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Wheelers Take Fourth In Final Delhi Stage

posted 8 Dec 2012, 08:17 by Kevin Monaghan   [ updated 10 Dec 2012, 04:18 ]

(By Shay O'Toole)   
As the saying goes “all good things must come to an end”, well the Tour de India 2012 has been more than good for Team Lakeside Wheelers with all five team members proclaiming it to be an experience of a lifetime. Another familiar saying would be “saving the best till last” well that’s exactly what the Mullingar lads did at the final stage of this prestigious international race.

This last race was staged in the very impressive surroundings of the Buddh International Formula 1 motor racing circuit outside New Delhi. Yesterday, the organizers arranged for all the teams to practice on the track and on arrival it was clear to see that everybody was gobsmacked by the sheer size of this arena. Once kitted out the riders went for several laps to familiarize themselves with the 5.14KM circuit and even the Wheelers mechanic and manager got to try it out. We have already submitted a plan to Dysart Community development committee for upgrading of our club league route!
Johnny Murray awaiting the start at the Buddh F1 circuit

Today, Sunday, we once again had early breakfast as the race was scheduled to commence at 11am. After all the usual preparation we were ready to go and with the heat touching 30 degrees it was always going to be a tough day on this hilly track. After the normal Indian style commotion that seems to be part of everyday life here the flag was dropped and the riders representing 18 different countries set off on the 25 lap race. Wheelers were all set for water and feed zone duty with Mick on the Start/Finish straight and Shay out the course on a slight incline with the soigneurs from Thailand and Germany for company. Johnny Murray led out the first few laps and was looking very comfortable as the rest of the Irish contingent sat in the bunch. Soon the attempts to get advantage started to happen with breaks flying off the front but yet again Wheelers were in the thick of it with Chris Reilly covering everything. 

Laps were being done in an amazing 7 minutes which considering the heat was a credit to our lads. The first break of any significance contained the ever reliable Con Collis of UCD with the chasing bunch being controlled by Astana of Kazackstan and the German continental team, LKT. As the laps ticked by the speed ramped up even more and now the pro guys were beginning to show and very quickly the race up front was between Astana and Germany. The chasing bunch was hammering after this duo and it contained Lakeside man Dan Clifford who was keen to show his sprinting power. However it was soon clear that the two leaders had enough of a lead to keep the chasers at bay and at the line it was Astana who just edged the white mark first with the German showing his disappointment by banging his handlebars in disgust. The sprint for third was now on for Dan but unfortunately an Uzbecistan rider pipped him but fourth in this talented field is a fantastic achievement.

On such a hot day, the effort that the Lakeside lads put in has to be commended and to each of them, both Mick and I say well done. You rode extremely honestly all of this series for Lakeside Wheelers and it was a pleasure to have taken this trip with you. Thankfully, we all finished the three races in one piece which was a big concern for Mick and I in support because, as we saw from the injured UAE rider in Srinagar, the Indian medical services can be slow, to say the least.

Now, with the business end of the trip over, we are packing and preparing for our journey home which starts at 3am tomorrow when we leave the hotel for Delhi airport. Once again we would like to say a huge thank you to everybody back home who assisted us in making this dream trip and also to everybody in Lakeside Wheelers who sent us messages of support. A special word of thanks to Mark and Kevin Monaghan for all their help with the blog and roll on India 2013!
Team Lakeside Wheelers line up along with the rest of the field before the start of the last stage.

Rest Day for Wheelers In India

posted 6 Dec 2012, 11:25 by Kevin Monaghan

(By Shay O'Toole)   
One of the positive outcomes from our meeting with the Kashmiri government officials yesterday was their commitment to provide security and transport to enable all riders to get some training done today. So at 10am we gathered to travel to the original “Hotel” base where the team bikes were stored.

On arriving there we were met with a large crowd outside the gates who had come to oversee the counting of votes in local state elections, and this is the reason why all the extra security and curfews were in place during our time here in Srinagar. 

