By John Thomas, 16th October 2018
Just 10 days to go now until the big day and preparations are all going to plan. Last weekend I returned from our Alpine Cadence Giro Sardegna trip, my last big block of riding before Taiwan and what a fabulous block it was! In a big week covering the northern half of Sardinia we racked up nearly a 1000km and a very significant 16500m of climbing.
It was a very enjoyable week as usual with several returning Alpine Cadence riders contributing to the great riding on the island. Doing a trip like Sardinia is always varied. The terrain and the strength of the riders on our trip meant plenty of quality kilometres with some big efforts mixed into most days. Without really trying to manufacture a ‘training week’ it ends up being so in a very natural and enjoyable way. The only real difference compared to the same trip last year was reducing my intake of Ichnusa beer a little, I bought a crate of the stuff to enjoy at home in November instead!
On my return from Sardinia I’ve spent the last week doing shorter rides of 2 hours or so. Saturday was my last big ride before Taiwan. I headed up and over the Col du Petit St Bernard, over into Italy and then went hard up the Colle San Carlo, 10kms @ 10% before heading back over the Petit St Bernard and home. A chunky 135km with 3250m of climbing. That ride into Italy was absolutely stunning. The autumn colours are reaching their peak right now and it really is such a pleasure to be out there. I feel so lucky to have found passion in a sport that is so beautiful. It is a fabulous environment to do the hurt and suffering that is necessary to get better.
I’ll keep riding in most of the next few days before I travel to Taiwan but the volume of riding will come right down. Still a few intense efforts to remind the body of what the top end feels like but shorter rides to make sure I’m not too fatigued before travelling.
I’m not one for having a selection of bikes. I love the idea of N+1 being the ideal number of bikes to own (N being the number of bikes owned already) but in reality I don’t need more bikes. I ride the same bike all summer, in the winter if I get a chance to ride I use an older, scruffier version of the same bike, they are my 2 bikes. When people ask me what bike I ride my answer is usually ‘a black one’. It’s plain and unbranded and I quite like it’s anonymous and mysterious look. I put it together myself, the frameset is from a Chinese manufacturer called Hong Fu, they also trade as Avenger bikes for the Asian market. When I tell people I’m on a Chinese frame there are sometimes some raised eyebrows, I know there are lots of sceptics out there, perhaps rightly so as I suspect there are plenty of poor quality frames and bike equipment made in China. With Hong Fu though I am a very happy customer, 3 frames purchased from them now and can’t fault them. They are light, certainly strong enough for me and my style of riding and their bargain price means I can devote money to a decent groupset and wheels. All in all I’ve created a bike that works for me and doesn’t cost a fortune. I quite like the fact too that it’s unique, all the components I’ve put together make it my black bike.
So, is it good enough for Taiwan? It’s been my trusty steed for many events and I succeeded in my 12 hour climbing World Record on the same bike a couple of years ago so it’s proved that it’s pretty fit for purpose. For Taiwan though I wanted to make sure I’d done all I could to maximise my chances and my confidence so I had a good look at every aspect of the bike and made a few small changes.
Gearing and weight were my priorities. My present gearing of a compact 50 – 34 crankset combined with a 11 – 29 cassette on the back has served me well in every type of ride I do, should I change? Reading some of the reports of people who had done the Taiwan KOM I started to worry. A section of 300m at 27% was advertised on the course profile as well as plenty of other steep ramps towards the end of the event. I went through a period of convincing myself that I’d need a bigger cassette on the back. This was annoying, I would needed a longer caged derailleur to get a 32 on the back and bigger gaps in my bottom end gearing. As I investigated more I found that most of the blogs and reports that had scared me had been written by riders of a lower level level than myself, maybe I’d be ok with what I’d got. GCN presenters Matt Stephens and Simon Richardson rode the Taiwan KOM (great video report here) and they did it on 11 – 28s as did Emma Pooley who has won the ladies event twice and will be there again this year. I’m not suggesting I’m faster than those characters but I’m in the ball park for climbing speed. Listening to them talk about the course being tough but no regrets on gearing helped me. I decided to man up and stick with my 11 – 29. Maybe I’ll curse that decision in the latter stages of the event but I’ll deal with it. I stuck on a nice new chain and a new Chorus cassette (I cannot justify the expense of Campy Super Record cassettes).
Apart from my Chorus cassette the rest of my groupset is Super Record, can’t improve much on that. I’ve used Campagnolo Bora One 35 clincher wheels for the last couple of years, can’t fault them and at 1400g a pair they’ll do just fine for Taiwan.
