Monday, June 08, 2015

Riding like the wind

Arun Kottoor is the first Keralite to complete the 200, 300, 400, 600 and 1000 km cycling rides organised by the 100-year-old Audax Cycling Club of Paris. He will take part in the 1200 km ride from Paris to Brest and back

By Shevlin Sebastian

Photo by Ratheesh Sundaram 

Cyclist Arun Kottoor was feeling tense. He was near a town called Vaniyambadi in Tamil Nadu, but was running late. Arun was doing a 300 km bicycle race from Bangalore, in December, 2013, which had to be completed in 20 hours. But suddenly, two youngsters on a motorbike came up and said, “Stop, stop.”

A panic-stricken Arun said, in broken Tamil, “I don't have time. I have to reach the next checkpoint.”

They insisted. But Arun did not stop. So the boys left.

But after five kilometres Arun saw a human chain, formed by 25 youngsters, across the road. “I was forced to come to a stop,” he says. Then Arun noticed the bike riders and realised that they had set it up.

One of them said, “Sorry Sir, but you have to pose with us for photos.”

So Arun had no option but to stop and get his photographs taken. Nevertheless, despite this hindrance, Arun did complete the race on time.

The Kochi-based Arun, 48, is the first Malayali to complete the 200, 300, 400, 600 and 1000 km cycling rides within a stipulated time. All these races are monitored by the 100-year-old Audax Cycling Club of Paris, which organises amateur cycling races all over the world.

And because he did all these races twice, in successive years, he is now eligible to take part in the prestigious 1200 km race from Paris to Brest and back in August this year. The race takes place once in every four years. More than 6000 cyclists from all over the world will be taking part.

A farmer, Arun is training regularly at his cardamom and rubber estates in Idukki and Palakkad. For his races, Arun uses a Lapierre Sensium road bike, which costs Rs 1 lakh. It has a powerful headlight as well as backlight, as well as 20 gears. And to have a safe journey, Arun wears a reflective jacket.

Before setting out on a race, Arun has to do small calculations. “If 300 kms is to be done in 20 hours, this works out to 15 kms per hour, without a stop,” he says. “Since I have to make stops, to buy drinking water, have meals, or repair a puncture, I need to go at 19 km/hour.”

Of course, night riding is difficult. “When I feel drowsy I stop, close my eyes, and rest for five minutes under a shop awning or a bus shelter,” he says. “Then I start cycling again.”

Not surprisingly, cycling is not easy in India. “In Kerala, there is only one four-lane highway, from Mannuthi to Cherthala,” he says. “Otherwise, it is just two lanes. Many times, buses and trucks are right behind me. However, in states like Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh, there are four lanes. So I ride on the edge of the highway, but the traffic is heavy at all times.”

Then there is the heat to contend with. When he was riding in Vijayawada recently, the daytime temperatures had reached 43 degrees Centigrade. “So, you get dehydrated,” says Arun. “I have glucose and a bottle of water every hour.” And every now and then he will pour water over his helmet. “So, when I start riding again, there is a cooling effect on my face,” he says.

Incidentally, Arun began cycling in 2011 when he suffered a ligament tear while playing badminton. The doctors suggested a less hard-impact sport. “So I opted for cycling,” he says, with a smile. 

(A shorter version was published in Sunday Magazine, The New Indian Express, South India and Delhi) 

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