For the past six weeks I have been quietly training for the Neverstop Wuling Challenge in an effort to get myself back into shape following four months of down time with injuries. It is always much easier to get out of shape that it is to get back into shape.
I chose the Wuling Challenge mainly because it is regarded as one of Taiwan’s most difficult races… and moreover… it is an established race that didn’t seem to be working for the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) election committee in forwarding their cultural engineering project of colonizing Taiwan in the name of the fatherland through the use of the sickening “ROC 100” banner. I later found traces of this, but it was far from one of the themes of the race.
The Wuling Challenge is an open event that covers 2826 merters (9272ft.) over the course of about 50km (31miles). The event is open to any type of bicycle and simply requires a NT$6000 entry fee.
The race is a great opportunity to win bragging rights for the elite cyclists, and it also gives everyone else a chance to commiserate with fellow riders over the degree of physical pain and difficulty one must overcome to reach the peak of Taiwan’s highest pass.
For me, the event was merely about going through the experience of participating in this legendary event with the hope of making it to the top. I must declare that I had my doubts.
Locked And Loaded
As I went to bed Saturday night I my mind was a black hole of doubt. While I was training I had inflamed the old injury that had kept me down for so long and I was well aware of how serious and persistent it could be. It might feel fine, but then 10 minutes in the saddle and the pain flares up with each mechanical pedal stroke… and then lingers for a nightcap. I was imagining a scenario where I carry the pain from just outside the starting gate and refuse to even take it to Wushe at the top of the first climb.
We had done some preliminary training the weekend before and I was both wrecked from a grueling day of climbing and feeling the knee pain. I really had nothing but concern on my mind and I was resigned to the possibility of resignation. My plan was simple– “Take it easy and see how it goes.”
Some teams rented the bike bus
I woke up at 2:00am to catch the bus T-Mosaic had hired to take the team to Puli. Despite my other physical ailments, my hydration and nutrition plans were on track, so I was feeling more confident that I wouldn’t bonk or cramp up.
By the time we arrived in Puli, the whole town was crawling with cyclists and every shade of lycra imaginable as riders sat around convenience stores eating, laughing off the pre-race jitters, or slamming coffees to stimulate one last pre race poo (I can’t believe I just wrote that…yuck!).
Bleary-eyed In Black
The members of the T-Mosaic squad I was riding with ambled over to the starting gate and tried to carefully wade into the river of carbon fiber and lycra that stretched into the morning blackness.
Sea of Lycra
I am not sure exactly when we got moving, but it was a staggered start as they metered out groups of riders to avoid dangerous congestion on the roadways.
As I eased through the starting gate I was fully aware that the chip inside my sticker had triggered the timer that would be calculating my progress up the mountain. For a moment I wanted to stomp on the pedals and leapfrog the slow moving riders easing along the 3% grade below Wushe. I wanted to… but I did not. I stuck with my plan to relax and just enjoy the ride. I was there to enjoy the event and have fun. I wasn’t going to be first, or even in the top ten, so I thought I should just work on finishing the race without re-injuring my knee to the point of sitting on my ass for another four months.
And then it happened. A sort of sanguine smile spread across my face and I just enjoyed taking in the entire spectacle of the event.
The First Test
I wish I could say that everyone was as relaxed and content in their progress, but one guy, who had obviously seen too many Tour de France tantrums, actually hurled his malfunctioning mountain bike to the side of the road and started kicking at it.
See you at Wuling!
I made an easy pace along the base of the mountain in the hopes of warming up for the climbs. As I passed riders I was just enjoying looking at their bikes and I would occasionally make casual conversation with some of the riders from teams I recognized. I chatted up the guys from Primavera and Team Neko. I also took some time to chat with a fellow Seven owner and the owner of a beautiful titanium Crown Jewel from Independent Fabrications.
All Ages Show
It was really just a thrill to take in the scene with all those riders, regardless of ability, taking the day to attempt the impossible. Each rider was hoping to do their best and conquer a mountain.
