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Monday, October 15, 2012

One Killed and 26 Injured in Tour of Changhua Bike Event


As riders were still filtering in to the finish line at the Tour of Changhua, word around the reception area spread that several riders had been injured, and some critically, somewhere along the course. 

This morning it was confirmed that there had been 26 injuries and, sadly, one fatality

This seems to be an awfully high price for an event that is organized in the name of "fun". Immediately questions arose as to who or what was to blame. 

The Merida sponsored Tour of Changhua has become one of the largest biking events in Taiwan. Over its three-year run, the ToC has annually drawn in excess of 7000 cyclists as participants or non-registered followers. This is both a testament to the event's popularity as an open event, as well as a testament to the growth of road cycling as an activity for sport and leisure in Taiwan.

Cycling is a dangerous sport. There are certain risks involved in propelling oneself at high speeds down public roadways. Lots of things can happen. The risk is acknowledged as soon as we clip the chinstraps of our helmets. Automobiles often pose the greatest threat to cyclists, but even in the guarded confines of a professional race there is still room for tragedy to strike. 

This was by no means a professional race by any stretch of the imagination. 

What's Wrong with the Tour of Changhua:

1: Numbers

Unlike professional cycling, few of the 7000 participants in the Tour of Changhua are generating the watts that put them on the razor's edge between life and death. 

For Tour of Changhua organizers, but I have seen this for other races as well, the number of participants signifies the success of the race. With more entry fees paid there are more eyes on the sponsors. With any large gathering in Taiwan there seems to be a lot of weight placed on the numbers and 7000 makes for an impressive figure to show the public. 

The sheer number of riders is the race plays the greatest role in increasing the chances for injury. With 7000 riders all trying to snake through the same stretches of roadway, it becomes a problem of fluid dynamics. It may be wise to curtail the number of riders.

2: Organization

The second problem is in the disparity between skilled and unskilled riders. 

The Tour of Changhua starts all riders on a first come, first serve basis. Fast and slow, skill and unskilled riders are all packed cheek by jowl in the starting area leaving the faster riders to pick through the unstable group to advance up the road in decent time. Many of the novice riders lack the strength and basic skills to safely ride a bicycle in close proximity to other riders. On Sunday I had a few riders steer into me while muscling up the initial climbs. 

Anyone can go to the store and pick up the latest, highest tech racing bike on the market in exchange for cash. There are no skill tests to pass. Therefore, there are lots of riders out there with twitchy race bikes and not a clue how to handle them safely in a group. 

Group riding takes practice and some training. I can't begin to tell how many times I dropped onto someone's wheel, only to have them constantly oscillating their speed. Dangerous. 

The Tour of Changhua organizers might consider dividing the field into a competitive group and a recreation group. This might smooth out the action and keep it a bit safer on the course. 

3: Route

One of the key factors was the route. After announcing the official route, the organizers reversed the route in the name of safety. They did not want novice riders to face a hill climb 50km from the start. They feared riders would collapse from exhaustion. 

Instead, riders were making high speed descents into sections of poorly patched blacktop from a recent construction project. The bumps and seams in the road surface would have ruled it out of any professional event. It was at that spot I saw my first ambulance of the day. 

The route was also not closed to cars. On Bagua Shan I was surprised to see oncoming traffic with no separation between cars and riders. Occasionally the call, "che!" or , "car"  came echoing down the pack. 

The section that had the fatality and another serious injury was along the creek near the finish. It was narrow, with one low barrier between the rider and a deep creek bed. Several riders lost control and crashed there. 

It may be that the Tour of Changhua needs more experienced cyclists to plot the route with time for the government to ensure it will be safe by the time riders leave the starting gate. In many cases the choice to send riders on those roads was a simple act of negligence. 


The Tour of Changhua is still a relatively safe race. Still, the organizers failed to learn from prior mistakes and, in the name of spectacle, put a lot of lives at risk. There are still several things the Changhua government and race organizers can do to make this a better and safer race for everyone. It is something Taiwan's race organizers can all learn from. 

It is sad when it takes a death to force change. 

環化屎!:My Crappy Day on the Tour of Changhua

 Mugging for the Pre Race

When Rocky Huang of T-Mosaic can running over in to my idling car in the early morning darkness with the remains of my front wheel in his hands, I was more than ready, even eager, to take it as a bad omen and simply show up in Changhua as press and support.

Somewhere in the droopy-eyed haze of pre-dawn departure, I had left my wheel resting against my car and blindly pressed it into the curb. The remnants of the wheel resembled my impression of what would happen if Pete Townsend looked crossways at a banjo. The spokes popped and twisted under the release from immense pressures.

Before I had even been given a chance to forfeit an inch of parcours out of self pity, Rocky had already presented me with a working spare.

I shrugged my shoulders, thanked him and followed a weaving train of riders through the blackness of morning to the gate at the Changhua Athletic Center.

This would be my third Tour of Changhua, and I would be riding for T-Mosaic again. This time I was joined by my buddy Dom, who was looking forward to completing The one holy mission of the riding season and the focal point of his training. We had been doing a fair bit of ridding, but Dom really buckled down with an organized training plan. The results were evident. He was just coming into fitness and form before the race. I was interested to see how he'd do.

As for myself, I have had a rough year. After a speedy finish last year I had really spent too much time off the bike between weather, injuries, illness and an infant at home. Every week became the week I was going to get back into my regular training. Put a few of those together and be in serious riding shape.

I had had to miss every other race this year and I was looking to reprise my performance and tactical prowess of last year.

