The Indian Army’s young mountain biker Ramesh Ale had trailed the experienced and well-equipped Kazakhstani, Kiril Kazantsev, for far too many stages. It was the final stage of The Ultimate Uttarakhand Himalayan MTB Challenge 2017, and this time the cyclists were to cover a relatively short 86km from Uttarakashi district’s quaint Chinyalisaur to pretty Mussoorie. Ramesh, who was eight minutes behind Kiril on the Nainital to Pithoragarh first stage, lost to him by a mere three seconds at Karnaprayag. Kiril had cemented his position as overall third in the men’s category, ahead of Ramesh. Now the Indian was having none of it.
Over seven days and six stages, the riders had cycled across several districts of Uttarakhand. The rockier paths had tested their strength, the tarmac their precision. The uphill rides were arduous, while the downhill ones–where they may have touched 70kmph–were exhilarating beyond measure.
The final leg was flagged off at 7.47am. The 57 riders–51 male and six female–quickly split into groups of five or six. Ramesh, Kiril and others such as the overall first position Oscar from Colombia, who was leading the second position Staffan from Sweden by an impressive cumulative 40 minutes, were riding together, ahead of all the other groups.
From Chinyalisaur began a sharp climb. The roads wound across the lush Uttarkashi hills. The wind-rustled oaks and deodars threw dancing shadows on the riders. Soon enough, the first uphill climb had reached its zenith, and from there, they became one with the wind.
There’s something magical about a downhill ride–it’s not just the speed, but also a near-superhuman 2017 control on display. The leading group quickly gained speed, helped by gravity, their weightless vehicles and their own light, lithe bodies. But the action reached its peak at the second
and final downhill ride. Oscar/Staffan and Kiril/Ramesh split into duos, competing with each other. What ensued next was thrilling: the latter two raced neck-to-neck for minutes, until the finish line saw the Indian clinch the third position by just a fifth of a second. He may have still trailed the Kazakhstani by an overall 23 minutes, but today was his day.
Taking in 884km of Uttarakhand’s most scenic vistas and toughest road climbs, the third annual edition of the Uttarakhand MTB Challenge was a celebration of the spirit of mountain biking and competitive sport. Organised by the Uttarakhand Tourism Development Board (UTDB) with technical support from the Cycling Federation of India (CFI), the event attempts to promote Uttarakhand as an adventure and mountain biking destination.
A day before the final stage, we sat at Chinyalisaur’s nutrition point. Here I spoke to some of the riders. Kulveer Yadav is part of Uttar Pradesh’s cycling team. He discovered his talent when he participated in a Republic Day road cycle race, and then went on to compete in state and national races. Mountain biking was the next step. Finishing in the top ten at the Uttarakhand MTB 2015, he finished 28th overall this time. For him, this year’s MTB was a reality check.
Manjeet Singh’s love for cycling began early. A 2005 accident left this son of a farmer crippled. But that didn’t deter him–his resolve helped him regain the ability to walk. He started cycling just two years ago to save money commuting to work, a distance of 70km. But that was enough to prepare him for the Uttarakhand MTB.
We then proceeded with a few of the Army Adventure Wing’s (AAW) riders to the banks of the Bhagirathi. The river and the mountains
around it were fairly dry. It made for perfect mountain biking terrain, and the young riders were only too glad to show us a few moves. Like Ramesh, all of them had performed incredibly well in the race. In fact, the AAW occupied all positions between overall fourth and 13th, while its other riders were not far behind either. Their rigorous training, most of it involving triathlons, and their discipline allowed them to give tough competition to the foreign riders.
The event was a gruelling challenge, replete with varied terrain and obstacles that tested the sporting spirit. Most participants vowed to return, to challenge these beautiful hills–and their own selves–again next year.
The event saw 37 Indian and 20 international participants battle it out over 884km of Uttarakhand’s hill roads, starting from Nainital and concluding at Mussoorie. The event will be held next April 8—16, 2018 (mtbuttarakhand.co.in). Online registration is at cyclingfederationofindia.org.