the camp till 9.00pm (after having
    added an extra log to the bridge, so I was told).

    The next day was declared a rest day - unscheduled, because in order to
    shorten the overall race and make it more accessible to a wider range of
    participants the organisers had reduced the number of days riding and
    removed the rest day, but after such a late arrival, there was no
    option, and anyway Kullu Sarahan is such a beautiful place it is hard to
    imagine riding all the way up there and just packing up and leaving the
    next morning without spending the day there. Riders hiked up to the
    fabled waterfall and beyond to the snow, otherwise it was laundry and
    bike-washing day as usual.

    Day 4 - humdinger of a downhill stage across all those loose stones,
    rocks, mud, streams, log bridge, that we had struggled up, followed by a
    beautiful free ride section ... but now I've left it a bit too late to
    write it all up, memories of each stage flash by on a multi-day event
    like this and start going into a blur of up/down, stage start, stage
    finish, lunch packets, free ride sections, sunset over the snow peaks,
    moonrise over the snowpeaks (that was at Kullu Sarahan), searching for
    campsites, arriving, taking bath as quickly as possible in the evening
    chill, gathering around the camp fire for warmth, and of course the
    renowned ...

    Day 5 Jalori Pass - just remember riding riding riding climbing climbing
    climbing, 27km 1600 metres, last few kilometres gruesome - all the time
    people had been asking me how do you do it (meaning, at your age, 56, by
    the way) and I would reply one word, one secret "attitude" - well in
    those last kilometres I'm sorry to say I lost the "attitude" and ended
    up walking/pushing, somehow couldn't find the "attitude" to get back on
    the bike, it just looked too steep ..... and this was the section I had
    ridden last year! At the top there was still snow on the sides of the
    slope around the temple, looked lovely, more snow in the direction of
    the Kullu valley where we went last year when it was still
    Shimla-Manali, this time we turned round, rode back down a few
    kilometres (couldn't believe how steep it looked on the way down, did we
    really ride/push up that?!) then Vineet had sprung a new route on us, a
    super steep, super stony, mostly those slates they used to build mule
    roads, several steep hairpins - some went flying down, I was very slow
    and careful, by that time I knew I wasn't in the competition any more,
    because the "other" Peter had taken 40 minutes off me on the way up the
    Jalori, easily making up his 24 minute deficit due to the punctures and
    tyre problems he had had earlier, and was one of those who had already
    gone flying past me on his big 29er wheels (though he was kind of
    risking all or nothing,it seemed to me, he could easily have wrecked one
    of his tyres on those stones and I knew he didn't have a spare) - me I
    was just focussing on finishing in one piece!

    Day 6 as if we hadn't done enough climbing the day before (1863 metres
    total on my Garmin) this day we started by going down down down, to well
    below 1000 metres .... but then back up up up again to finally reach the
    campsite at a mini-ski station - over 2000 metres climbing for the day!

    Day 7 last day's ride - since we had missed a day the organisers must
    have had to figure out how to get us back to Shimla, well it started off
    good, down a well-metalled highway, was just beginning to think this is
    going to be a breeze, when the newly-laid surface came to an end and the
    highway dissolved into dust, loose stone, potholes so large there was
    actually no road anymore, more like one of our offroad downhills, but
    with all the traffic, trucks and buses trying to find their way up and
    down, in short a bit of a nightmare
    finally reached the end of the first day's first stage and rode it in
    reverse (not literally), that was a lovely ride to finish up with
    then convoy through traffic back to the Ridge in Shimla, podium, quick
    shower, closing ceremony .... it was great to have a real podium, with
    the public around, and well organised closing ceremony, also on the
    Ridge, well-attended by the general public who did appreciate the
    several informative powerpoint presentations that had been prepared (at
    literally the last minute, so I was told) , I found myself sitting next
    to a nice old Himachali gentleman who was genuinely impressed with all
    our achievements (I think he had just dropped in by chance from his
    evening walk)

    plenty of photos on facebook - I hardly took any myself
    one recommendation to the organisers, as well as photographers have a
    dedicated blogger to write up the day's events every day and post them
    (along with the results!) on the website - that would be more lively
    than my long after the event recollections, and I haven't said anything
    about all the other great riders, the Army team, the Nepal team ... the
    record-breaking ascent of the Jalori by Ajay and Ramesh, Nepal and Army,
    in 1h49 - faster than you can drive it in a vehicle - my mate Andre who
    came back to win the Masters after breaking his hip soon after the race
    last year (guess how? cycling of course)

    PS one quiz question - why did the 100g packets of Amul butter only
    appear at breakfast half way through the race?
    (no prizes for guessing the answer, just the satisfaction on knowing you
    are a real mountainbiker if you get it first time!)

    PS and of course it goes without saying - went
    without me saying it actually - a massive vote of thanks to the
    organisers, and the whole team, marshals, volunteers, drivers, kitchen,
    hot bath crew ..

    they have a great formula, but to keep it up year after year requires a
    huge sustained effort, and they are putting it in, believe me

    sometimes i would reach the top of a climb in the forest and find a
    volunteer shivering beside a little fire trying to keep warm -

    did we suffer? yes, but that's what we came for ...

    did they suffer? yes, but without the excitement we had, and i don't
    know if they knew what they were letting themselves in for

  2. #2
    Join Date
    Apr 2011
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    MTB Himachal 2011 is here now! Prepare yourself for a tougher challenge.

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