Having finally gotten satisfactory beds, heat and food we were beginning to settle in somewhat to the local scene, that is until we spoke with the government official charged with organizing everything to do with the Srinagar stage of Tour de India. Would you believe, that this man thought we would ask the cyclists to cycle 100km and then go skiing in the mountains and then cycle back to our base. When we explained to him that this was not going to happen he eventually summoned the military escorts and we got on our way. 

It is important to point out, that over the last few days we had only been drip fed bits of information by the Kashmiri officials but by now we were getting the picture that their whole motive for bringing the Tour de India to this location was to promote it is a tourist destination and they were trying every method possible to get photo opportunities to further this aim. Once all the negotiations were completed we departed Hotel Centaur with full military escorts to ride three laps of the Tuesday race circuit i.e. 80km. Driving out the gates through the crowds of smock wearing bearded men held back by police making barriers out of their long batons resulted in several riders’ heart rates rising to threshold level before they even turned a pedal!

Now, whilst the last paragraph and yesterday’s blog may seem a little bleak, I think it is time to strike a balance and give some more detail about this very troubled part of India. Firstly, the people here could not be more friendly or helpful, every interaction is accompanied with a combination of head tilting and some or all of the following statements: “Good morning sir? “ “How are you sir? “ “Can I help you sir? “ They will always ask “From which country are you from sir? “ Many of them are very familiar with our own political history and today I had a long conversation with a shopkeeper about the recent death of an Indian lady in Galway University Hospital. He wanted to know the feelings of Irish people regarding this incident and had his own views which he voiced extremely well.

The landscape is without doubt very dull with a constant haze/fog hanging around the area where we are based. Normal infrastructure which we take for granted is practically non-existent with open drains and mountains of litter everywhere. Their solution for the latter is to brush it into piles and burn it at the roadside. This also serves to keep them warm as they stand around chatting and doing God knows what else. Stray dogs and cows roam the streets at will and as I mentioned before, there are absolutely no rules of the road. Today the riders had several narrow escapes with vehicles pulling straight out in front of them as they approached junctions, and cars that were held up behind the peloton thought nothing of just driving down the wrong side of the carriageway against oncoming traffic to pass us out. 

I could go on for ever but I hope you get some idea of what life is like for these people and how they go about their daily business. It is also important to say, that notwithstanding all of the above, there are very few services which they do not have as we see signs for mobile phones, photocopying, laminating and cash transfer everywhere while there is also every type of shop but just not in the form we are used to in Ireland. Funnily enough one of the most common names over businesses out here is Shaw!

Well, with the training spin done and dusted the riders were back smiling again as they were beginning to develop separation syndrome from their bikes, so we are now all set for tomorrow’s flight to Delhi and the last leg of Tour de India 2012 which takes place on Sunday. I will send more reports of our progress when we settle in there, until then, khuda hafiz.


Stage 2 - Srinagar

posted 5 Dec 2012, 05:35 by Kevin Monaghan   [ updated 6 Dec 2012, 12:34 ]

(By Shay O'Toole)   
With Mumbai and it’s very “interesting” sights now behind us we departed very early for Srinigar in Kashmir which is in the very north of India and bordered by Pakistan and Nepal.
 
After two very pleasant flights through Delhi we arrived into Srinigar which to our surprise is a military airport and, so, surrounded by armed personnel. Following the usual arrival checks we were lad to a bus for transfer to our “Hotel” but it took ages for a truck to come for our bikes and equipment. As we sat in the airport we began to get a feel for this extremely remote place and it wasn’t good!  When we finally departed we had an armed police/military escort including a soldier on board our bus. The journey to the “Hotel” was interesting to say the least…think of the coverage we are used to from Afghanistan and you have the picture…lots of men dressed in grey, dull smocks and total chaos on the streets. Several gun and stick wielding police lined the streets and we were later to find out that there was a curfew in place also. Anyway, when we arrive to the proposed accommodation we were shocked… it was like a prison or concentration camp or in my opinion it reminded me of those terrible Romanian orphanages. Dark, Baltic cold, filthy, damp and totally unsuitable. We had a one-bar heater in our room and when we complained we were offered hot water bottles? There were pigeons flying in and out at will as the place was practically derelict, corridors and reception areas were dreary and totally unsafe for health and hygiene reasons. I must at this stage state that the Race Director David McQuaid and his assistants were as horrified as all of us as he had researched a completely different property earlier this year but it appears that the Kashmiri Government hijacked this leg of the Tour and this place was a Government Hotel. After some discussions with the German team managers we decided to protest and demanded to be moved or we would not be taking part in the race. We were eventually facilitated and move to Grand Hotel Mumtaz in Srinigar city. Better, but only just as it was still freezing and not hygienically up to scratch.
 