Always fighting the last war.


The Tour of Changhua is an open Fondo style race, where anyone with a bike may participate. The event attracts serious amateur (and some professional) athletes, as well as children and oldsters with full stereo gear modded to the frame.

This year the crowd was estimated to be around 7000 riders. The draw becomes both part of the fun and part of the danger. It is great to see so many enthusiastic riders out on the road with their gear. Everyone is in the same world of hurt, just some hurt more than others.

Of course, everyone says the whole this is just for fun, but everyone tries their best to put up some good numbers.


The crowd nervously milled about cracking jokes to shake off the pre-race jitters. I don't care what kind of race it is or what your prior experience is as a racer, there is always a bit of nervousness regarding the unexpected.


Several minutes after the official start was sounded, the mass of rolling humanity lurched forward like a heaving slug. This is one of the most dangerous parts of the race as slower and faster riders are riding on top of each other to equalize the field.

The race opened with a climb, which suited me just fine. I made good time up the first incline and felt good as I successfully picked my way through the bunch and made ground in the corners. Climbing is my strong suit, and I hoped to gain my time in the hills and then catch a fast train through the flats to the finish. My legs burned as I clamored up the inclines. I kept expecting the soreness to fade into a smooth, measured cadence as I shook off the cobwebs.

It was about at the third little climb that I saw my first puker. The noise bellowing from his gut as he wretched himself green on the side of the road was unworldly. It reminded me of my freshmen year in college.

I felt I was ticking a kph or so slower than when I had done the ride last week, but I really wasn't worried. I was still making pretty good time where I thought I could make it. I accelerated into the descent as I dive-bombed Songboling and Tian Zhong.

Last week I had put out a warning over the road conditions coming off of that hill. Sadly, I was proven correct and I was rattled by the sight of an ambulance hauling a fallen rider off to the hospital. The uneven patches in the tarmac can quickly pop your hands off the grips leading to a crash. There is also less available braking surface. Not a well planned route by any standard.

As we got into the flats, I started to feel tightness and discomfort in my butt and hips. I wondered if the new front wheel was causing a heightened level of discomfort, or if I had stupidly overworked the week before and was paying the price when it mattered. Every pedal stroke felt like a kick in the ass.

I figured I could ignore it for the remaining 80km of race.

Over the past week I had put in a very good day over a large section of the route with a very strong, fast outing. That ride gave me the misaligned confidence that I could do the same in the Tour of Changhua.

Then on Wednesday, I did a hilly 160km. Maybe that wasn't the best idea on the planet. I felt pretty good that day with pretty good speeds and climbs, until about the 150km mark. That was still plenty for the 120km of the Tour of Changhua.

I beat a pretty good cadence through the flats and was quickly asked to join a train of independent or lost riders. I took them up on the offer and gave them some fantastic pulls.

And then my race really started to fall apart.

After one particularly long, hard pull I dropped to the back of the paceline to rest. As I fell back to recover, another rider slipped in to the line. I gave him space to hold to the line, and adjusted my speed.

It was a few seconds later that I realized he was fading from the back and the other guys in the group were quickly pulling away. After a long pull and in the face of the most spiteful headwind on the planet, I realized I didn't have the gas to bridge back onto the group. It was at that moment the panic set in.

I tried to maintain a good speed to catch the next train of riders passing by, but after a few minutes of pugilistic riding against low barometric pressure, I turned my head to see only a scattering of a few individual riders stretching into the distance. My heart sank as if I had missed the last lifeboat off the Titanic.


I am not sure how long I battled out there against the two fisted headwind by myself, but it had been long enough to wear me down to the point of being unable to grab any other groups that came by with any momentum.

Finally, Dom came up behind on the tail of a good group of riders. As the group fell apart in the middle, I again failed to make the jump.

For the next hour or so I would find myself amid one disintegrating group after another as the headwinds ground us to our knees.

Finally, around Fuxing and Lukang, a large group came rumbling up the tarmac like the Great Khan and his bannered horde of raiders from the steppe. A few of my teammates were snugly nestled into that group and we rode together for some way. At that point one of my teammates recounted how he was the first one to give up. It gave me a great idea. I realized I was not going to set any records and I pulled off to stretch my back and legs. I have not been this uncomfortable on a bike in a very long time. I felt like I hadn't ridden in months.

It felt amazing.


I fought on through the wind with a couple more stretch stops to the foot of Bagua Shan in Changhua. I had run out of water and gels at the 3km mark.

We heaved through a dangerously narrow part of the route along a steep creek.

By that time I had caught up with Team Bright, a team I had marked earlier as a potential express train to the finish. They were receiving some unsportsmanlike help from their man on the scooter who was giving lifts and motorized pulls to the team riders.

I was finally reenergized by the hill climb to the finish line. I switched into climbing mode and passed a number of riders. I felt like a bucket of curb-stomped misery.

As I crossed the finish line I had no illusions of a great performance or spectacular numbers. Still, I exaggeratedly raised both hands to my lips and gave the lonely photographers a victory salute with a kiss in the air and arms raised in a trumpeting celebration of mediocrity.

Time: a disappointing 4h:10min. Bah!

From then on, it was just about enjoying the shade and recovering a little bit. I felt like absolute crap.


The best part of my day was in seeing my daughter's face light up when daddy crossed the finish line. I give up a lot of training hours for her. And that is one reason my performance had dipped. It is also one reason I suffered so greatly on the roads of Changhua.

And I wouldn't have it any other way.