Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Flèche Hampi

It all started with a discussion with Sreepathi at gymcafe about R5000 medal over snacks, while returning back from lab one fine midnight. The only event (apart from PBP) which was not conducted till then in India to qualify for that medal, is a Flèche and that's when I came to know about it. According to me, a Flèche is a crazy event compared to all other ACP sanctioned brevets (Well, I may not be knowing other similar events).

A short introduction to Flèche (as how it went on and will go on in India, let me not dig the history starting from Flèche Velocio):- 

  • A Flèche is a team ride, where teams belonging to Randonneuring clubs from different places ride 24 hours to meet at a central location which has some significance, (historical or other), and share a breakfast.
  • A team can contain 3 - 5 machines. A tandem bike is considered as a single machine. And for a team to be homologated, minimum 3 machines has to complete the ride together.
  • Team has to ride a minimum of 360 kms in 24 hrs. However, they can propose to ride more also, and for the ride to be homologated, they have to ride minimum 80% of the proposed distance, as long as that 80% is more than 360 km (teams around the world do 500 and above).
  • Unlike in brevets, riders (team) get to choose everything, like, starting place, starting time, route, control points, total distance to be covered, etc., (except end place ;-) )
  • Breaks can be taken like in brevets, but none of them can exceed 2 hours.
  • Team has to ride minimum 25 kms in the last 2 hrs.  

Preride Preparations

After the official announcements, Gokul, Nirmal, Poovaiah, Vijay and I formed the team. Initially we named the team as, 'i-Sciclysts' and later we changed it to 'Team Nock' (Credits to Nirmal and Gokul). And just because I was communicating with organizers on behalf of our team, I became its captain as well :-D

After deciding the distance to propose to be around 450 km, I took the liberty to frame the route. As the teams strive to ride more in 24 hours, first thing considered was to keep the starting point outside the city to avoid time waste due to traffic. After seeing the elevation profiles of all routes possible and knowing about Hyderabad Highway from friends, I got the route like, Hebbal - Penugonda - Anantapur - Gooty - Bellary - Gangawati - Hampi, but the distance approximated to 415 kms only. So, to increase the target, I pushed the route in NH7 till Pyapili and come back to Gooty, and this made our route to be 460 kms. The first mistake I did!

View Larger Map

I thought of recceing the route but had to avoid it due to lack of time, which was the second mistake I did with hindsight.

Poovaiah had to drop the ride because of the late knee pain he picked up after 100 km walking in Oxfam Trailwalker event. We missed him in the ride, but kudos to him, for the walking.

Through the ride... (Photos credits :- Gokul)

I met Gokul and Vijay in IISc, Feb 01 evening, and we rode to Mekhri Circle where Nirmal joined us. We reached Hebbal flyover, which was the starting point, by 1750 hrs. We took photos for the start control proof and had a little 'speech' from the (so called) captain (All that idiot spoke was, "Guys, start"). Team Nock started as the first of all the teams riding, towards capital of Vijayanagara empire, exactly by 1800 hrs.

'Nock'ing the Fleche
'Nock'ing the Fleche
We rode fast out of city and except for traffic signals and a 20 minutes soft drinks and light fixing break, we never stopped. The blistering pace took us to Chikkaballapur control (42.6 km) within 2 hours. I wanted to have all our control points in the bypass to all the cities/towns enroute and have all the food breaks nearby controls to avoid multiple stops, which was the third mistake. So, I insisted not to enter the town and we took the photo showing direction to Chikkaballapur as proof and continued. Without recce, in an unknown highway, we hardly could find any eateries. We rode 8 kms with multiple eatery search stops in 45 mins to finally find a Kamat Upachar. We stopped and feasted with full meals, gulabjamuns and milk.

We resumed back around 2140 hrs, and again started pushing fast. Now Gokul gave us the the rightly needed motivation to ride together and utilize the descents effectively. From here, we started riding in a pace line, mostly pulled by Gokul nd Vijay, almost till the end. After some furious pedalling and a stretch break at a petrol pump, we met the support car of Hampi Express team who started an hour later after us, around 25 kms before Penugonda. After a 'chat', they moved forward saying that they would wait at Penugonda. We continued and reached Penugonda by 0105 hrs and met them again. They helped us taking the control proof pictures in front of a (most probably Buddha) statue.

