By John Thomas, 18th September 2018
In just over 5 weeks time I’ll be competing in perhaps my most exciting cycling event ever, the Taiwan KOM Challenge. In the weeks to come I’ll write about every aspect of the event including my own preparation, equipment choices, the course, the logistics and the race day itself.
So what is the Taiwan KOM and why am I doing it? I first heard about the event about 3 years ago. I heard talk of a massive climb from sea level to 3275m, an uphill race that was gathering international stature and attracted some top riders in a quest for some late season prize money that was on offer for the winners. My curiosity drove me to find out more. Of course I’d heard of Taiwan but I didn’t know exactly where it was or what it had to offer. As I found out more I became keener for a piece of the action. In October 2017 I watched highlights of Vincenzo Nibali winning the 2017 event with Cadel Evans coming out of retirement to come 10th. The idea of being able to line up with riders like that in a new and exciting place was just too tempting, I was in!
The first Taiwan KOM took place in 2012. A 105km course from the coastal city of Hualien on Taiwan’s eastern shores to the top of Wuling, at 3275m, nestled high on the central spine of the island. The race takes place each autumn and attracts 500-600 riders to the start line. The event is open to anyone who thinks they can manage it although a 6.5 hour cut off time scares many off I’m sure. There are more lenient ‘sportive’ type events up the same climb earlier in the year for those looking to ‘enjoy’ the climb more!
The course starts with a ‘neutralised’, untimed 18km running along the coast north from Hualien. Organisational cars and motorbikes keep the pace regulated at about 35km/h so it will effectively be a 30 minute warm up. At the 18km point the course turns inland and starts to climb. Constantly uphill for the next 87kms with the exception of a short descent about 20kms from the finish. As you can see from the profile the gradients vary hugely and the last 10kms to the finish has some very nasty ramps that will certainly hurt when there are 3 or 4 hours of climbing in the legs already.
A soon as the neutralised 18kms is done riders then enter the Taroko Gorge. If you try Googling Taroko Gorge you’ll get some dramatic claims: deepest gorge in the world, most dangerous road in the world, most beautiful place in Taiwan, 400 workers’ lives lost in constructing the road…….suffice to say it’s a pretty full on place and I can’t wait to ride it!
The top of the course at Wuling is at 3275m and is just one of a whopping 286 mountains in Taiwan that reach over 3000m. Not sure how they calculate but the island claims to have the largest number and density of high mountains in the world. I just hope that I can get to the finish at Wuling on October 26th and be ‘compos mentis’ enough to appreciate the amazing place we will have ridden to.
Racing in the event and enjoying a new place and culture was not an experience that I wanted to go through alone. Sharing the whole thing with someone else would make it even more enjoyable. Oliver Reeves, our second guide for Alpine Cadence was the obvious choice, he didn’t take much arm twisting, he was on board.
In the next part of this blog I’ll explain how I’ve prepared so far for this event and what I’ll be doing in the next few weeks to maximise my chances of doing well.