Tomorrow is race day! We’ve been based in Hualien, the host city for the event for the last 2 days. Some chilled out riding enjoying the local roads and relaxing in our very comfortable hotel. Almost time for action. First let me talk more about the event itself and how it’s evolved into a major bucket list bike event in recent years.
The first edition of the Taiwan KOM Challenge took place in 2012. A 105km race, almost entirely uphill, from sea level near Hualien on Taiwan’s east coast up to the Wuling Pass at 3275m. A race open to anyone, pros and amateurs alike. A climb that takes the rider up the length of the Taroko Gorge, Taiwan’s most visited geographical feature. A spectacular, vertiginous gorge lined with sheer limestone cliffs.
The event has grown in stature and now easily sells out it’s 750 places. The field comprises of current pro cyclists chasing the 500,000 Taiwanese dollars on offer to the leading man and woman. Past winners include Vincenzo Nibali, Emma Pooley and specialist hill climbers like Jon Ebson. This year multiple World Champion Marianne Vos is on the start line with her CCC team as well as male pros from teams Katusha, Astana and EF.
For amateur wannabe’s like myself and the rest of our Alpine Cadence team this is a unique opportunity. No pens or separation at the start. Every one starts together, you stay with the pro riders for as long as you think you are able. That could be a couple of kilometres for some or about 65kms in my case last year when the ‘elastic’ between the top guys and me finally snapped.
The climb itself is varied. The first 18km is neutralised and flat. 35 minutes of riding north along the coast from Hualien. A chance to warm up and contemplate. At Km 18 the course crosses the Taroko Bridge and shortly after the left turn at the end of it the commissaire’s car signals the start of the race proper.
Km 18 – 37 is mainly ‘false flat’, gently up but nothing enough to split stronger riders. From KM 37 to KM 89 the gradients steepen, generally between 4-7%, in this section the peloton will split into it’s different fitness levels. KM 85-90 is a short descent followed by the big finale. The last 15kms is what this race is all about. That final 15kms ascends about 1100m but very unevenly. Plenty of gruesome gradients with lots of ramps in the 15-18% range. The final 1.4km is a sustained 11% and with the thinning air at 3275m will provide a very challenging finish.
The men’s race is usually won in a time of about 3hours 25minutes from the Km 18 point, with the leading ladies about 25 minutes later. For my level it’s almost a 4 hour effort. 4 hours of hard work. With the exception of the short descent there’s no let up. This is a hard thing to train for. When else can you go uphill for 4 hours?
Tomorrow we’ll all line up at 6am, at Chisingtan Beach, just north of Hualien. 20 degrees forecast for the morning and dry conditions.
Our team is well prepared. 3 nights in Hualien have given us a chance to ride locally and enjoy the town. 30kms on Tuesday, 75kms yesterday and another 30kms today will be just enough to keep the engine ticking over whilst staying fresh for our exploits tomorrow.
This afternoon we’ve just attended the pre race presentation in the hotel in which we’re staying. The top riders like Marianne Vos were called up and interviewed on stage and we were treated to a performance of local dancers. I don’t mind admitting that I’m getting nervous now, just like I always do. I couldn’t really be better prepared but I’m anxious and need to be on the bike, then I’ll be fine.
My preparation for this year’s event has been pretty simple, lots of mileage over the summer and turn up skinny in Taiwan! This season with all the trips I’ve guided around Europe I’ve been lucky to accumulate around 14000km of varied riding. Lots of climbing, 275,000m to be precise! The riding required for guiding trips is perfect training, lots of mileage, lots of lower intensity riding with occasional big efforts. As I learn more and more about cycling I realise more than ever that the long easy miles are crucial and really show in a rider’s performance.
I’m as light as I need to be, skinny but healthy. Cutting out most of the beers in the last few weeks and being a bit more careful with how much I eat has done the trick. I’ll be pigging out tomorrow night!
So as I put this blog to bed shortly followed by putting myself there, I really hope we have a fantastic experience tomorrow. We are a great team of riders and I desperately hope that after coming all this way each member of the team is able to convert their potential.
Go team and get the job done!