@ Penugonda Control

We rested 10 minutes after they went into Penugonda to search for a tea shop. Another mistake I did, I insisted to continue in highway and stop at any place we find to eat. We couldn't find any shop or Dhaba. We went crazy at a point after following a bright lamp's light for kms expecting a shop and finally found that light came from a building which was some distance away from the road and not a shop. We stopped in between to down bananas, biscuits and snickers we had. They powered us for another hour, after which we stopped at the first open Dhaba we found at last. There we could get only tea, biscuits and some spicy snacks. Here we took break around 40 minutes and started. We survived till 8 kms to Anantapur mark where we found another tea shop and took another big break of one hour. While everyone were resting in every break, I sincerely spent time eating 3 - 5 pieces of every snacks available in those shops. Well, the demotivation by people around by saying we couldn't find any eateries open before 0700 hrs lead to that. 

After the break, we mangaed to reach Anantapur where we desperately wanted to enter the city for two reasons. Till then all the control proofs were only photos and we wanted some ATM slips as well. But the main reason was, we wanted to feast with proper food items. To add to our luck, we could find ATM but no eateries open. Cursing that, we continued some more distance and at a level when we found speed dropping much, we decided to enter the nearby village.

We rode a km away from our route to find a breakfast shop there. What can we expect at a typical village breakfast in Andhra? Dosas and idlis were damn good, but were accompanied with acrid Chutney and Sambar having 90% chillies and 10% other ingredients, for which we were not used to. We were frightened more by seeing the ratio of raw chillies to onions kept to prepare some other chutney. We finished not so satisfactory breakfast with teardrops pouring out.

We were back in our route a little later and continued towards Gooty. The sun was out and we got tired again soon. We managed to reach Gooty around 0830 hrs, where we again stopped for a break. While our parathas were getting prepared, Nirmal tried to get a power nap and when he woke up, he said, "I got a dream like playing AOE(Age of Empires)". We were confused and later we realized it was because of a turkey gobbling(resembles some sounds in AOE) and wandering there. Through the laughter, we finished our eating break and started around 0900 hrs.

The next 19 kms was literally a ride to hell. Elevation profile showed a 100 m elevation gain in 19 kms, which had to be a cake walk for the randonnuers, I thought. To clearly prove it wrong, the section contained highly rolling road with very strong head winds. We were hopeless when the section would end. Parathas powered us for only 6 kms. We were forced to take break at 9th km. After 10 min, we started crawling at a speed sometimes lower than that of walking in the same conditions. Two hours of such crawling finally left us at Pyapili. With a ride through a sleepless night, and heavy work the previous day almost everyone had, no one was in a mood to continue immediately. We took photos for control proof and went to a nearby school and took a 30 min power nap break.
@ Pyapili

We felt better after the nap and when we were about to start by 1150, I suddenly got a doubt that I had seen a loop around Pyapili in map. The route details I carried confirmed that, whch meant, we had to continue 4 more km towards Hyderabad, to return back. We all cursed the stupid captain who framed the route, and took that challenge as well. After that 4 kms, we were relieved that we would have downhills. To add to the shocks we had, the direction of the wind changed, and most of the parts while returning to Gooty, we faced again headwinds. But descents helped us to reach back Gooty by 0100 hrs.

We thought of having lunch with in 20 minutes, but after downing plates of curd rice and bottles of maaza, we could get back on the saddle only after 45 minutes. Forget riding 460 kms we proposed. A quick calculation showed we had to ride minimum 72 kms within 4 hrs 15 minutes, to just get homologated, in the road whose conditions we don't know. Only thing we know was, we would be climbing a bit. Gokul had again given the right motivation for me as well as the team with a simple sentence, "I don't want to go to tomorrow's Flèche breakfast without qualifying for homologation".

@ Gooty, couldn't nock the arrow due to tiredness

After the initial 10 kms which contained the potholes (where our cyclocomps missed some 6 kms), the road became smooth and even while climbing, we could maintain speed more than 20 kmph. We reached Guntakal by 1500 hrs. Now, we had 50 kms to reach Bellari in 3 hrs (a safe margin with 10+ extra kms which should help easy homologation) and I was relaxed. But, we stopped to gulp icecream and tender coconut. Searching for them and returning back on route took 30 minutes, and again the tension started. 