I was riding feeling very relaxed and found myself in Wushe with very little effort and just continued trying to document the race and mingle.
Double The Fun
Passing Mountain Bikers
Rather than being a testosterone filled event with racers trying to intimidate each other and look “Pro”, I was happy to see men and women of all ages making a day of it and using the event as an excuse to ride. Although I didn’t get a picture of her, I remember passing several women in their 60’s up beyond Wushe. It is just very inspiring and reassuring to see people take life by the gills.
Chicks Dig It!
As we pressed on up the hill I was amazed that I was not in worse shape. My knee was feeling a little “tight”, but dull enough to imagine there was no sensation there at all.
The low clouds hanging in the valley below seemed to take my mind away from my knee problems and I just kept a steady pace upward.
Into The Light
On occasion I’d get caught in a “slow net”, where you catch up with a group of riders and can’t pass… then you find yourself going their pace instead of the one that had allowed you to catch them. It is easy to slip into this malaise, so you need to be on your toes and shake it off if you want to better your time.
Chinese Tourists Say Hello
For the most part the traffic an the ascent was relatively light. There were a few incidents of cars or busses making things a bit difficult, but nothing too unexpected.
We all just hugged the shoulder and tried to avoid thinking about our legs.
Burn Baby Burn
Passing A Rest Stop
A Hunk-a-hunk-a Burnin’ Legs
Somewhere just below Ching-jing Farm my knee started to hurt and I had to stop and stretch. I popped a couple ibuprofen and a hand-full of skittles before setting off again.
Keep Keeping On
The pain disappeared and I was pushing smooth, easy strokes along the lower ridges of Ho Huan Shan through sparkling farming towns and the Ching-jing Disneyplexfoodextravaganza.
The Halfway Point
I made a quick refill and was off again. I was just having so much fun, I lost track of time. I had no idea when I started or how much time had elapsed. I had my Garmin, but forgot to really look at anything but distance and gradient.
Where’s Jens Voigt when you need him
First Casualty 18km (Yes, he is lying in the road)
It was just after Ching-jing Farm that the first real casualties started showing up. Riders walking their bikes along the roadway started to become a more common sight.
Look Out Below
There were also several riders taking prolonged breaks and, even more dangerous, the weavers.
Another One Bite The Dust!
As many of the field started to tire and lose their legs, they would start swerving and weaving in an attempt to mitigate some of the gradient. I can’t tell how many times a rider couldn’t keep a line and came close to swerving into me or crossing wheels. At one point I had a rider lose his balance and lean his head on my shoulder as I passed on the left. That stuff is DANGER with a capital WILL ROBINSON.
Reeling In The Breakaway?
Soon we started to edge into the alpine zone of the mountain where the amount of oxygen in the air drops below sustainable levels. It was at this point fitness really became apparent.
Nearing The End
Water For Cash
Along the upper reaches of the route, riders had support teams lining the roads handing out water and food to passing riders. Some riders stopped to refuel, others just snatched a drink and kept on riding.
There were also a few accidents on the way down. Apparently, two were serious enough to require a medical evacuation. I witnessed one crash in which a rider failed to negotiate a corner and lost his grip. Sometimes these high performance race bikes can quickly get away from a rider if he is not paying attention.
Still shootin’ straight with 7km to go
My knee started hurting again right before the last stretch below Kunyang, so I finished my skittles, gave it a stretch, and the soreness was gone. I still had plenty of gas left in the tank and I was feeling totally relaxed.
Stairway To Heaven?
Maybe I was feeling too relaxed and mistook Kunyang for Wuling and turned on the gas… only to take the last corner before the nasty climb to the finish with legs demanding time to recover.
The Last Kilometer
As I tried to push on to the final kilometers before the finish line, we all came to a halt behind a van that was stuck passing another car. After maybe 5 min. we all got going again, but it was a momentum killer for sure.