I started to look at any ways in which I could make the bike lighter without compromising reliability. My bike had weighed in at just over 7kg but with a few relatively inexpensive modifications I’ve managed to get it under 6.8kg. New skewers, lighter inner tubes and new bottle cages were the main contributors to shaving off about 250g. Not much difference perhaps, the maths says that 1kg of weight costs the rider around 1 minute over an hour’s climbing. My 250g was only going to save a few seconds but the psychological advantage felt in it being lighter makes me feel good, another stone that I’ve not left unturned in my efforts for some useful gains. Incidentally, the Taiwan KOM even is not a UCI sanctioned race so there is no minimum bike weight. The UCI limit of 6.8kg would normally render make my bike marginally illegal and I know that many of the rides in the event will be on bikes much closer to 6kgs. My 250g saving has cost less than 100 euros, the money required for me to get my bike from 6.78kgs to 6kgs would be exponentially astronomical, just not worth the gains, I’m happy with what I’ve got.
New tyres, skewers, tubes, bottle cages, cables, chain and cassette…….my black bike is ready.
And on to the event itself, what do I know and what’s the plan? A combination of course profiles, Google Streetview and Nicolas Raybaud’s video of his race in 2016 have given me lots of insight as to what to expect on race day.
The first 18kms of neutralised, flat start along the coast looks quite brisk. I’m used to some painfully slow neutralised starts to some amateur events I do in Europe but this looks like it’ll be a good warm up that only take about 30 minutes. As the race enters the Taroko Gorge the timing starts and the pace will wind up. The next 66km up to the 84km point gains 2400m of altitude, a relatively humble average gradient of less than 4%. At 84kms there a short descent of around 4kms before the real race starts, 15kms to the top with far steeper gradients that seen earlier on the course.
The last section is tough, that’s for sure, but it’s not the bit that concerns me most. That final section will certainly sort everyone out and separate all the fitness levels in the field, the challenge for me though will be to get to that point in the race without having burnt too many matches earlier on. The earlier parts of the course will be fast and the adrenalin and the atmosphere of the event will make it very easy and tempting to hang in there with the top guys. How often do you get a chance to ride and race with the likes of Laurens Ten Dam, Jan Bakelants and Emma Pooley?
The first half of the event is going to be a discipline test for me, knowing when to let people go, knowing when to let the elastic break and not fighting it. Of course it’s a balancing act, on flatter sections of a huge climb like this there’s a huge benefit in draughting stronger riders. It’s crucial however that getting a pull from the strong guys doesn’t turn into a struggle for which the price will be costly later on.
I want to ride strong at the end, I want to be one of the riders who is working my way through the field at the painful end not one of the riders ‘going backwards’ and haemorrhaging time due to excessive efforts earlier on. Ultimately it will all come down to decisions on the day but I’m determined to be realistic and respectful to the better riders and let them have their race. Better I let them go sooner rather than later so that I can dictate my pace. We’ll see! I always have a good plan but it doesn’t always happen! My power meter will hopefully help me to behave myself with my efforts. There’s no question of riding the whole thing ‘to power’ or a fixed number, it’s too irregular a climb for that. The power figures will help though in warning me when I’m going into an unsustainable ‘red zone’ for too long and helping convince me to back off.
So if I let all these top riders head up the road away from me what am I trying to achieve? Well, simply to deliver the best ride I possibly can and be strong at the end. The race has around 80 elite riders and then the rest of the 600 strong field will be categorised by age with me being in the oldest category 50+. I don’t mind admitting I’d love to win that category. It’s a realistic goal looking at previous results and times but it depends so much on who else turns up! Doing well in my category needs to be a by-product of a well paced ride and not a goal in itself. Saying that, if I see a few grey hairs on a rival rider as the event progresses I’ll certainly be watching them more than the young ones!
At the end of this week I’ll fly to Taipei, the big city at the northern end of the island of Taiwan. I’m heading there from Milan with a brief touch down in Hong Kong. I’ll arrive on the Sunday with 24 hours in the city to be a tourist, I can’t wait! I plan to head up the Taipei 101 tower at sunset and just take in the atmosphere of being somewhere so new and different. Oliver is going to meet me there and then we’ll train it down to Hualien on the east coast on Monday.
Hualien is the start town for the event and we’ve decided to get down there early to relax, soak up the atmosphere and hopefully get rid of any jet lag effects before the event on Friday morning. Most of the riders, ourselves included, will be staying in a big, international type hotel that will be the administrative headquarters for the event. It should be quite a buzz with riders arriving each day from all over the world.
I expect we’ll do a few short rides in the 3 full days that we have there leading up to the big day. Just enough to keep the engine revving but nothing big enough to tire us out.
Once I’ve arrived in Taiwan I’ll keep writing about the lead up days to the event, in the meantime here are the links to my previous Taiwan blogs if you’ve missed them:
And for more information on all the cycling experiences that we offer at Alpine Cadence please have a look here: www.alpinecadence.com