Saturday 16th and Sunday 17th April saw the 11th edition of the annual Tour of East Taiwan which I attended with my own team of four cyclists.
Saturday’s 130 km from Hualien to the finish some 30 km to the north of Taitung was also Stage 2 of the National Cycling Club Series for 2011 (Stage 1 coverage here). A warm morning turned into a hot day. Coupled with a strong headwind, it was a tough ask for many participants who recorded much slower times than in previous years.
Teams from all over Taiwan headed for the Friday evening briefing at the Ya Shi Du Hotel. We made the journey to the East Coast from home base in Taichung via the Central Cross Island Highway, one part of which —the fearsome Iron Butt climb to Wuling—will be the setting for Stage 4 of the National Cycling Club Series in a mere 2 weeks time.
In good weather it is a bit quicker to cross from Taichung to Hualien via this route. The alternative is via Taipei in the north, then down the coast along the now infamous Su Hua highway, the scene of a tragic landslide last year. The typhoon that took out part of the highway also resulted in the cancellation of the inaugural Taiwan Cycling Festival.
The weekend’s events are, in many ways, a condensed version of what you can expect in this year’s Taiwan Cycling Festival, to be held in November. There were three levels of events: 1. Racing. 2. Challenge 3. Fun
The racing involved Saturday’s 13o km road race from Hualien to Taitung along the coast and Sunday’s 175 km race back to Hualien along the inland route.
Saturday’s route is marked in blue and follows the coast. Sunday’s route is marked in red.
This is the profile of Saturday’s stage. Apologies for the images since Taiwan Cyclist Organization has removed the original files from their pages. These are my own hard copies that got a bit wet from Sunday’s rain.
The Challenge rides followed the same routes. On Saturday participants faced a 185 km tour from Hualien down the coast road, through Taitung and on to the finish at Chihpen Hot Springs resort area where the evening presentations for the day’s events were to be held. On Sunday they rode 195 km back into Hualien. For many participants, these challenge rides are a good preparation for the racing events in future years.
Looking down towards Hualien from 3275m into a sea of cloud. The weather forecast for the East Coast is overcast but fine. Sunday looks like it will be pouring down cats and dogs though; and that’s what happened (coverage of Sunday’s race in the next post).
The East peak of Mt. He Huan still has some shards of ice clinging to it from recent cold weather that gave cyclists a hard time a few weeks ago. We’ll be back, maybe as soon as this weekend to train for the May 1st event.
The bikes are looking good against a backdrop of new Spring foliage that is daubing brilliant splashes of color throughout the mountain valleys. Nature provides great color coordination and contrast inspiration. But its subtle hues and tones resist easy capture or simple reproduction.
We’ve stopped for lunch 5 km from the pass on the descent into Hualien. Snowchains cover this beast of a tire for the tractor that keeps the road open when it does get snowed in.
We continue on down the awesomely beautiful route through Taroko National Park into Taroko Gorge. Just at the entrance is some more of Typhoon Megi’s recent handiwork. A humongous landslide took out the road and work has been ongoing to repair it. Once an hour, on the hour, cars are let through as work on the repairs is temporarily halted.
The photo does not do this justice. Monster landslides are a constant hazard in the Typhoon season and you would not want to be anywhere in the mountains during a Typhoon or even in the weeks that follow.
Overhangs like this are part of the mountains’ beauty. But, look out below.
It is as much the foliage above, however, that holds this together for the time being.
We pass by the vertical wall that is guaranteed to come down again. It’s a matter of when, not if. We continue on through the gorge and into Hualien without incident.
In the evening I attend a meeting for team managers. The organizers discuss procedures and emphasize rules. I report our team’s attendance and pick up the allocated numbers and computer chip.
Bottom right are the instructions for placement of the chip on a bike so that departure and arrival can be recorded and times measured to 1/100 second. The four digit numbers illustrated on the left are for the participants in the challenge event
Everywhere is a fever of activity as bikes are unpacked from boxes unloaded from team buses. Cyclists are testing machines in the streets surrounding the venue. It’s a good site with wide roads and minimal traffic. The official start is right out the front.
A little way up the road a complete inventory of legal performance enhancing, or preserving, substances is available on the sidewalk. There’s every type of energy bar and gel you could ever need along with ointments and sprays for tired muscles. The vendor did very well throughout the evening.
The following morning brings cloudless skies and a promise of a warm day. Ahead lies 960m of climbing, all done between the 30 and 40km point. A 15 knot (28km/h) headwind will make things difficult. Although it is a cool SE breeze off the ocean, the temperature will go to 30°C. One of my team’s computers recorded a road temperature of 38°—it got very hot out of the wind.
For most of the divisions the race will be decided on the main bit of climbing. Here’s the profile again. For my RM team members, the KOM point was decisive, indicated by the jersey in the diagram. The climb is short but steep. Pelotons were broken up here as escapes were made by wily teams throwing down the gauntlet by opening up big gaps.
Two of the dozen or so entrants in the RM60 division are on hand and ready to go. We met Wu Ching (left) in Stage 1 at the top of the 20% section of the climb to the finish. Shortly cyclists will depart through the arch to the East for an immediate right turn and 130k to Taitung.
The following morning after seeing the guys to the start, I head off down route 11 towards Taitung. My job is taking photos and providing support, something I managed to do both at the same time! There I was handing over a bidon on one hand and taking video with the left. From 8am the various divisions will begin to depart at 10min or so intervals, beginning with the elite racers.