Enough of the bitching and back to the business we came for. We arrived at the start location in a local golf club yesterday morning which was yet again turned into a Government promotion machine with speeches and celebrations. When the race did finally start we were once again sharing a team car with UCD and as the peloton made it’s way along the route it was clear that the riders would have to be alert at all times as the course went through a few villages which were not used to this type of event. Streets were once again lined with stick and gun toting police/army but there was a considerable number of spectators, all videoing the race on modern phones which, when you consider their living conditions was difficult to comprehend. Anyway, the route was similar in lay-out to Mumbai with an up and back type of track along Lake Dal. Unlike the Mumbai race there was no early break with the initial laps being somewhat slow but as it progressed the usual suspects, Thailand, Astana and surprisingly the UAE team dominated the front. Lakeside Wheelers and UCD were holding their own very well in the bunch with Chris Reilly and Ian Richardson making strong attacks but neither stuck. Dan Clifford from Lakeside Wheelers was forced to abandon at an early stage with a case of suspected “Delhi Belly” but no doubt, not helped by the conditions outlined above. 
Johnny Murray in the thick of the action in Stage 2 
From our position in the team car it was again another day of “strange” driving as at one stage the car immediately in front of us hit a chicken [why was it crossing the road ?] and resulted in an explosion of feathers…unreal. Another funny incident was the continuous beeping from the car behind us, which at times bordered on frantic and as we wondered why, this driver pulled alongside and motioned to our driver if he had a cigarette, which was immediately dispatched from our car to his as we traveled dangerously close to each other….unreal. Not exactly the type of Joe Duffy Race Promotions we are used to in Wheelers!
 
With the race coming to a close it was clear that the leading three would not be caught leaving the bunch to fight it out for the remaining places. Once again it was Con Collis who came up trumps taking 9th place overall, with all other Irish riders doing well to finish in the bunch. After the race we transferred very quickly to our hotel for showers and some heat as the weather here is extremely cold but unfortunately neither showers or more importantly, the water needed for same were to be found in the Grand Mumtaz!
 
At this stage we were all getting more and angrier so a meeting with the Kashmiri organizers was convened at which we expressed our disgust at the treatment of all the teams. Outcome…we are once again moved to another hotel, this time with central heating, a decent level of hygiene and we depart for Delhi on Friday from where I will further update you on our last race which is to be staged on the Indian Formula 1 circuit. I am off now to watch the first two stages of Tour de India on TV, Channel Sony 6 if you have it on Sky! Bye for now and in case any of you are making a bee line for the Department of Foreign affairs to have us sprung by the Rangers and airlifted to a secure location…we are safe.

D

 

Stage 1 - Mumbai

posted 4 Dec 2012, 15:23 by Kevin Monaghan   [ updated 6 Dec 2012, 12:13 ]

(By Shay O'Toole)   
Sunday December 2nd saw the Lakeside Wheelers team rise early for a 6am breakfast to prepare for the 1st stage of the 2012 Tour de India in Mumbai. The spirit was very good with riders and team officials all looking forward to a new experience. The organisers had arranged for the peloton and race cavalcade to depart our hotel with a police escort at 7.30am to arrive at the start line at 8am for sign-on and race to commence at 9am.

As we rolled out from hotel Vivanta we turned left along a street which was lined on both sides by shanty compounds and makeshift businesses, this was a very surreal sight considering why we were here and I think it made everybody feel a little uneasy while at the same time, thankful for our environment back home. The locals looking on seemed totally bemused by the spectacle and it would make you wonder what they thought of the whole circus-like atmosphere. The journey itself was once again chaotic with all “normal” road rules completely ignored.