With smooth roads, the target reduced to 40 kms in 2 hrs 6 min where we took the 22nd hour control photos with a milestone. From here, we had new problems, the road was dug up in some sections for newly laying which tried to slow us. Also, Gokul started to have some breathing problems. Here is where everyone turned to be a monster. Whenever a good stretch of road came, we span like anything at speeds averaging more than 30 kmph, and to add to our surprise, Gokul, just with some halls (or some tablets, I don't remeber exactly) and a sipper full of gatorade water, managed to ride in that blistering pace.
@ 22nd hour control

We reached Bellary by 1750 hours and took ATM slips and photos for the 24th hour control proof and called stumps. Well, our speedometers showed 385 kms around and we were eligible to be homologated(crossed 80 percent of 460 -> 368 kms minimum). We all exchanged congratulations to each other. We were the first team in India to complete a Flèche ride. Well, it was only because we proposed the earliest starting time, but don't care, let us brag.

Finished the Fleche

After the ride... (Photos taken from Bangalore Brevets Page, credits :- Arvind)

We then just went searching how to reach Hampi as that was where we were supposed to reach. 80 more kms to go, people there guided us to take private vans to reach Hospet and ride from there to Hampi which is 12 kms. After loading our rides on the top, we boarded into a travels bus, and reached Hospet by 2115 hrs after disturbed sleep through jumps of speeding bus in bad roads. No one were willing to ride to Hampi and we decided to stay in Hospet for night and attend breakfast the next day without our bikes, as our return journey bus starts from Hospet only. We informed Arvind about our reach and our stay, and were happy to hear that their team, 'Hampi express' (Aditya, Arvind, Sohan, Somaskanda) also completed the ride successfully. After the call, we came to know that our change clothes and luggages we kept in their support car are at Hampi. Again, with the tiredness, no one needed change clothes. We had nice dinner, lemon sodas, and pan. We returned back, and whomsoever wanted a bath, they continued with the process, but I never cared about taking a bath, I fell on bed and was asleep in minutes.

Next day we woke up and took a bus to Hampi. Well, we were four guys in cycling gears but not with our rides, which drew attention of the people around, I guess. We soon reached Hampi, took the boat to the other side of Tungabadra after having awesome 'Kuzhi Paniyaaram'(Don't know its Kannada or english equivalent). After a nice walk of 500 metres, we found Shanthi Guest house and met Arvind, Sohan and Somaskanda. Exchanged wishes and we went to refresh and change in the cottages they reserved. 
Team Nock Relaxing

Nirmal had to reach back Hospet earlier for his train to Pune. So he had an early breakfast and left. While we were relaxing, Cleated Warriors Team (Chiddu, Meera, Rafi, Vinay) also arrived. We had discussions for sometime and then had the 'first Flèche breakfast'. Then we headed to Aqueduct for a group snap and after, the members of the teams who finished their ride previous day, crossed the river to visit some more places. Having to return home by evening, after visiting Krishna temple, Arvind and Sohan returned back to Shanthi Guest House, giving us pointers to the Queen's bath and one more temple. Somaskanda joined us as his and Aditya's retun tickets were coincidentally in the same bus we booked in. All I remeber was, we were active while roaming around Queen's bath, whereas Vijay and I simply fell asleep there inside the temple (next visiting place) comfortably lying down, when Gokul and Somaskanda eagerly went to visit the temple.

Fleche Breakfast

Group snap @ Aqueduct

Cross the river for visiting temples and places

Let us go to Queen's bath, hurry up Guys

Then, returned back to Hospet, had late lunch by 1800 hrs, and a light dinner after checking out our room. Aditya joined us in the bus stand, we reached back Bangalore by morning.

Made new friends in Flèche as for what it is meant, thanks to the organizer, Arvind Ganesh. Would have been more happier had we met Madras Randonneurs and Goa Randonneurs teams also. Nevertheless, a great experience riding with IISc Biking Legends and enjoyed every metre I rode. Learnt more from my team mates. If not for the stupid captain's route, we would have done atleast 420 kms (yeah, we rode only 14+ hours out of 24 hours. Rest all went in breaks). Missed Poovaiah in the ride and Nirmal while roaming around. Well, there will be Flèches around from now, and waiting to ride and conquer Hampi again.

Some Links :-

1. Event FB Page
2. More Pictures
3. Official Results

Update :- (The incident which I forgot to add, which later Gokul reminded)
This happened in the village where we had acrid breakfast. We ordered glasses of milk, tea and coffee (only items which were not acrid). We took them sleepily after breakfast. I thought of having proper power nap and so I quickly gulped milk and closed my eyes. Suddenly sound of glass breaking woke me up and so everyone. Well, Nirmal was trying to drink the glass of milk and he fell asleep quickly with the glass in hand and dropped. And the sound of breaking only woke him up. A nice refreshing laughter we had. A sample of sleeplessness effect on a randonneur after a full night ride.


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