The elite group is the first to hit the road. Here we see that Lee Rodgers has broken away from the peloton and is setting a sizzling pace. A disciplined and dedicated cyclist, Lee can often be seen on the routes around Taichung where he lives and works. He trains up to 25hrs a week consistently.
The winner of the elite racers Tjarco Cuppens (photo credit) flying for home as he closes in on the finish.
The top place getters: 1. Tjarco Cuppens 2. Zhu Fan-Xin 3. John Tonks. Team Fuji-Cyclingtime.com did very well with Stage 1’s 3rd place getter and Tjarco’s team-mate, Lee Rodgers, claiming 6th spot here. Winning time was 3:37:48.
A good coverage of the elite event here.
Much earlier in the day, the challenge event participants set off on their 185km journey to the Taitung Chihpen area. It truly is a “tour” for these cyclists who can really take in the scenery as they travel down the coast. Several rest stations as well as support from family and friends makes this a fantastic day for everyone.
It strikes me how cycling can be such an all inclusive activity. Even if you don’t cycle yourself, you can get out there and still be a part of it. I’m sure that many converted cyclists are drawn from the ranks of these participating observers. You just can’t help but want to be a part of it.
On both days there were also people coming out of their houses to stand and cheer and call out to the many pelotons that went thundering by across the weekend. They see a lot of bicycle events in this part of the world, especially at this time of the year.
Anyway, the challenge cyclist in the photo, Ke Jun-Ming (柯俊 銘) of the Xuan Zhen Co. Club has just recovered from the elite peloton sweeping by him and can get back to enjoying the day once the accompanying vehicles have passed.
The Hua Tian Jiou Ti (the characters printed on the jersey 花天酒地) Club have been around for a while and even have bikes produced with this graphic design. This is a hard expression to translate but it means, fundamentally, to have lots of fun with minimal seriousness.
A little way up the road, at the end of the major climb for the day, some challenge riders come upon the first support station.
Some of them look like they could easily be a part of the racing event. They are on great bikes and are clearly very comfortable and confident in the saddle.
Bidons are lined up ready for thirsty racers at the first supply point.
The RE 19 division are pushing the pace heading out of the climb in to the descent and then the slightly undulating run into the finish some 100km away.
A dropped bidon from a botched discard. My team reported that they were lucky they did not crash due to careless bidon disposal. Here cyclists can easily avoid it. But in the tightly bunched pelotons it’s very difficult.
It was also a bit disappointing to see energy bar packaging and the like thrown away willy nilly by quite a few. At a supply station it can be cleaned up. But on the most part out on the road, discarded rubbish will stay in the environment.
Revital Colan of Team Columbus who placed 2nd in the RW40 division in a time of 4hrs42 min. (She also came second on Sunday’s longer race).
Coach Chen RM45 found himself tackling the headwind alone having slipped off the back of his peloton. Later he linked up with another team member and working together, and through a number of pelotons, they crossed the finish together.
Some challenge riders such as Wang You-Jun (王祐君)also found themselves in a similar situation. But since time is not such an issue for them they are able to go at their own pace.
Some racers, like Liou Hong-Jian (劉鴻健) RM35 division, who found themselves isolated just put their head down and got on with the job.
Others such as Mu Yuan-Chi (穆圓琪) of “Wool Shirts” Club (羊毛衫俱樂部) get temporarily swallowed up by passing pelotons from the various divisions before they are once left again to carve a way forward into the headwind.
This is basically all the view of the sparkling Pacific that the racers will get to see should they glance across. The challenge riders though have time to stop and check things out in some detail.
I saw this quite a few times, partners giving each other a helping hand. That’s what its all about. Here Hwang Liou Lin (黃劉琳) of Team Huan Shang Club (幻象) on the left is assisted by her team mate Chen Zhi-Hao (陳智豪) who actually represented Taiwan in the Road Bike Cycling at the 1996 Atlanta Olympic Games. Nicknamed the “Wild Hog”, he has participated in the Tour of East Taiwan every year since it began and has witnessed the event grow from an original 200 entrants to 2000.
Here he is in a shot from his racing days.
Coach Chen eventually linked up with Glenn and led the way for one peloton close to the finish.
My other team members had already finished with good times but without getting a place unfortunately.
Mark Modson finishes 8th in the RM50 division. A keen triathlete, he is involved in either cycling or triathlon every weekend. The day’s heat did not cause him too many problems and he went on to do very well again in Sunday’s 175 km run back to Hualien.
It may have been hot, but it was still a great day to be out on the road.
The finish was located 500m off the main route. At the 500m marker, cyclists faced a 10% climb to the finish which really meant that some had to dig very deep. It’s surprising how long 500 meters can feel after having just cycled 129,500 of them!
Mark discusses the RM50 place reversal compared to Stage 1. Glenn placed 5th, Mark 7th four weeks ago. Today it was 17th vs 8th—round 2 to Mark. Bill Farrell of Team Columbus in the background competes in this every year and remarked that he was an hour off his pace from last year, the heat and the headwind being significant factors. Still, tomorrow’s another day.
An speaking of that, Wen-Yen (right), who can’t yet ride for my team as he is committed to another, came in 10th in the RM15 division. On Sunday, though, he abolutely blitzed on his Primavera Festino. More on that and the AMD Tour of East Taiwan Pt. II next post. My, how things were different.