The chilly November mornings shall be challenged again. While you are snuggly wrapped in that cozy quilt, an elite gang of “Cliffhangers” will pierce through the winter air on their hot wheels.
Welcome to the 5th edition of India’s Deccan Cliffhanger, a bicycle event that brings all the cyclists of the country together. Embark on this fitness odyssey and get a chance to qualify for The World's Toughest Bicycle Race – The Race Across America (RAAM)!
Kicking off on November 4th, the Deccan Cliffhanger is an annual cycling event that covers 645-km (400-mile) with a total elevation gain of 6000 Mt in two days. The Ultra Cycling Race sets out from Pune, races over the undulating Sahyadris, climbs the Deccan Plateau and cruises along the Konkan strip. The route takes the cyclists from the Pune city’s rush to Goa’s serene Bogmala Beach.
The high-profile race that culminates in Goa has a qualifying time limit of 32 hours for the riders - in the solo category - to be eligible for RAAM. That said, the Deccan Cliffhanger is not an easy race to dare.
Although the final destination may sound alluring, it is also true that the cycling trail ventures into deep forests of Anshi Tiger reserve and scales high hills of Mahabaleshwar, kick dust on the dry plains of the Satara-Kolhapur section to head into Karnataka and finally reaches Goa. The crew will follow the riders across the route keeping them on track, providing logistical, mechanical and medical support and the much-needed encouragement.
Divya Tate Propelling the Event
The cycling revolution known as the Deccan Cliffhanger was initiated by Divya Tate - India’s first woman to ever qualify for the 1200 km ride “Paris-Brest-Paris” back in 2011. With international cycling accolades tucked under her belt, Divya has been deeply involved with the growth of long-distance riding in India.
The brain behind Inspire India, a sports management company that organizes many sports events including the Deccan Cliffhanger, Tate has been actively involved in the evolution of the Cycling ecosystem in India. What started as an enthusiastic cycling campaign, when registrations were done in small cafes, has taken the shape of a giant ultra-race movement under her wings. Today India has two former Deccan Cliffhanger Qualifiers, Srinivas Gokulnath and Amit Samarth who have successfully finished The Race Across America 2017 solo!
For budding cyclists entering the fray, Divya Tate has a few words of heed. “I tell people to start small; there is no harm in starting with an entry-level bike. It is a good idea to sign up with local groups, who can provide you cycles, set up a route, and provide a support vehicle. The moment you feel confident about doing it on your own, you will automatically gravitate towards it.”
Tate credits the Internet for creating a buzzing communication network around cycling, a factor she reminisces she would have loved to have taken advantage of. “The best thing to engage with is to have fun, it doesn’t have to do with achieving anything. I did not have any goals; I could sustain cycling for so many years only because I really enjoyed what I did!”
The Deccan Cliffhanger 5th Edition Participation
This year, the championship will set the pace for 36 Cyclists in the SOLO race, and 126 riders to race in 36 Teams at the 5th edition on Saturday, November 4th, 2017. Pune which is the hub of Ultra Cycling in India will receive close to 450 people including racers and their crew members. Racers from all over India including Chennai, Mangalore, Chikmagalur, Coimbatore, Bangalore, Mysore, New Delhi, Kolkata, Rourkela, Ahmedabad, Surat, and Dwarka will arrive to compete.
And from all over Maharashtra including Mumbai, Thane, Navi Mumbai, Badlapur, Kalyan, Aurangabad, Sangamner, Kolhapur, Washim, Akole, Satara, Sangli, Nashik, Nagpur and of course many from Pune!
Flashbacks of 2016 Deccan Cliffhanger
Last year, a total of 32 SOLO and 21 team riders rode on with their crew vehicles in tow. 12 of the SOLO participants completed within the RAAM qualification time limit. Of them, 11 successfully managed within Inspire India time limit while one couldn’t finish within the time limit and 7 couldn’t complete the race.
