The final Bikingman Race of 2018 starts in Taipei City at 0400 hrs on Monday morning (22nd October). Riders are arriving and busy preparing bikes, registering and undergoing the strict safety equipment checks.
The Bikingman Race team, led by the friendly, efficient, Axel have been busy looking after our pre race needs. The media crew of Anthony and David have been filming and interviewing the main contenders and setting the pre race scene at Race HQ, the Waypoint Bicycle Store at No10, Alley16, Lane12, Section 3, Bade Road, Songshan District – now thats an address! U-Tube clips are on the Bikingman website.
It is Sunday afternoon now as I finish writing this and the Race Briefing has just taken place at the Artree Hotel. A big emphasis on rider safety and the need to make sure the GPS Trackers are working.
The Race is termed a ‘sprint’ in ultra distance riding – total distance is 1128km with about 18,000m of climbing including the famous Taroko Gorge Climb in the National Park although we turn off 10k from the summit but are allowed to go the whole way if the mood takes us!
The route is mandatory, riding anticlockwise round the island with Checkpoints at Sunmoon Lake, Fangshan, The Tropic of Cancer marker and finishing back in Taipei City at Race HQ. The rules are strict for unsupported riding. We cannot receive any outside help, being self sufficient for feeding, resting and repairing. Drafting and riding in packs is forbidden.
Each rider has a GPS Tracker for safety and to show progress to friends and family and interested dot watchers. The Race is going to be intense at the head of the field where a small handful of riders are challenging for podium places, not only for the Tiawan event but the overall Bikingman 2108 series. They have raced in Oman, Corsica and Peru with Tiawan the decider for top spot.
As for me, I rode Bikingman Corsica in May (see earlier blog) and finished in just under 60 hours for the 700km and 13,000m of elevation. In Taiwan I think I will be challenging for the ‘Lantern Rouge’ and will be happy to finish on Friday in about 100 hours. Much will depend on the weather. Forecasts suggest it will be favourable but we have a northerly headwind forecast as we ride up the East coast after crossing the south of the island.
I am riding my lovely Mason Definition2 and have worked hard to lessen the weight given the big climbing days ahead. I have ditched the front bar bag with sleeping kit and plan to sleep briefly at a hotel near Checkpoint two after 500 plus km. We will see how that works out. The 48/32 chainring with 11/34 cassette should help on the climbs and the Exposure 30 tyres running at 60psi will give a little comfort combined with the SMP saddle. Hunt 4 Season SuperDura wheels with the SON deluxe 12 dynamo will run the front light and charge electronics with the Igaro D1 power converter. The Apidura bags have worked well all year. Painful feet have been a problem in the past on long rides but my Lake MX237 with extra wide fit have looked after me well over the last year. They are mountain bike shoes with SPD’s which makes walking during long distance rides much more comfortable.
There is a lot of talk about race strategy. Riding some of the remote jungle roads at night sound a bit scary with aggressive monkeys and other wild animals! Road conditions are variable but it is surfaced road all the way, however, if bad weather sets in for the mountain sections it could be quite a challenge. I hope to ride at least 250km per 24 hours. The sun came out this morning when I rode in the City to check the start and it was 30deg so night riding might be more comfortable.
Yesterday I took a ride out of Taipei for 30km reversing the final route of the race. Taipei City has been a cycling challenge and a steep learning curve. Exciting experience! It is a Scooter race track and you have to get into boxes painted on the road at traffic lights if you want to make a turn across the traffic. I managed to find the superb cycle track along the Keelung river before heading for a couple of climbs out into the country.
This is my first time in Asia and Google Translate has been on overdrive! The cultural experience has been incredibly rich and rewarding. A busy City but friendship all round and people so willing to help. The 7/11 stores are a cyclists dream. I thought I had picked up a bowl of porridge on the first morning only to find it was a meat soup! It was tasty! I did battle with my chopsticks at a beef and noodle place last night – not a pretty sight!
A noisy colourful festival came marching along this afternoon. Music, dancing and firecrackers. I am lucky to be here.
Tracking should be available on this link after we get going in the morning.
All being well a race report to follow
An early Monday morning rise was needed to book out of the hotel and ride through the deserted streets of Taipei for the start in front of Building 101 – the 1441ft high symbol of the city. As the 0400 hrs start time approached the Red Bull arch was populated by a mixed group of riders. Some were quietly sitting on their bikes, others running around doing last minute jobs or making adjustments but generally the air was filled with excited and anxious laughter and chatter.
