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Sunday, September 25, 2011

環化賽: Tour of Changhua 2011: A New Hope

Edison and our tired bikes

As I stood in the early dim morning light standing somewhere in the mass of 5000 riders and every type of bicycle imaginable, I only had one thought that bubbled to the top of a million other pre-race tangents and meditations... I really needed to go to the bathroom.

Maybe it was that ancient fight or flight response taking over as our early hominid ancestors might have cleared the bowels to escape predation... but moments before the starting gun went off my body was trying to send me a message. It was too late. I had already taken a couple of severe pre-race pees, but now I was going to be in trouble bouncing along country roads balanced on the tiniest of seats trying to hold myself together. And that is how I started this year's Tour of Changhua.

Suiting up

Last year's race was an absolute disaster for me. I was quite used to sustaining speed over distance, but in the wake of a family tragedy that brought me to Seattle for two weeks, where the damp marine air invited a severe bout of asthma, I returned to Taiwan an absolute wreck.

The doctor put me on an attack of pills that resulted in insomnia and dehydration. The medication wrecked havoc on my body. I attempted to race anyway and found myself on the side of the road in absolute pain as cramps ripped through both legs. I finished way back with the mountain bikers in 4hrs 47minutes. It was such a depressing result that I vowed to be in much better shape for the 2012 version.

Race Ready?

Although I have been fighting a knee issue, I felt more than ready to tackle this race again. This time I had my fitness up, a new bike that is optimized for my riding, my nutrition and hydration calculated in advance--and moreover I had a plan.

My Support Team

The T-Mosaic team gathered at 4:00am at the shop, where we would make a convoy down to Changhua. My wife, Joyce, volunteered to join the activity in the support car to take pictures and cheer riders onward. I wouldn't be surprised if our baby's first words out of the womb are "Jia you!" (Keep going in Taiwanese Mandarin).
T-Mosaic Pep Talk

Rocky from T-Mosaic addressed the team with some words of encouragement and a few tactical suggestions before we ambled over to the starting gate to await the inevitable.

The Field

I'm sorry, but 5000 people pushing up against the starting gate is just insane. The first thing you notice are the pre-race smokers. The second thing you notice are the overloaded mountain bikes with protruding handlebars. The last thing you want is to snag one of those as you pass at speed.

It was at this point I shared my plan with a teammate and we decided to work together to make make better time.

The plan was simple: Attack out of the gate and bypass as many riders as possible before the climb up Feng Keng. Since both of us are short and relatively competent climbers, we thought we could use the mountain to put some distance into the larger field with time to be made on the descents as well. So many riders do not know how to descend on a bike they either become a danger to themselves and everyone on the road, or they slow everyone down.

I chugged up the climb and tried not to touch wheels slower riders. The climb was only 10 kilometers into the race, but riders were already lining the road vacating their stomachs onto the shoulder. Not a good sign by any measure. A greasy Taiwanese breakfast may not be ideal for this kind of start.

The final part of the plan, as little guys, was to get down to the flats and hop onto a fast-moving paceline and hold on for dear life.

Junior Ironman and his Pinarello

Everything worked perfectly until Edison pulled up with severe leg cramping. I continued alone, leapfrogging between groups of riders along the flats where the speeds can easily get into the 40's.

Luckily, Team Caffe Terry-PMG came chugging along with a powerful train of riders, so I politely asked if I could tag along. For this I am immensely grateful. I am also very grateful to Inigo G. who did a tremendous job pulling the paceline through much of the flats. Inigo is a tall, powerful rider, who pushes a lot of air out of the way. I did my best to return the favor with a few pulls at the front, but nothing to match his extended effort. Thanks again, guys!

One of my goals was to get through Lukang before the sun had a chance to heat up the ocean and bring the coastal wind inland. It worked. We just cut on through the flats and bike trails, eating up solo riders and pushing the slower groups out of the way of our freight train. A cowcatcher on the front would have been a bonus.

At The Finish

With about a kilometer to go, our group hit the twists and corners of Changhua City. Just as we rounded a 90 degree corner along the canal I heard the unmistakable sound of crunching carbon fiber. Someone had gone down jut a couple bike lengths behind me and it didn't sound good. I hope the bike was the only casualty.

Terry Lin from Caffe Terry-PMG

With the finish line approaching quickly, I thanked Inigo again for his hard work on the day and then I launched off the front.

It all seemed to be going well and I sat on the rivet trying to get more time out of my legs. Some minor cramps on the tops of my quads were threatening to erupt, but I kept them in check.

Pimped Rides

Then all came grinding to a halt at a major intersection that was allowing traffic through. I had to stop for s couple minutes as the bunch behind me caught up. We all nervously waited... and then took off again for another light.

Rob G. with John T. and Nina L.

The bunch creaked into motion again, but there was a lot of pain to go around as the few minutes of pause disrupted the feeling of perpetual motion that had been running through the legs since Ershui.

The Good Doctor Wu Arrives In Good Time

With one last push, we all funneled into the finishing gate and record our times and have our finish recorded for posterity.

Bruno from France comes through on his ancient Giant

Personally, I felt great that the venue was nearly empty. There were just a few cyclists milling around and my results were handed to me instantly. There were no lines or crowds.

A moment later Edison came chugging through. He had apparently shaken off the cramping and fought his way through the ranks to finish a minute behind me with a completely heroic effort. I had assumed he would be limping back. To imagine the fight it took to pull that off... kudos Edison!

What's In A Name: Team Dorcus

With our times in hand we sat around on the grass and schmoozed with other riders as they came rolling in. First in a dribble and then in a torrent.

The Line

A few of the locals came by to take a look at the riders and some had set up stalls to hawk refreshments.

Local Riders

Before long the rest of the team started arriving.


There were all sorts of goings on as the various sponsors vied for our attention.


The atmosphere became more festive as the field filled with an assortment of racers and riders.

Avoiding the Sunlight

With shade in short supply, we all milled around trying not to cook in the sunshine. Thankfully, nobody opened a parasol... at least not while I was on the scene.

Dressed Like A Winner

My new refrigerator magnet (I'm not kidding)

After about an hour most of our riders had arrived. Rocky and my wife pulled up in the van and passed out beers and refreshments to the riders. They had spent the bulk of the day helping any rider in need with water and flat support. I guess they helped a few stranded riders from having to hike back to Changhua. This is really a great part of the cycling community. No fees. No charge. Just help getting back on the road.


Mmmmm... Beer

All in all, I felt pretty good about my results and thanks for everyone who let me suck wheel to Changhua to make this effort far more successful.

I really need to thank Rocky and T-Mosaic for their support and organization. They really came through to help us all to the finish. Mosaic had everything ready from tubes to hydration an beer. The support car was ready at all times and it was nice having the insurance if anything went wrong. Thanks guys! They're a wonderful team.

Finally.... I got a bathroom break.



Distance: 105km
Time: 3:10:22
Overall Place: 106/5500?
Place in 35-40 Age Group: #31