Race Report from the Aravalli Trailhunters Finale held in Gurgaon. This is an annual MTB XC race in the Aravalli forests being conducted successfully for the last 6 years…
Aravalli Trailhunters Finale
Crash, bam, wham and still happy as a ham. That is the sound and feelings of mountain bikers at the Aravalli Trailhunters finale…
Over the years ATH has built a reputation in north India, of hosting spectacular mountain bike races. Races which have fast riders, technical courses and lots of bananas and beer at the end!
2019 was no different. Yet it was.
It was the first season without ATH’s eminent culprit, Gautam Chima. As everyone who suffers through the rocks and keekar (mesquite) of Aravalli knows, ‘It’s all Chyma’s fault‘!
A team of nutters had filled the void by the exiting GC and had run the season in excellent form. The finale was to be a test for the organisers as much as it was for the racers…
Ready to Race
On the 1st of December with temperatures hovering around 11 degrees, 50 racers congregated at Mahadev Gaushala. Dark enough to black out everyone’s faces and cold enough for everyone’s hands to remain firmly entrenched in their pockets.
Registrations done and nutrition kits handed out to racers and marshals alike, it was time to race. Well almost.
Abhishek Purohit (AP) briefed the racers on the route. One big loop and one small loop for the elite and master category racers, totalling 50 km. While the girls and experience circuit folks would ride two small loops, racking up 30 km.
With Shubho Bagchi, Race Director, ready to race with all the marshals, it was time to give the racers wings to fly!
Aman Puri, from Steadfast Nutrition, and longtime supporter of ATH, got the racers going with the flag.
A Race in Three Parts: Part One
This race was meant to be in 4 parts, with the masters and elite knowing their place. The former trailing the latter.
But the masters hadn’t got the memo and stuck their front wheel continuously into elitist business.
Ashish Sherpa had suffered horrendously in the 2018 edition. Coming from Shimla, the heat of Delhi December was killing. He suffered from dehydration, cramps and eventually bad luck. This year he came fully prepared, a day early to do a recce of the circuit. Jersey pockets stuffed with nutrition and bottles filled with fluids.
Sherpa was the hot favourite for the win and it was everyone else’s job to put a dent in his prospects.
AP had already wrapped up the season championship and could breathe easy, especially with the competition breathing down his neck. Previous season winner Johan Bentinck had flown in from Nepal especially for the finale, and he was in top form and raring to go.
Prateek Thakur, second in the championship, was not in top form for the finale, but that didn’t stop him from having a go at the start and leading the group.
Thomas Busch, from the masters group, knew the course well. With superb technical skills and many miles under his belt, he had a good shot at the podium.
The race started with Sherpa getting the holeshot and taking off like a scalded cat. Hot in pursuit were Thakur, Busch and AP. Bentinck taking it slow at the beginning.
Thakur’s early exuberance came with a penalty, as he soon dropped off the leading group who were setting a scorching pace.
At the steep rocky technical Baladas Downhill, Sherpa upped the pace, with Bentinck close behind. The Damdama climb saw Sherpa break away from the group decisively with his power to weight advantage, never to be seen again by the chasing pack.
AP and Bentinck rode as conjoined twins, while Busch fell into the clutches of Thakur on the steep Damdama climb.
At the end of the big 35 km loop, Sherpa was a whopping 8 minutes ahead of AP and Bentinck. He doubled his lead when he took the chequered flag at the finish line. The Dutch express had kept his powder dry and ramped up the pressure after Fort 2, gapping AP by a minute.
Busch also finished a minute behind Thakur, as Ricky Sharma rounded off the masters podium.
Part Two: Girl Power
Often parents are happy to lose to their kids, just to give them a false sense of winning and satisfaction.
That wasn’t the case at the finale!
The mother-daughter duo of Silke van Schwartzenberg and Sophie were a mere point apart in the season standings. She who took the win at the finale, would take the championship.
There were four other girls in the race, but the focus was entirely on these two.
The course was advantageous for the daughters, as Silke is generally stronger on a longer course in the second half of the race. The small loop was also considerably technical giving the young blood a chance to take greater risks and reel in the older lot.
Out of the 6 girls racing, 5 were German and 4 were from 1 family! Without them this category would look rather empty!
From the start itself the mother-daughter duo were pushing each other. Silke who normally is careful through the technical sections, threw caution to the wind and gunned it over the rocks. Sophie charged with all her might towards her mother, but came up short.
Sophie was behind by 3 minutes at the end of the first loop, which doubled to six minutes at the chequered flag.
It turned out to be a family podium, with Katharina taking 3rd just metres ahead of her youngest sister Julia.
The final two spots were grabbed by Christiane on her E-MTB and Medha.
It was positive to see zero DNFs in the girls category.
Part Three: Experiential Existentialists
The third group of racers were the experience hoarders. They wanted to get a proper taste of the Aravallis without dying of exhaustion on the big loop.
Akash Bhat’s name was pencilled in for the win. He was head and shoulders above the rest. But race day throws up surprises and which is why we race!
Bhat, from Jammu, enjoyed stiff competition from the Chandigarh boys, who were out in big numbers, making their presence felt. The in form ATHers were all racing the big loop, as such, the experience circuit inadvertently became the race for the ‘outsider’s crown’!
Racing is Deflating
Bhat was off to a flyer, accompanying Sherpa all the way to the 6 km mark, where the big and small loop participants veered off in separate directions.
Jai Dogra and Sanjeev Singh Pathania kept him honest as they latched on to his rear wheel for the first loop. Finishing 10 and 15 seconds respectively behind Bhat.
The young Jammu lad buckled down and opened up the power taps to increase that lead in the second loop, till his hopes were dashed as his rear tyre deflated.
He suffered a puncture with one and a half kilometres to go. The competitive spirit in him didn’t give up. Dogra and Pathania both overtook him, yet Bhat ran all the way to the finish line with his bike in tow.
Take a bow young man to your never give up attitude.
There was a sizeable gap to the front trio, as the remaining ‘experience’ boys trickled in. The Jaipur lads kept each other company as they finished one after another.
Three racers DNF’d, but they must take some consolation from the fact that another couple of racers Did Not Start!
Podium at the Aravalli Trailhunters Finale
|1st||Full Circuit||Ashish Sherpa||2:21|
|2nd||Full Circuit||Johan Bentinck||2:36|
|3rd||Full Circuit||Abhishek Purohit||2:37|
|1st||Girls||Silke van Schwartzenberg||1:56|
|2nd||Girls||Sophie van Schwartzenberg||2:02|
|3rd||Girls||Katharina van Schwartzenberg||2:14|
|2nd||Experience||Sanjeev Singh Pathania||1:44|
And Then Some More…
Photos: Ram Yadav/ Aravalli Trailhunters