The local Taipei Rapha Cycling club were kindly riding with us to guide us for a few neutralised kilometres to the edge of the city – the early start designed to beat the city rush hour. Axel, Mr Bikingman, gave us the countdown and away we went. I lost count of the traffic lights we encountered as we emerged from the city. The leaders soon raced away and I settled down to a steady pace, resisting the temptation to push on in the excitement of the morning. The media car with Anthony and David sitting in the back with the tailgate up and flashing hazards were busy recording the city exit.
Unsupported racing has strict rules about no drafting or outside assistance. Riding together meant side by side – not great on some of the busy roads – or at least 10 metres or more behind another rider. Throughout the ride one encountered other riders, often leapfrogging each other at food stops or overnight halts.
Daylight broke at about 0530hrs and we made good time heading south on an anticlockwise route around the island. First target for the day was Checkpoint One at Sun Moon Lake in front of the Long Feng Gong Temple. I spent some time chatting with Chris from UAE and was amazed to hear that he had only been riding for 18 months. At the end of the week he was to become the gutsy Lantern Rouge but more of that later.
The first few hours were fairly flat and although much was on fairly busy roads with small towns dotted along the way the alien nature of the environment created an interesting and exciting ride for me never having been to this part of the world before. Taiwan was rich with cycle lanes and felt pretty safe most of the time. By 0900 the temperature had risen to 25 deg with high humidity and by midday it was over 30 deg which necessitated regular drinking and refills at the ubiquitous 7/Eleven stores.
I think most riders developed a love/hate relationship the 7/Eleven and Family Mart stores during the ride. Superb for all your needs and easy to find in most towns they were a welcome sight when hungry and thirsty but microwave pre-packed food made to a consistent specification day after day begins to numb the pallet and mind! Having said that they were a regular meeting place with riders on a similar pace to me and often welcome company and opportunity for discussion about the previous and future parcours and options for night stops.
Just after the town of Zhuolan and eight hours in the saddle came the first good climb to 931m followed by a descent and climb back to Sun Moon Lake and Checkpoint 1 under the beautiful Long Feng Gong Temple which sits on the hillside overlooking the beautiful lakeland vista. As I climbed the ramp to the Temple and dismounted I looked down on a flat rear tyre – so perfect timing for a Red Bull break, some food and quick tyre repair.
By now it was late afternoon and a need to get some more distance under the belt before a quick sleep stop prior to tackling the next big climb to 1630m and the jungle section that lay ahead. I was keen to tackle the climb before first light due to the 30+ deg daytime temperatures with sauna like humidity. A few WhatsApp messages established there was a Motel in Zhushan thanks to Ed, 40km on from CP1 and thats where four of us arrived to share a motel room and a couple of double beds!
A strange experience with a drive in garage and all set up for discreet anonymous visits. So we parked our four bikes in the garage and jumped into bed for a few hours kip. I shared with Gavin and Ed has his own bed while Shannon had a couple of restless hours on the settee!
Day one complete with 275km and 4310m climbing, Av km/h 22.6, Av HR 117
Shannon and I had had enough by 0100 hrs and both got away on the road by 0130hrs. Ed and Gavin opted for a bit more kip. The cooler night made for much more comfortable riding and almost immediately we started the 45km climb to the Col at 1630m. The night jungle noise as we rode was very special. We had been warned of snakes hanging from the trees in the jungle sections ahead. The occasional bright coloured snake on the road, deafening Cicada’s and rumble in the jungle from a monkey or something worse and I was quite happy to have Shannon’s company, albeit further up the road – he was a much better climber than me.
As we neared the summit, dawn’s early light started to break to reveal spectacular jungle mountain landscape all around us. In the half light of the day I noticed the hillsides were populated with rows of uniform bushes and wondered what they were – felt a bit daft when I realised they were tea plantations thriving in this high altitude environment. As the grey light turned to colour the beauty was revealed – a first for me – never seen a tea plantation before!
The long climb had been remote and a refill of water and some breakfast was needed. Fenqihu was the first small town after the Col and I found a small local cafe just off the main road. Shannon and I, to our surprise, were able to order bacon and egg, fresh cooked with a bap and good cup of coffee. Perfect ‘start’ to a long day as we headed on towards the jungle section travelling South to CP2.
Axel must have worked hard to find the remote jungle roads he had set up for us. We headed along the Alishan Highway and skirted a large lake near Dapu township where another diversion was needed for food and water. By now the midday sun was beating down and humidity was high. At one of the turns onto the jungle track I missed it completely and ended up a kilometre down the mountainside before realising the error! Shannon was in the same boat and we both ground our way all the way back up and then a sketchy descent on rough overgrown track. Axel’s delight!
Mid afternoon and another stop for food and water in Daqiuyuan Township where Anne and Reinhard, riding as a pair from Germany, were also having a quick break. The road was then pretty much flat all the way to CP2 at Fangshan. We skirted along the foot of the mountains to the left and the flood plain of the river to the right all the way to the coast at Fangliao.
