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Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Fixing the Tour de Taiwan: How To Make A World Class Event

Taiwan Cycle is back and that can only mean another Tour de Taiwan is upon us. David Reid has done us all a big favor by posting an English translation of each stage. Moreover, Michael Turton pretty much sums up the sentiments of everyone in Taiwan with a passing interest in cycling when he recently wrote:

This route is ridiculous in the extreme, as if someone deliberately set out to avoid all the pretty parts of the island and instead sought to send the cyclists through all the flat, polluted, crowded, dull parts of the island.

I couldn't agree more. Taiwan has some world class routes, but the Tour de Taiwan seems to never explore them. It is always a disappointment when the route is revealed and it is a bunch of boring crap that simply reinforces dumb ideas about Taiwan.

The Tour de Taiwan (Why the French "de"?) faces a lot of challenges. Promoters and their political cronies need to look out for their own interests and often steer these events into their pockets. After all, The Tour de France and Giro d'Italia were simply ways of bringing tourists to ski resorts in the off season.

But the Tour de Taiwan also suffers from bad timing.

The international race calendar starts in March with smaller, warm-up races, before the day races of the Ardenne and the Spring Classics with Flanders and Roubaix closing out the day races before the fireworks of the Giro d'Italia and finally capping the season with the Tour de France. Of course, the UCI World Championships and the Vuelta de Espana officially close the season in September. There are some small stage races in the United States that are attracting some top talent in the lead up to the Grand Tours, but these are still just high profile training races that offer sponsors greater exposure in a larger market.

In Taiwan we all know that between July and October the weather is unpredictable. Typhoons can wreck havoc an the best laid plans. The weather usually dries out between April and the first week of June, but by then all the top talent is concentrated on Europe. This leaves November to January as the nicest time to hold a cycling event, but that is considered the off season when riders rest their weary legs and try to recover for another grueling season. Moreover, Taiwan's highest passes are often still covered with slush or ice between December and April.

As it stands, the Tour of Taiwan is a preparation race on the lower end of UCI priorities. It is considered to be way off on the other side of the world from where the action happens and is best left for training in the off season.

Like many people, I feel Taiwan deserves to shine a little brighter in the lore of competitive cycling.

That is why I have designed my own Tour de Taiwan. If I were the race director and I could hold this race under optimal conditions, this is how it might look.

Stage 1: Team Time Trial

The first stage is a TTT from the opening ceremonies in the city center, out to the Highway 2, which hugs Taiwan's scenic North Coast. The route is short and relatively flat for high speeds. The route ends in Jinshan for a short hop over Yangming Shan back to Taipei.

By opening with a TTT, the riders could warm up for the coming stages without risking too much for the GC.

Crowds could form along the route at many locations to cheer for the teams and attract visitors to Danshui and other locations along the coast. Jiufen and Jinguashi are also close by.

Bike route 1432802 - powered by Bikemap

Stage 2: Miaoli Foothills

Stage 2 opens the race up with a little more distance over rolling hills and punchy climbs between the Highway 3 and the Highway 13. This route offers views of the Mingde and Longtan Reservoirs, as well as the rolling Sanyi hills.

The roads are wide and well paved. The mixed topography gives riders an excellent opportunity for a break away that could shake things up. There may be room in there on the Highway 13 for some sprint points.

Miaoli could attract visitors to both Mingde and Sanyi. Taichung could highlight Dongshih.

Bike route 1432804 - powered by Bikemap

Stage 3: Taichung and Central Taiwan

The third stage starts to shake up the riders before the Queen Stage.

It starts in Taichung City at the Municipal Office (Politicians need to wring something out of this) and heads up out of the city through Dakeng and up the Route 129. Stage 3 connects to the Highway 21 over Baimao Shan to Puli and then to Sun Moon Lake and out to Shuili. I would recommend the Route 63 out of Sun Moon Lake, but with so many riders in a competitive ride, it might be too dangerous.

This route contains lots of good climbing and technical descents. Riders can make time on both. There may be both opportunities for sprinting and climbing points to be awarded.

Local governments can use this route to draw crowds to Hsinshe, Puli, Sun Moon Lake and Shuili.

Bike route 1432806 - powered by Bikemap

Stage 4: Wuling Pass (The Queen Stage)

After a rest day, riders launch out of Puli to conquer Wuling at 3275m. The challenge is world class and offers some of the most spectacular views comparable to the Alps or the Pyrenees.

The climb to the top only precludes a dash over Taiping Shan to Yilan and the East Coast.

This stage might break the race open. It is long and tough. Several locations for climbing points.

Crowds could cheer along the route and visit Chingjing scenic areas.

Bike route 1432808 - powered by Bikemap

Stage 5: Hualien to Taidong

After a grueling Stage 4, riders can regroup and recover on the long, flat stretch of roadway between eastern Taiwan's two largest cities.

There is only one climb of any measure in which a brave rider might try to put some time into a rival. A day for the sprinters and TT technicians.

Both Hualien and Taidong governments could attract visitors for the race.

Bike route 1432811 - powered by Bikemap

Stage 6: Hengchun Peninsula

The Hengchun Peninsula is an ideal transition from a recovery day. Riders are faced with a few short climbs and soaring flats through the Manzhou Valley before cruising to a finish at the beaches in Kenting and another rest day. The roads are in pretty good shape with a few sections that may be a little rough, but no worse that some of the hardpack featured in the Giro d' Italia. Ths route might have sprinting points and one spot for climbing points to be awarded.

Kenting would surely find some favorable press. The local governments could also draw visitors to Manzhou's picturesque beauty.

Bike route 1432813 - powered by Bikemap

Stage 7: Alishan

To separate the men from the boys, a stage from Chiayi over Alishan and back might be just enough to determine a winner in a close race. This is a chance to crown the KOM.

Alishan is already on the tourist maps, but the 159甲 is a wonderful road to discover. It may be a little narrow, so traffic control would be a must.

Riders would then head back into Chiayi past the reservoir with a finish in the city.

Bike route 1432815 - powered by Bikemap

Stage 8: Tainan-Kaohsiung ITT

An Individual Time Trial between Tainan and Kaohsiung might be a real bonus. This allows riders to finish in Taiwan's southern metropolis and giving equal weight to Taiwan's northern and southern cities.

Here, some of the sprinters could make up some time against the climbers. If the race is close, the GC can be settled here.

Bike route 1432817 - powered by Bikemap

Kenting Claims Another Cyclist: Japanese Cyclist Killed In Kenting

More sad news is coming out of Kenting, where another foreign cyclist was struck and killed by a truck.

Next Media has the story complete with the gruesome video and tasteless animation.

Apparently, the Japanese cycling tourist was struck while cycling along the coast in Kenting after drifting into the roadway.

A few weeks ago an American cyclist was also struck and killed by a truck in the same area.

The two deaths come just weeks before Taipei Cycle, one of the world's largest cycling trade shows, at a time when Taiwan is trying to showcase the nation's prowess in developing a viable market in cycling tourism.

Blame for these deaths can be placed at the feet of several parties, but riders and drivers need to hit the roads with the knowledge that despite Taiwan's great investment in cycling infrastructure, it is meaningless without an equal investment in educating the public on how motor vehicles, bicycles and pedestrians can safely coexist on Taiwan's roadways.

Until that happens, Taiwan will continue to be an unnecessarily dangerous place to ride.