The cycling Boot Camp in the Nilgiris was all about riding, learning and sharing knowledge
Growing up in Coonoor, T.C. Jacob used to cycle up and down the slopes. Four years ago, he got back on a cycle, to combat a niggling back pain. Now, the planter rides about 18 km every day. “I’d always wanted to resume cycling but was too embarrassed about it. With the first push of the pedal, I fell in love again,” he says.
Jacob, 40, was one of the organisers of the second edition of the cycling Boot Camp, held in the Nilgiris from December 6 to 8. He mapped the area and laid out the routes and destinations. The boot camp, a riding and learning exercise, saw about 60 riders, men and women, turn up for a chance to cycle through the picturesque Nilgiris.
The professional-level event saw the participation of many teams and a few amateurs too. Three coaches, from the U.S. and U.K., were on hand to guide riders on technique and hand out tips.
The boot camp is the concept of cyclist and coach Srinath R. Rajam, director of T.V.Sundaram Iyengar and Sons Ltd and Sundaram Industries Ltd. He wants to encourage more people to cycle and make available to them the best coaching techniques. “India is at least 50 years behind the U.S. and Europe in terms of cycling knowledge, processes, training, nutrition, equipment…,” he rues. He prefers calling the boot camp a “cycling, training and coaching camp” where participants are taught how to cycle better and faster and how to stay fitter. “There’s a lot of riding, and learning.”
Among the riders were Chakravarthy Birur and Arjun Balu from Coimbatore. Jacob, Chakravarthy and Arjun are recent converts to cycling. What drew them back to the pedal? “It’s great to cycle in the hills. And, it’s the second least impact sport after swimming,” says Jacob. He is part of five cycling groups in the country. Chakravarthy got back to cycling after the unused cycle parked in a corner of his house called out to him. These days, he rides a lot, even to his office, 51 km from home! Arjun remembers riding everywhere till he was in Class V or VI. He got back to cycling in October 2010. This is my hobby and I do about 700 to 1,000 km in a good month, he says.
Srinath, a long distance runner, took to cycling after he hurt his knees. “It promotes good health. It builds camaraderie and there’s nothing to beat the feeling of the wind on your face,” he says. He is now promoting the Indian Cycling Power Training Centre in Gandhinagar (Gujarat) and the Nilgiris. Here, people will be trained in professional, power-based cycling.
During the boot camp, the riders were split into groups. They rode from the base of Kalhatty to the top, a distance of 12 km, but with a steep average gradient of nine-and-a-half per cent. Jacob says one rider completed that stretch in just about an hour and two minutes. Next up was Ooty to Geddai via Manjur and back to Ooty via Emerald, a 90-km ride through some of the most scenic spots in the Nilgiris. The professionals managed this before 2 p.m. Jacob says it was a joy watching the riders, because most came with well thought-out strategies and were very efficient. “Even motorcycles could not keep up with them,” he smiles.
Besides the high that cycling gives them, the riders also love meeting with people who share their passion. “I would have never met these lovely people but for cycling,” says Arjun. Chakravarthy says the boot camp is a place where one can just focus on the riding, because everything else is taken care of. “Plus, there’s yoga, the training… it’s like being back in school learning your favourite subject.”
Jacob says the adrenaline rush that cycling provides is hard to match. “Once you start pedalling, you don’t realise what’s happening around you. It’s just you and your vehicle. Everything revolves around the wheel.”
This is probably why after three days of gruelling riding, the cyclists returned home, and were back pedalling. “One must not lose that peak,” says Jacob, sounding delighted after yet another 18-km ride in the tea-scented hills.