By now it was dark and the final bridge we needed to cross was closed which necessitated a diversion and few extra kms along the coastal road to the checkpoint at the Tiny Greece hotel. It felt a pity arriving in the dark as I would be leaving before daybreak so would never see the coastline.
Axel was there to greet us and I had pre booked a room at the Tiny Greece – the halfway mark at 540km from the start – and a few of us arrived about the same time to get our cards stamped and signed. For me it was 2053hrs and I tumbled into bed after sorting a shower, recharging the electronics where needed and rinsing out my bib shorts. Luckily there was a large fan in the room and directed onto the wet clothes they dried by the time I got going the next morning.
Day 2 – 270km and 5439m climbing, Av Km/h 19, Av HR 102.
Up at 0315 I was on the road in company with Ed by 0400hrs. We faced a climb of 20km up to 450m traversing the southern end of the Island before heading North long the coastal road towards CP3 at the Tropic of Cancer marker. Setting off early was good for the cooler conditions but also the route could be busy with heavy traffic, especially trucks. After a short time into the climb the rain started, softly at first and then pretty much a downpour. Some way up a welcome 7/Eleven emerged out of the mist and provided some hot food and coffee before completing the endeavour to the top. Then followed a bit of a crazy descent with water running across the road in heavy rain whilst being chased by trucks. They were fortunately slower on the corners and I was able to keep ahead for a clean run down the many switchbacks in the early morning gloom. Thank goodness for disc brakes. Ed was behind me with calliper brakes and didn’t enjoy it – besides they don’t get much rain to play with in Dubai where he lives!
Once on the coast the weather picked up immediately, demonstrating the micro climate you can find in mountainous regions. The initial section of coastal road north hugged the rugged mountainside often hanging over the beach below. There were numerous roadworks but the terrain was relatively flat with only a light northerly headwind that had been forecast.
It was a lovely ride along the coast with an ever changing seascape on my right and mountains to the left. Just after mid-day I hit one of those inevitable moments of deep tiredness and found a beautiful little seaside park with a picnic bench and got my head down for a 20 minute nap. It worked well and as I woke saw Anne and Reinhard ride past. Our paths were going to cross a few times in the next couple of days.
I arrived at the Tropic of Cancer marker – CP3 – after 12 hours of riding just after 1600hrs and took the required photograph to prove the time and date. Luckily Anne was also there and showed me how to upload the photo to the tracking system – MapProgress.
I wanted to get further north up the coast before stopping for a night break so I could hit the Queen Stage of the race – the 70km climb of the famous Taroko Gorge – early the following morning. I suspected it was going to be a full days work riding up the mountain and I wanted to ride it in the daylight. I guessed photo opportunities would arise around every corner and hoped for good weather. No point in climbing one of the most famous climbs in the world and not stopping to smell the roses?
As dusk fell the headwind died away a little and night riding was good. About 2030 hours I came across a small B and B on the beach and dropped down off the main road to check it out. Two delightful women were sitting on the decking and after calling out the daughter to translate they gave me an excellent room and were happy with the bike in the room and the proposed early start. I had a good soak in the bath!
Day 3 – 252km and 2748m climbing, Av 22km/h, Av HR 102.
Up just before 0400 I was on the road by 0415 and soon arrived at Haulien City and was glad to clear the suburbs to the north before the rush hour developed.
The road skirted the coast before heading inland and I stopped at a 7/Eleven for breakfast and bumped into Shannon and Ed as they were heading out towards the foot of the mountain.
Arriving at the start of the climb I passed the start area for the Taiwan KOM Challenge that was being raced the following morning – a serious 105km ride up the Taroko to over 3000m.
As I hit the base of the climb I could just make out some of the challenge ahead in the early dawn light – over 80km of climb for us to 2581m before turning north and the run back to Taipei. I was blessed with a perfect day for the ride – sunny, clear with hardly any wind.
The first section was the spectacular gorge which started as quite a wide river and then slowly constricted the options for a road getting narrower and steep sided requiring a few tunnels and overhead cover to protect from falling rocks. In short it was truly spectacular and I was forced to stop numerous times for photos.
The early morning sun was shafting onto the surrounding mountains and it took quite a while for it to touch the bottom of the gorge. As I climbed and the temperature rose this was offset a little by the cooling due to altitude gained.
At 0845 I rounded a corner to find the road was closed for the next 45 minutes for repair work to stabilise the overhanging cliff. A small barrier was being managed by a friendly woman and we exchanged a conversation with the help of Google translate. I was joined by the the team from Oman who got frustrated with the wait and decided to take the chance past the falling rocks – amid much shouting from the road workers! Then I was joined by Reinhard and Anne who took the opportunity for a sleep on the road.
