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.