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Monday, March 18, 2013

Comebacks: Sanlinxi 38.5km Social Race/Ride

Finish Line


"Don't call it a comeback
I been here for years
Rockin my peers and puttin suckas in fear
Makin the tears rain down like a MON-soon
Listen to the bass go BOOM
Explosion, overpowerin
Over the competition, I'm towerin
Wreckin shop, when I drop these lyrics that'll make you call the cops
Don't you dare stare, you betta move
Don't ever compare
Me to the rest that'll all get sliced and diced
Competition's payin the price"-- L.L. Cool J

My riding in 2011 was something I will never forget. I was training four days every week. I was feeling fast. I felt like there was no road in Taiwan that was out of reach. I could cover long distances and the highest climbs on a whim and a little grit. That was 2011. Dust in the wind.

I spent my 2012 season training hard at being a new dad. I don't figure on getting the hang of the job any time soon, but at least my little girl is constantly becoming better at being a kid and that makes the job of being a dad incrementally easier.

It seems every weekend is the first day of my return to form. Each ride holds the promise of new beginnings or a cleave in the ledge where I may catch my fall from the fitness I used to enjoy.

It seemed as though every time I would put two decent rides together, something would happen to put me back to square one; weather, family business, equipment failure, injury, work and all kinds of other black magic conspiring against me.

My situation is probably not unlike a lot of my friends out there on the road. This is the curse of the amateur cyclist. We have lives that interfere in our training plans and nobody is paying us to be seen succeeding and standing next to their products. We may ride to live, but we may not be able to live to ride.

I am sure my drop in blogging was noticed by more than a few. It is not that I have had nothing to write about. On the contrary I have had too much to write about and no real time to do it well... or even as usual... half-assed.

The Comeback: Isn't that what so much of cycling is about? We are always trying to get back to some real or imagined destination that always seems better than where we are now. If I am sitting here at a computer writing this, there must be a better place to be.  

This post is clearly dedicated to each of my aborted comebacks, announced and unannounced, that litter the past several months of this blog. 

I swear, this time its for real. 

A.M. Start

Several weeks back I put my money down to participate in the Merida-Maxxis Sanlinxi Challenge; a 38.5km hill climb from Mingjian Township to the tea fields of Sanlinxi. 

I had done the ride several times from Taichung and figured it would make a great way to get back into more regular participation in some cycling events. 

For the past several months my training plan had been a shambles. 

With a month-long vacation for Lunar New Year I figured I could put in some serous training on a four-day schedule to really rebuild. 

It never happened. 

I spent two weeks with a chest cold and wrestling with asthma. Then my pedals broke. Then the New Year obligations. I tried a couple of local climbs, but I really didn't do anything worthwhile until mid-February. That gave me four weeks of training to reverse months of neglect. 

After four weeks of building with some help from Dom, James and a few other riders, I found myself sitting in the middle of a sea of riders in another one of Taiwan's infamous mass-start races. 

"A lot of guys are dressed pretty fast today", I quipped to the rest of the guys from T-Mosaic. 

A lot of guys are dressed for speed, but once the bunch starts rolling uphill, the cards are all flat on the table.   


The horn sounded and it took several minutes to even reach the starting gate. A few of the lucky riders at the front could enjoy a fast, unobstructed start. The rest of us became locked in a bottleneck just outside the gate and were forced to walk our bikes for several more minutes... Ah, the beauty of riding with 2500 other people. 

I slipped to the outside to leapfrog the slower riders weaving about in the center of the road. I hoped to warm my legs up before climbing up the Route 151 to Lugu Township. It was actually my first time riding the Route 151 to Lugu. I always take the nicer Route 131. I really didn't know what to expect in terms of grades or ramps. I only knew that they looked pretty nasty on the descent. 


I made further gains as the group smashed head-on into the climb. I felt relaxed and confident as I maintained a line amid weaving wheels looking to shave the edge off the grade. 

I had prepared for cool weather, as Sanlinxi is always covered in freezing clouds, but it was a surprisingly clear day and I was quick to strip off my arm warmers. 

As we spilled through Lugu, the easier grade gave me a chance to rest between the 7-11s I had marked for popping my first gel. 

I felt a little sticky in my legs, but figured it would pass the more I warmed up. Just like every other time I had made the climb to Sanlinxi, my legs were due to come alive when the climbing started. 


Just before the final 7-11 when the grade gets nasty, I felt something was wrong. My legs were burning up prematurely. It took a minute to figure out what was happening. I was in the midst of an allergy attack. My nose was filling with snot. My eyes watering and the asthma was coming on. 