Villages were few and far between on the climb but there were some small stores, usually selling fruit and vegetables and then with perfect timing a small restaurant where I settled down for a chicken soup meal and coffee. Some of the tunnels on the road were quite scary, narrow with limited lighting. As I climbed the vegetation changed and nearing the top the clouds were beginning to build and swirl around. At one point the cloud updraft was amazing with a bank of misty cloud racing up the mountain over the road ahead.
There was a small descent before the final climb to the turn off in Dayuling where the route passed through a tunnel and then the long descent started. It was about 30km to the first township of Li Shan and we passed some small settlements and this side of the mountain was a big fruit growing area. Some of the hillsides were spectacular with every apple on the tree wrapped in what looked like a paper bag. Never seen it before but researching it later confirmed the bags are used for protecting high quality fruit of all types.
A 7/Eleven stop was needed in Li Shan and again I was joined by Anne and Reinhard. We were all feeling pretty tired and debated about staying in the town for the night as there were plenty of hotels listed. I decided to carry on and get over the last couple of climbs – to about 500m – before looking for somewhere to stop.
In hindsight this was a bad decision because the clouds rolled in and very soon it was 20/30m visibility with heavy drizzle and very dark. The last 20km of the day was not much fun and arriving at Nanshan township I dived into the 7/Eleven for a hot meal and warm up – such a contrast from earlier in the day.
The manager was very friendly and had his family in the shop and wanted his shy daughter to speak some English with me. I asked about a bed for the night and luckily the shop next door had a few rooms and promised a good breakfast but I would not be able to get my bike out of their garage until 0500. No worries because I had about 140km to the finish and Friday was my initial finish target so I should make the evening party in Taipei OK! A welcome shower and I was asleep in no time.
Day 4 189km with 6795m climbing, Av speed 16.6km/h, Av Heart Rate 100
I woke at 0400 and went downstairs to find fresh hot dumplings cooked and went for two – a sweet potato and a meat dumpling with coffee and banana. The best breakfast food of the week! The shop keeper family were lovely hosts and we chatted a lot so I only got away at 0530 in a cool clear morning and a beautiful descent down the mountain to the wide river valley below.
One of those starts to the day when one feels at one with the world and realise just how lucky you are to be in the here and now riding a bike in spectacular surroundings – and mostly downhill all the way to the finish!
I pushed on for about 30 km riding the edge of the wide river basin towards Yilan through some busy urban areas and a building rush hour traffic. Once the coast was reached the road climbed inland to 500m and then a further really sharp climb – a little sting in the tail. Half way up the climb I came across the Media team of Anthony and David with Didier who got busy doing some filming and in a small way helped me up this last little test. Once at the top I knew the way to the finish having ridden out to this point prior to the race.
The descent towards Taipei was fun and the traffic light at midday. I reached the excellent cycle path alongside the Keelung River and made my way for the last few kms to the finish at the Waypoint Armory Shop. Arriving at 1337hrs there was a warm welcome from the Bikingman team and other riders. Total time was 105 hours for the 1130 km and I was comfortably right at the back of the field.
Final day 143km and 1978m climbing, Av speed 21.9km/h, Av Heart Rate 94.
A drink or two later and some food and having booked back into the hotel I was ready for the Finishers party and dinner at the Artree Hotel. It was a great evening swapping stories and congratulating the winners of the Taiwan Race as well as the overall Bikingman 2018 series. Rodney from Peru was a machine and swept all before him.
The following evening several riders gathered with the Bikingman team at the finish to welcome Chris as he rode in after an amazing effort to ride the full distance, albeit out of time to be classified. He was only into his second year on a bike and had never ridden anything like the Taiwan event before. Really strong both in body and mind to keep going to the finish. Chapeau Chris.
On reflection I think I could have gone harder and had less sleep but I pushed too hard in the Corsica Race with short Bivi bag sleeps along the way and decided to take it a little easier in Taiwan and use accommodation. I also wanted to ride the Taroko Gorge climb in daylight.
My body, bike and equipment held up well. My Mason Definition2 was a joy to ride as always and didn’t miss a beat.
Bikingman Taiwan was a great event. Axel and his team had planned a great parcours and supported us well throughout the week. Can’t be easy when there is such a variation in speed between riders.
As I finish writing this the Bikingman WhatsApp group are talking about the difficulties of re adjusting back to normal life. For me targets on the horizon are key and I have just signed up for Bikingman Oman in February. That should do it! I am so fortunate to have such opportunities.