On arrival at the Start/Finish area which was along a promenade but completely shrouded in city smog, the riders were surrounded by locals looking for photos and TV crews doing interviews. We were soon made aware of a change in the route as discussed at the managers meeting the previous evening. This change was due to events organised to commemorate the death of a former Indian Prime Minister. The race itself was guaranteed a traffic lock-down which is usually put in place for a Prime Minister’s visit. We had arranged to share a team car with the UCD manager, Jason O’Callaghan with Mick doing mechanic and Shay operating the Feed Zone along the route......demoted from Manager to Soigneur in one strike of a pen!

At the flag drop the bunch went into overdrive immediately and a UCD rider tested the legs with a good effort off the front. Very soon it was a complete bunch again but with high speed through Mumbai and heading for the Sealink which is a huge bridge joining two sides of Mumbai. The route was out along the bridge to a turning point and back along the bridge again. Total distance of the loop was 5.2 KM to be lapped 23 times which, along with the ride out and back made the race 132KM long. The loop was being completed in 8.5 minutes which considering the 35 degrees heat was pretty impressive. Con Collis of UCD was first Irish rider to make a break which stuck and he rode very powerfully all day at the front with a bunch which varied in size as the race progressed. He was very grateful for Mick’s mechanical role as he punctured very early on but was ably assisted and helped back on. Out front he was in the company of two very strong Thai riders and some of the Astana team who were trying to control matters. The heat was influential from the outset with Shay being kept busy handing out extra bidons of water on every lap. This was a skill which he took some time to master but with some tips from the Thai national team Soigneur it was soon working like clockwork.
Some unusual sights on the day were the neutral service crews who basically rode up and down on 125cc motorbikes [the riders bikes were easily worth more] with wheels tied from their belts and a perfect view into a Mumbai slum as the peloton made the U-Turn. With the loop section of the race coming to a close, Con was still working very hard and at one stage Chris Reilly of Lakeside Wheelers made an attempt to get across but was closed down so he sat up rather than drag more riders across. Another Wheeler, Dan Clifford did manage to get across and by his own admission it was easier than he thought so he was a little despondent as he could have moved earlier but that is a perfect example of the gamble in bike racing.

With two laps to go the feed zone was closed so Shay was driven back to the finish line in the Race Director’s car to catch the final sprint. This section was very technical as the route wound through some Mumbai streets which looked very dodgy from a safety perspective but it was the two foot high speed bumps that stood out most. The sprint was fought out between Thailand, Germany and Astana with the Asian rider taking the prize money from the Kazak and our good friends Germany in third. Team Wheelers and UCD did a fantastic job considering the heat and the totally unusual surroundings but were understandably exhausted at the finish. From here it was straight into damage limitation mode with Mick, Jason and Shay handing out the pre prepared recovery drinks, getting the riders covered up and on their bikes for the ride back to our hotel. Next stop, Srinigar in Kashmir for stage 2 which is in the very north of India and bordering Pakistan and Nepal.

Sunday night after dinner Team Wheelers decided to get cultural and headed out into the packed Mumbai streets for some sightseeing. The five of us left the hotel in a taxi designed for three at most, but at this stage we were getting accustomed to the Indian way of life.....or so we thought. Don’t miss the report from Srinigar! We visited the Taj Palce hotel which was made famous a few years ago by some Indian/Pakistani terrorists who basically took it over and following a dramatic shoot-out with police, this fabulous 5 Star location was left in ruins. It is however back to it’s former glory and looks extremely “posh”. After this we went to a local bar which was a bit touristy but feeling slightly uncomfortable for hygiene reasons we adjourned to our 5 Star Mumbai home for a well earned sleep.
Goodbye for now and I will send more details of “Wheelers gone Global” when we settle in Srinigar.  
The lakeside Wheelers Team in India
The lakeside Wheelers Team in India


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