In teams, all but one finished within the time limits of 30 and 31 hours. Team ‘Sweat in Practice, Bleed in Battle’ crossed the finish line first at 04:34 am. The 4-person Pune team ‘Axis’ reached next and stood 2nd in the category. Mumbai’s 3-person team ‘Wurli 545 Lost’ came next and claimed the 1st position in their category. They were followed by 2 member teams – ‘Cymour Relay Spirit’ (1st ) and ‘Yellow Cycle’ (2nd ).
In the SOLO category, Akshay Chougule – the youngest solo participant, finished first in the Men’s 18-49 category clocking 26:49. Mumbai’s Preet Singh came in second followed by Nashik’s Dattatray Chakor. The two-time Ironman Anand Patil, eldest amongst all SOLO riders, reached third overall and first in his category.
This Year’s Special Mentions
There are 4 solo participants in the above 50 age group including Avinash Phadnis from Pune, Anand Patil Ironman and last year’s DC winner in his age group and also the third overall last year. Also, glad to welcome 2 participants from Nasik, Ravinder Singal, IPS officer with a background in various sports and Mohinder Singh Bharaj who at 62 is the oldest Solo participant and has crewed often at Deccan Cliffhanger and at RAAM.
This year, the ultra-cycling tournament has 9 women participants in the teams, including Maithili Jog, who raced 4-person team last year and will be the only woman in 2-person team this year! Is this a gender progression? Race Director Divya Tate, herself an Ultra cyclist is quite elated to see female participation. “Six years ago, there was no ecosystem in place at all. It was all about understanding gear, equipment, nutrition, and training – the very basic stuff,” she says. And now there are women joining in, giving an exponential push to the participation number. Her sister-in-law Medha Jog who has crewed twice before is also racing this year. We would love to see that!
There are three women in different 3-person teams, including Bhavna Mehra from Delhi, Paribhasha Saha and Priti Mhatray from Pune. In the 4-person teams, there are 3 women in different teams, including Medha Jog from Pune, Shikha Gupta from Mumbai and Versha Sasne from Aurangabad. And there are 2 women in the Tandem cycling team, Nupur Pittie and Manasvi Baheti who is visually impaired.
In a first in India... there is one tandem cycling team from Adventures Beyond Barriers (ABBF) which includes 4 pilots and 4 participants who are visually impaired. ABBF is an organization run by Divyanshu Ganatra who is the first visually impaired person in India to paraglide solo. The purpose of the organization is to enable people with disabilities to participate in sports.
Inspire India is also very proud to have Amit Samarth, one of only 2 Indians to finish RAAM solo race at the Deccan Cliffhanger 2017. The youngest solo ride, Shubham Das, 19 years old from Nagpur, who participated in DC 3-person team last year will again make an appearance at the starting line. Shubham who has a permanent injury from an accident and is from a modest background has been supported a tremendously by the cycling community of Nagpur. The Race will also see last year’s winner Akshay Chougale return to race the fifth edition.
In addition to that, Deccan Cliffhanger will also have a string of sports personality gracing the flag of the affair. We have Rutuja Satpute who is the National Champion, having bagged numerous wins at the Indian National meets and has represented India Internationally, Michele Kakade who holds the Guinness book of world records for running 5968 km distance of the Golden Quadrilateral in just over 193 days. And Ila Patil who won the Deccan Cliffhanger last year to become the first Indian woman to qualify for the Race Across America.
All the three sportswomen who are seen motivating the cyclists while figuratively sending the women empowerment message across.
Wrapping up in Goa
After a hard ride of 645 km participants, the race finishes at Bogmalo beach in Goa, a happening holiday spot that has an active cycling and running community. The riders will wind down from the grueling race impacts at John’s Seagull and the awards ceremony would be conducted at a dinner party at the beach. Win or come second, third, fourth…does not matter. Ride for the amazing experience and the self-validation.
The Deccan Cliffhanger is a one of its kind in India that challenges cyclists to a hard trail only to reward them in Goa with good drinks and excellent seafood. And while you laze around that evening on the Bogmalo beach, do not forget to cherish the journey of two days under the misty November sky.