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Pune’s ‘Mad Max’ endures to finish Trans-­Siberian ultra cycle race in 379 hrs

2 athletes - one from Nagpur and the other from Pune - may have both cycled into endurance sport history books

pune Updated: Aug 22, 2018 17:47 IST
Ashish Phadnis
Ashish Phadnis
Hindustan Times, Pune
Pune,Endurance event,Trans-Siberian
Nagpur-based Dr Amit Samarth took 379 hours, 51 minutes and 44 seconds to complete the Trans-Siberian extreme ultra-stage bicycle race in Russia recently. (HT PHOTO)

PUNE There are endurance events and then, in the not-so-subtle estimation of Nagpur-based Dr Amit Samarth, there is “the event that not a single endurance event in the world can be compared to”.

Dr Samarth is talking about the 379 hours, 51 minutes and 44 seconds he took to complete the Trans-Siberian extreme ultra-stage bicycle race in Russia.

The words “brutal”, “mental and physical limits” and “conquering a monster”, follow quickly in the Indian endurance athlete’s description of his finishing fourth out of six riders, overall.

Dr Amit Samarth said that Trans-Siberian extreme ultra-stage bicycle race in Russia is the event that not a single endurance event in the world can be compared to. (HT PHOTO)

Two riders, Vladimir Gusev and Patricio Doucet, failed to complete the race. Germany’s Pierre Bischoff, ultra-cycling world champion of 2017 won the race in 315:45:26s.

Speaking to HT from Vladivostok on the phone, Amit went into some detail about a challenge and strategies that call for defying all human endurance.

Riding a cycle for 9,100 km. How does that come to be?

The race is not meant for easy goers. The organisers check your previous performances and only then allow you to participate. In the race, you not only compete against the top riders in the world, but extreme cold and extreme heat, mountains, rolling terrain, strong headwinds and heavy downpours. I was confident after finishing the race across America, but the Trans-Siberian extreme is a monster. It just kills you.

Riding in hilly terrain in continuous rain for 500-600 km is the ultimate torture. During the night, the temperature drops to zero degrees Celsius. When you are drenched and are forced to ride another 500 km in such cold, fighting against the blistering wind, if you are not strong enough mentally, you can’t survive the race.

You were competing against the best in the world and were behind the leaders throughout the race. Was that a strategy to conserve energy for the end?

Partially, yes. My focus was to remain in the race till the end, rather than go all out to get a place on the podium. Right from the beginning, I was going at my own pace. On several stages, other riders would cycle together helping each other. I remained solo and concentrated on my diet, rest and other things.

This was very surprising for the other riders. The route passes through dense jungles and riding during the foggy night was scary. Riding several hundred kilometres without any visible change in the surrounding affects you mentally. The silence, the loneliness, is unbearable; therefore, riders prefer each other’s company.

I was quite comfortable in riding solo. The locals would call me ‘mad max’ and were sure that I was going to die in the race.

Dr Amit Samarth (HT PHOTO)

Were there any moments when you felt like quitting? Especially when Vladimir Gusev, who was race leader at the time, quit?

Actually, it was a classic example of our childhood story of hare and tortoise. Vladimir Gusev is a professional Russian cyclist who participate in the Tour de France. So, he was riding quite fast in the initial stages. However, he couldn’t manage to preserve his energy and quit the race because of continuous problems with his knee. On the other hand, I was much slower then him, but I used my energy well and remained in the race till the end.

How did you overcome the physical and mental fatigue?

For me, the motivation is my family; and then the thousands of fellow Indians who were constantly following me on the race app and social media. I didn’t want to disappoint them. Secondly, there was the possibility of recording your name in history by becoming the first Asian to complete the race. That kept me going through the hell.

I also learnt that our mind is supreme. If you control your mind, your body follows. Most of the time, during such long endurance races, your body is fit, but the mind gets tired and you quit. So, I was thinking only about that stage. I would reset my mind after every stage, try to forget what I did in the previous stage and would take up the next challenge with a fresh mind. It worked very well for me in the end.

Trans-Siberian extreme ultra-stage bicycle race

Riders cover a total of 9,127km from Moscow to Vladivostok in 25 days. The rider crosses five climate zones, seven time zones, the Ural mountains and four of the longest rivers in the world. They pass Lake Baikal and ride along the borders of Kazakhstan, Mongolia and China, covering a total of 79,000 metres of ascent, the equivalent of climbing Mt Everest nine times. The shortest stage of the race is 260 km, while the longest one covers 1,372 km.

Dr Amit Samarth

A medical practitioner by profession, Dr Amit Samarthis post-graduate in public health from Johns Hopkins University, USA. He has completed 12 half ironmans and one full ironman in Australia in 2016. In 2017, he become second Indian cyclist to finish the Race Across America is solo category, behind Srinivas Gokulnath.

Samarth runs an NGO – Pro health foundation - which promotes endurance sports events, supports athletes and marathoners and helps with sponsorships. He also runs a sports club – Miles and Milers - which provides training for long distance endurance events.

Srinivas Gokulnath conquers the race around Austria, solo

Pune-based ultra-cyclist Srinivas Gokulnath is now the first Indian to have finished the race around Austria (RAA), solo, in the city of Sankt Georgen im Attergau on Sunday.

In 2017, Gokulnath became the first Indian to finish the 4,900 km race across America (RAAM), solo, after which he clinched first place in India’s longest endurance cycling event, the ultra spice (1,750 km), in January this year.

Though race around Austria covers a lesser distance (2,200 km) than RAAM (4,000 km), it is considered a tougher race, as cyclists have to ride around nine peaks in the Alps, with approximately, a 98,500 feet elevation gain.

Eighteen top endurance cyclists from all over the world participated in the event, out of which six failed to finish. Gokulnath, who finished in 11th place, took five days, 10 hrs and 9 minutes to etch his name into the Indian record books.

Pune-based ultra-cyclist Srinivas Gokulnath is now the first Indian to have finished the race around Austria (RAA), solo, in the city of Sankt Georgen im Attergau on Sunday. (HT PHOTO)

“It’s more of a mental game than just physical endurance. One has to win the battle of mind over body in ultra-cycling. The conditions are obviously tough in Austria. It’s great to finish such a race,” said the 38-year-old.

In 2017, ‘Team Inspire India’ consisting of Bharat Pannu and Darshan Dubey finished the race in the two-person relay category. They took four days, three hours and 53 minutes to finish and were placed fifth in their category.

Gokulnath’s crew chief was tri-athlete Rutvik Khare, who is also from Pune.

First Published: Aug 22, 2018 17:05 IST