Two Young Racers Power Up The Climb to Tatajia (塔塔加) – Great Winter Cycling in Nantou County (南投縣)

by Sabinna on December 20, 2010

I have a backlog of posting to do on technical issues particularly since the Taipei Cycle 2011 is just around the corner. However, on Sunday a mixed group of riders to whom I gave support took on the Tatajia challenge. It was such a great day that I really have to post on it.

This is a beautiful climb of 2400m of vertical ascent from Shui Li in Nantou County 72km along Route 21 to the destination on a ridge affording views of Taiwan’s highest peak, Yu Shan (玉山, Jade Mountain). (Be sure to check out Andrew Kerslake’s tour of the northern section of this same road at the same time as it happened).

There is also a community challenge event in May each year which sees thousands of cyclists heading up the ridge out of the heat of the lowlands to the cool heights of Tatajia. The link will reveal basic facts and an elevation diagram.

There were two groups of riders in today’s lineup,  including an aspiring professional cyclist, 16 year old Wen-Yen, who rides one of A-Shen’s AL9005 frames with the associated ultra-light alloy wheelset. 11 riders set out although not everyone made it to the top.

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Right on the front setting a very brisk pace was Wen-Yen and 17 year old You-Zheng, the former looking extremely good having warmed up with 200 km session on the flat the day before. You-Zheng had put in a 60km training run with some 1500m of climbing.

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Wen-Yen rides in a team sponsored by one of the world’s biggest, Taiwan-based, wheelmakers. He trains up to 6 days a week. It certainly showed today. After 15km he began to pull away from You-Zheng and was first to the top in time for an early lunch.

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It was a mixed bunch of riders and soon they were spread out over the 20 km that leads into the first serious grades of the climb.

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This is about the place where you climb aboard the first “elevator”. Having cycled down the valley towards Taiwan’s highest mountain, the road begins the relentless, although not particularly steep, 50 km climb out of the river valley to Tatajia at 2600m elevation. The road switches back and forth as the air thins and rapidly cools.

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Setting off at 8.30 am the air temperature was around 16°C necessitating appropriate jersey and light jacket selection. The higher you get though, the bigger the contradiction between the falling air temp and the heat of the sub-tropical sun. In the shade it is icy-cold; but in the sun you’ll get a sun-tan. This hot-cold contrast took a toll on a few riders in today’s group.

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Shiou-Ge sets off again after a quick break as the climb looms ahead of him. Mechanical breakdown saw him retire some 10km into the main ascent.

cycling in taiwan

Wang Ge climbing strongly and confidently into the main climb. He was one to succumb to the hot-cold effect at around 2000m.

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A-Shen is dwarfed by landslide backdrop as he heads into the elevator.

This whole area has been ravaged by recent typhoons. Like so many approaches into the mountains, the roads follow gently ascending river beds before climbing steeply onto the higher slopes. The rivers become murderous, raging torrents when typoons hit. One consequence is frequent landslips.

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A-Shen’s style is all about a steadily maintained high cadence on a 30T small chain ring and 11-27 cassette. A former racer himself he now trains young potential racers, such as Wen-Yen. When he’s not doing that he runs his own company both supplying and developing components. The weekends are given over entirely to cycling.

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She’s headed for her gardens just up the road and has no plans to push this to Tatajia.

cycling in taiwan

Lan Bo (aka Rambo) is a career military man who loves challenging rides. He got back from Hualien at midnight last night and having found out about today’s ride from A-Shen was up bright and early to tackle the mountain. He was the last to the top, but did it in great style indeed.

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Yu Shan East Face

After 4-5 km in the elevator the road climbs along a ridge just to the west of a ridge out of which juts the rocky outcrop of Yu Shan. From here there is 15km of climbing all under the gaze of this majestic peak.

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After some 15 km the road follows the ridge around to the east and the “second elevator”.

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All around are the scars of both recent and ancient landslide damage.

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Not so long ago a monstrous landslide took most of this section of road out. The repaired road is one-car wide and picks its way through the debris.

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Looking up you can feel some confidence that the repair work will hold, for a while at least.

cycling in taiwan

Well, maybe not. At the exit from the elevator, this overhang composite of bits of the mountain and concrete reinforcement left over from previous attempts to hold the mountain back, could fall onto passing cars or cyclists alike at any time.

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And as you exit from this second section of switch backs, landslide debris, and hot-cold flushes, Yu Shan is there to once again keep an eye on you.

cycling in taiwan

Passing onto the east side of the ridge, and the last section to the top at Tatajia, mountain ridges unfold away to the east. Beautiful splashes of color from Maple trees. Winters are short and by February, Cherry Blossoms will be visible as the warmer weather quickly returns.

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Clouds roll in from the coast but the day stays clear up here.

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Sheer drops mark some ridges.

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Along this section of road, rocky faces have been hanging in there for quite some time. You would not want to be around here in torrential downpour though!

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Above the elevator A-Shen has his sights set on the top.

Some 2km below the top and a steaming bowl of noodles, A-Shen climbs briskly through the 2400m mark.

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This is Yu Shan and there are many things you can and can’t do!

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Earlier You-Zheng had to abandon his pursuit of Wen-Yan and call me up. “Sabinna…I’m really hungry…erhm…can you catch me up…..?” You-Zheng tends not to eat that much for breakfast, preferring to take in a whole lot of calories half-way through the last part of a ride. Today, this really caught him out. The Soyjoy bars he munches on during a ride usually carry him through to this part. But not today.

cycling in taiwan

Just up the road at 2400m elevation is a famous icon, the Husband and Wife Trees. These are leftovers from the huge Cypress trees that were once so common throughout the area.

cycling in taiwan

The three early finishers, You-Zheng (left), Wen-Yen (black tracksuit), and A-Shen quickly put away their instant noodles all prepared in advance by Wen-Yen’s mom. A-Shen discusses some finer points of nutrition and climbing technique for the youngsters.

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Wen-Yen’s (inside left) and A-Shen’s bikes. Just the technology for tackling such a climb. Who needs carbon?

cycling in taiwan

Back in Shui Li at Day's End.

Cycling in Taiwan’s greatest infrastructural treasure hidden in plain sight: you are never too far away from energy replacement, and even a toilet (public toilets are not readily available) in most cases, right across the island at the so appropriately named Convenience Shop. It’s like Christmas every day.

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