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