I couldn't believe it. 

"Asthma attack, now!?" 

I tried to persevere, but finally pulled off the road for a few minutes to pop a Benadryl and break out the inhaler. 

I watched as all those riders I had climbed over to get to where I was, were streaming up the hill ahead of me. I admit, I really hate having to look at some of the jerseys and relished in putting them behind me. 

With my eyes red and blurred by the water from a barrage of sneezing, I leaped on the bike and trudged back into the stream. I could barely see. It was like one of those final fight montages from the Rocky franchise. I was seeing Clubber Lang in double and triple, growling at me in slow motion. 


I heaved and winced as I plodded toward Sitou. I thought about turing back and collecting a DNF. I was a total wreck. 

With Benadryl in my system it was a race against time before the dehydration and cramping set in. I blew my nose into the palm of my cycling gloves and flung it onto the road. Again and again I grossed out the surrounding riders with repeated handfuls of mucous wringing from my right glove. 

I am sure I looked to be in much more difficulty than I was in.

The turn to Sanlinxi arrived and I decided I would keep going and try to beat the Benadryl in my system. 

I felt a lot better and my legs were again turning the pedals in fluid circles. I eased into a rhythm and started attacking the inside corners as the ramps edged up into the cedar forests. I was making up time, but not fast enough. 

I could see the final bend up above before the grade levels off to the peak. My calf had been cramping for a kilometer or two and I was doing my best to wiggle it out without losing momentum.  


As I rounded the corner prepared to turn on the steam for a push to the finish, I realized the finish line was much closer than I had imagined and in a strangely narrow part of the road, rather than a kilometer or two further down the road where things open up. 

I did my best to push a couple hard circles on the crank, but there was no space to make a spectacular finish. 

I arrived at about the same time as my teammate, Dr. Wu, and we decided to continue the two and forever kilometers down the road to the staging area to collect our official times and swag-bags. 


My official time was 2:12:08. Not too bad for my first race of my current comeback. I came in 255th of over 2500 starters and 124th of my age group. Next year I get to compete in the M40 class.

I think I could have shaved several more minutes off the time without the asthma stop. I could have probably shaved a couple-several more minutes off my time with those lost four weeks of training. 

But isn't that the case with cycling. Just a little more training and a little change of circumstance to make all the difference between this time and next time.  


IMG_2778 IMG_2773

Terry Lin (Caffe Terry) Time: 1:50:12

Watch out, here I come.... Until the next time. 

photo 3
Photo Courtesy of T-Mosaic


  1. Great riding Drew. Yup, life throws them curve balls like crazy when were trying to be serious about our sport.

    Good to know you're still getting on the saddle no matter what.

  2. Great pic of you. WTF with the bus -- don't tell me... they didn't close the road.

  3. The road was wide open. It was really more dangerous going down as all the traffic/busses were already veering left to avoid climbing cyclists, then they would completely cut off the corners in the switchbacks. A couple of scary moments. Though, the number or riders was much fewer than Wuling.

    There were quite a few groups that piggybacked on the event and just rode the route without registering or paying.

    I really would discourage groups from doing that as they simply serve to stress out an already overburdened traffic control corps. At least the registered riders are counted and insured for the event.

    I am a little disappointed in one group in particular that hired a small bus and took off 15-20 minutes ahead of the registered riders. They should know better.

  4. You're back! Nice, Drew! I know about that group that started ahead of the pack. They should know better, and they should inform their riders of what they were actually doing. They made it seem as if they were registering for the race! I didn't really fancy being a 'grey rider.' Really great weather for the day.

  5. *Way* too many dangerous, selfish and inconsiderate shenanigans at these mass start events in Taiwan, really is a shame that people don't know how to behave, or do but choose not to.

    As for the comeback, that's the joy of cycling... the small but tangible rewards of super hard fought incremental gains that slowly add up to the fleeting joy of being 'in form' until life smacks you back down, rinse and repeat.

  6. Dom-- Not back, but climbing (quite literally) back to fighting shape. I felt a vicarious sense of disappointment in that as well. They were taking advantage of the paid-for controls without contributing anything other than traffic. I am always reminded of that guy who died on Taiping Shan after showing up unregistered for a race.

    James-- If I could get back into great shape, it would be fun to ride the elite races. That circumstance is still a long way off hiding behind Never. Age becomes a factor as well. As you start training you have to fight Father Time.

    It is ironic that some of the most dangerous guys in a mass-start race are the guys with safety mirrors.