The picturesque landscape of Thar desert covered with sand dunes and the Kejri trees provided enough food and shelter to the habitats.
Just as the sun started to rise behind the fog, the highway was hit by cyclists. With the unpredictable climate and the dry headwinds having no mercy on the cyclists, the Desert 500 began. To add to their misery the overloaded cargo trucks rammed their accelerators, and forced the cyclists onto the edge of the roads; holding on to their leash for dear life.
We waited for a 15-minute interval, till all the rides had begun, to take off ourselves in our backup vehicle. Passing lines of ardent cyclists, my index finger went click, click, on the camera. I was piloting for a friend of mine so needed to stay on par with her.
While we zipped men, women, newbies, and kids pedalling hard on their Velo’s, thrusting all their might as they moved simultaneously on the tarmac. Big names like Kailas Patil, Kevin Rekhy were already into their initial stage of the rides for the RAAM qualifier.
A well-organized ride how could anything possibly go wrong?
Food, medical and the sponsorships had made life easier for the whole event to run smoothly.
But what was not in control was the blazing sun that refused to back away and the headwinds that just kept slapping the cyclists in their face. Post lunch the rays got even stronger with the shadow right under our feet.
We resumed our journey as we headed to the turning point as my friend Hitisha Mehta rode her bike. But we had to stop soon as the sun had already started to take a toll on her. She seemed to be soaked up by the sun. So with every stop, we waited for quite awhile till she regained her strength to continue.
Glancing around a bizarre scenario caught our attention. A white car passed by us, with no cyclists riding in the front nor at the back. I stared hard. My heart was racing.
Looking at a nicely placed bicycle inside a car passing us at a speed of not more than 30kmph I almost flipped. Well that was certainly the speed a road biker would maintain. Not too tough or too easy; just a good speed to finish those 500km mark under the given 24 hour time. I tried not to think about it but it just didn’t let go of my mind.
We carried on our journey as she was just fine to ride back. Then suddenly, she pulled up by the side to puke again. We tried to cool her down by spraying cold water on her and wiping her face and neck with ice cold water. We decided to give her a break as she was fuming. As the sun came a bit on our right we continued our journey.
I had my eyes glued to every car passing by. Is it a crew car? Does it have a rider and a bicycle at the back? Nothing seemed to catch my eye.
We stopped again for a short break and that’s when we saw another one. The same scenario. A nice big, white car with a bicycle at the back travelling at 30 – 35km/hour. Why in the name of God people do such a stupid act? Some of them went on to claim themselves as winners.
This certainly could have been controlled, if you trained harder and played smarter.
Meanwhile, quite a few warriors led on this fight and carried on.
It was getting dark as we found a motel at 210 km mark. We decided to have dinner and then ride on into the darkness beneath the moonlight. We were back in the car and Hitisha rode stronger fuelled with energy. Her cadence seemed promising enough as she pedalled stronger just like at the start of the event.
However, saddle soreness had its own way to demotivate and get you off the saddle. Bored, tired exhausted and soaked by the ray of light she refused to carry on. We had no choice but to quit at 242 km mark.
As we headed back, we saw a few cyclists heading towards the finish point. Then, we saw a car on the edge of the road with its parking lights blinking. The bicycle rider was standing out as another man pulled out the bike from the back of the seat for the former to continue his ride. I wish I had a picture or a video to prove this to you but I failed to do so. I do believe there are witnesses out there. I have waited patiently for quite some time hoping someone will bring this up.
The organizers had warned them but that didn’t make a difference to them. What surprises me is that despite knowing that they cheated, they still had the audacity to stand at the podium. But then this feeling seemed to fade away with every passing day.
Can you imagine Desert 500 next year? If you were riding and people cheated and claimed to be winners what would you do?
I am not here to point fingers at anyone the event is insane and the organizers did pull out a good job but we have to accept that shit happens and we need to stop it before it gets worst.
Don’t you think it would have been a different outcome if there was no prize money involved? I think the prize money did play some role.
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COURTESY: Sanaya Dhamodiwala