Sanjay Jagtap looked like the odd man out among all the competitors of the Enduro3 adventure race. While the rest were slugging it out on their fancy, knobby-tyred mountain bikes and guzzling Gatorade and protein shakes, Jagtap was riding up a steep, ghat road near Sinhagad fort on his trusty, decade old Atlas Goldline Super. No gears. No aluminium- alloy frame. No fancy-schmancy.
"The race isn't difficult at all," the 22-year-old lad from Satara district said as he passed us during a particularly hilly stretch of the route. Jagtap and his teammates, Keshav Hajare and Yogita Bhoir were the first runners up in the Amateur Mix category of the race
and had won the title last year.
Not a smooth ride
Although Jagtap made it look easy, the race was anything but a piece of cake. In its eighth edition, the Enduro3 adventure race was tougher than ever this year. The route, which started from Pune city and travelled though the Sahyadri mountains before ending at Panshet, ran through more hilly terrain and kuccha roads than last year.
The open or professional category competitors had to contend with several acid tests of endurance for the two days of the race. These included trekking up thorny terrain to the Sinhagad fort mountaintop, right after a non-stop 80 km bike ride, and carrying their bicycle on their shoulders for a 1 km trek up a hill near the race's finish.
If the race's punishing course didn't get to you, the heat definitely would.
Even so, an impressive number made it to the finish line. "About 65 per cent of the competing teams finished the race this year, which shows how tough the Enduro3 is," said race director Ajinkya Kari.
"Last year, only 50 per cent teams had reached the finish. We are happy with the improved results."
If the finish was about aching muscles and exhaustion, the Enduro3's flag off at the Engineering College grounds in Pune city, was the exact opposite. Testosterone-charged contestants showed off their biking gear and flashed victory signs.
The first leg
Most of the race's action was packed into the first day itself. Cycling constituted about 80 per cent of the adventure race, while trekking, rifle shooting, paddling, rappelling, and river crossing made up the rest. What made it more interesting was the fact that apart from the two other members of their team, there was no one else the participants could rely on to help them reach the elusive finish line.
Armed with some basic food and water supplies, first aid, a bike pump and a tyre mending kit, a compass and route and terrain maps, teams were good to go. Peppered along the route were time control booths manned by the race's organisers, who kept tabs on the time taken by teams to complete each segment.
Cycling to the National Defence Academy campus on Pune's outskirts for the first adventure activity of the race rifle shooting was an easy ride for some. But for those more used to cycling on traffic-ridden city roads, it was an effort to control their bikes on steep country roads.
The stop at the rifle shooting didn't really take too much time. The female member of each team had to fire five rounds on a distant target, guided by Indian Army personnel. That done, the teams were ready to speed off again.
Paddling in peacock bay
Things got a little intense from here on. Every team had to set their bikes aside, paddle in a boat to a specific point in the middle of Peacock Bay, a large lake inside the NDA campus, and return to the shore. The half-hour paddle was easy and unhurried for most teams.
The real competitive spirit kicked in later, with a long cycling stretch (about 80 km) to the base of Sinhagad fort. The teams made the most of every stretch of flat road, because that was where they could pick up speed and gain an edge. While pedalling furiously uphill on a ghat road was sure to tire you out, doing the same downhill was bound to land you in a wayside ditch. On one such ghat road leading to Kondhanpur village, cyclists simply got off their bikes and pushed them up to level land.
Up the sinhagad fort
When the teams finally began arriving one by one to the base of the Sinhagad fort to get ready for the trekking, most thought that the worst was finally over. But there was more in store.
"After the most intensive cycling stretch came the most exhausting trek up to the fort top," said Adinath Naik, 21, whose team was the first runner up in the professional category. "The path was too thorny and very steep."
After making it to the top, they rappelled down 120 feet from the fort's steepest side. The trek down was a hard lesson in orienteering. Thick bushes and shrubs made it difficult to find a
clear path, which meant the usual 40- minute route down took more than an hour to complete.
Across the mutha river
The second leg of the race began in fading daylight and ended in the middle of the night with the crossing of the Mutha River. When things got too tiring, some teams just lay down on the roadside to catch a quick nap or eat a snack. The last segment of the race, early on the
second day, mainly consisted of cycling on dirt roads and trekking up a hill while carrying bicycles.
As teams started trickling in to the Panshet Water Sports Centre after crossing the finish line at about 11 am, they heaved a collective sigh of relief. The small canteen at the centre worked
overtime as the famished crowd hollered their orders -- never mind that they could hardly stay awake till their food arrived, minutes later. They had endured the Enduro.