Those Poor Bastards
With just a few hundred meters to go, I got out of the saddle and put it all in for the finish. The sun was glistening on the grassy hillsides and puffy white clouds filled the air. I had actually made it.
If You Show Me Yours I’ll Show You Mine
I was even more amused that I had made the climb in only 4 hours and 14 minutes. If I had been really fighting for time I might have been a bit disappointed, but for my circumstances I was thrilled. I still had plenty of energy left and I had made it while pushing a standard 53/39 to 12-27 gear combination while just having a good time of it all.
But I’m Dressed Faster Than This!
I stayed at the top long enough to take a few pictures and chat with a couple guys about the ride, but I sensed I shouldn’t linger and headed back down to the support car.
The Other Side
Enjoying The Sights
The Road To Hell
As I started down the mountain, I noticed a parade of bike walkers and then the beginnings of a traffic jam. It would take me 40 min. just to get down to Yuen Feng.
Cash For A Podium Girl
We all celebrated our finishes. Cash Huang from T-Mosaic finished in about 03:45 and was happy for it to be over.
Don’t Worry… It’s Chocolate Inside.
Play by Play With Rocky from T-Mosaic
We waited for the rest of the guys to finish and join us for some soup and refreshments.
Silly ROC 100 Bullshit
I even had some time to check out my hardware; a massive copper-colored medal with Taiwan firmly situated in the center… with a confusing 100 made of chain links, a cog and a wheel to add that awful ROC 100 bullshit insisted upon by the sponsors in Taipei.
Kenda arrived on his LeMond Alpe d’ Huez… just before his personal cut-off time, in which he promised to cut off his hair if he failed to summit within a certain time.
Parade Of The Weary
We all sat and ate, and watched a parade of carbon fiber march past single file in a portrait illustrating the fact that no amount of money spent on technology can be a substitute for fitness, preparation and training.
Mr. Wang Takes The Hill
Our last man on the squad was Mr. Wang, who may be older and heavier than a lot of the field, but he still managed to keep pedaling his way up to the top despite missing the cut-off time. He was determined to summit.
Some riders had completely exhausted themselves and threw in the towel at Yuan Feng.
The Kid Pushes To The Top
Many riders had invested too much energy and heart into the day and were not going to stop until they could see no more mountain above them. They courageously looked beyond us to the point on the horizon where the road dips over the mountain.
Will Survives And Wins Three Small Children
Will V. finally came rolling into base camp with a totally different tale from the mountain.
According to Will, the road had become jammed with cars and cyclists as traffic control broke down and summer holiday makers forced their way onto the narrow roadway. Riders were stuck for as long as 40 minutes before clearing the congestion. Some riders waited patiently for traffic to clear, others took off their shoes and hiked over road and dirt cyclocross style to get around the jam. The upper reaches of the mountain descended into a sort of traffic anarchy. And then the clouds moved in and it started to rain.
The trouble with traffic control was the result of Neverstop being pushed to hold the event in the summer time to better coincide with the silly ROC 100 crap that some politicians hoped to capitalize on and therefore there were far more cars on the road than Neverstop had anticipated. Furthermore, traffic enforcement stopped at 10:00am, leaving the remainder of the day a free-for-all.
The winner of the event was Lin Huan-ze, who finished 02:34:50. Lin is a medical student at Taipei Medical University and this is his fourth time winning the Wuling Challenge. Me… I was just out enjoying myself.
I think with 6300 participants this event is at risk of losing much of what makes it so great. Maybe organizers should consider chopping it up into different days with a series of qualifiers to gain eligibility for the elite competitive race, and then schedule the open amateur event for the following day or following weekend.
Tis race is great for Taiwan’s best riders to test their mettle, and it is great for weekend warriors to challenge themselves… but putting that many people on Hohuan Shan is becoming more than the mountain can handle.
It took us four hours to get off the mountain with all the traffic. Although I had finished before 10:00am, I didn’t get home until 7:00pm.
Would I do it again? Hell yeah!