Jure Robic, the man who logged a 518 mile day to hallucinations of angry wolves and Mujahideen fighters, is back again to compete in the 2010 Ride Across America (RAAM). Robic has set a blistering pace, averaging 18.84mph. Although this may sound like a recovery ride, the average speed is measured by calculating time resting, eating, sleeping and hallucinating on the side of the road. Robic is hoping to break the average speed record of 15.4 mph. The race begins in Oceanside, California and finishes in Annapolis, Maryland, covering over 3000 miles of America… and most places in the USA aren’t all that.
Yesterday I competed in the Tour of Changhua race sponsored by Merida Bicycles. It really wasn’t much of a race as the sponsors pulled the timed competition out of concern for rider safety following a period of light drizzle that fell on the area. My health hasn’t been real great over the past few weeks following an asthma attack in Seattle and an increase in the frequency of the attacks over the past two weeks. I started taking some medication to bring the symptoms back under control, but the cure is as bad as the disease. As I have described before, the regimen consists of 12 pills per day that effectively render me useless beyond daily tasks. They induce insomnia, dehydration, muscle tremors and appetite suppression. I feel terrible. When I asked the doctor about exercise, she said, “don’t over do it.”
Regardless of this obstacle I decided to line up at the starting line with 4000 cycling enthusiasts to take part in a bike lover’s ride.
Saturday, I went to T-Mosaic and collected my race pack; an assortment of swag including a water bottle, electronic race chip, socks, and energy gel. Earlier I went to Famous Bikes to pick up an early birthday present… a Garmin Edge 500 to record training stats and track my energy.
I rode the 12k from my house down to the starting line and was putting up an effortless 22mph. I figured it might be a good sign and rolled on into Changhua, where a light rain had begun to fall.
As I approached the Changhua city, riders of all type were appearing from alleyways and side roads to join a virtual convoy to the starting line.
It was great to see so many riders all together for this event despite the weather. There was a mix of road bikes and mountain bikes, with some folding and 20inch wheeled wonders in there too. Several teams showed up… but mine went home after hearing that the actual “race” component was cancelled and it would be a glorified mass-ride. I saw a few guys from our group who decided to stay and slog it out in the rain, but not many.
The start sounded and the mass of rolling humanity lurched forward into the dark wet morning. I kept my jacket on to stay warm and stuck with my plan to pace myself for a fast century ride.
I used the lead up to Bagua Shan to pass most of the field before the hill climb, which worked well as I had a pretty good run up the hills to the top of Bagua Shan. I was feeling good, and confident. I was also up near the front. I figured with nothing but flats and descents I could plod along at my typical pace at about 19-23mph and end up with a respectable finish. My goal was to make it back at around the 3:30 mark. I have averaged some pretty fast centuries, so I was optimistic.
I went into cruise control on the top of Bagua Shan to recover a bit from the climb and sit in with a small group of riders who were plugging along about the same as I was.
Then my first cramp hit. My left calf tightened up into a ball of pain and I had to unclip to shake it off. That made me increasingly concerned about my level of hydration. I typically can do very well with liquids, but with the medicine I was in desperate need. I had figured to fill at each feed station and there was one up ahead. By that time I realized it wouldn’t be a banner day for me, so I took out my camera for a couple of blog shots.
The scenery in the morning was absolutely stunning. The sun provided backlight for Taiwan’s central mountain range and a low gauze of fog hung over Cautun in the valley below.
I was still spinning along quite well over the little hill climb before the descent into Songboling. The slick roads with decomposed leaf debris made it too dangerous to pass anyone on the descents.
We quickly spilled through the tea town of Songboling and into the final descent. I have ridden this route a few times and was familiar enough with it to hit 37mph on the descent.
One poor bruiser of a fellow who had managed to power his way up on one of those funny 20-inch-wheel bikes, lost control on a turn and hit the deck in spectacular fashion.
I completed the descent and hammered along at 19.1mph while ducking into some pace lines and even leading for a bit… and then the wheels came flying off. Well, not literally, but at just about the half-way point I was developing a bottomless cough and my breathing felt “tight”. I kept trying to clear my lungs, but they just felt full of crap. I made the hard decision to pull back to a touring pace and just breathe. I couldn’t pull enough oxygen through my clogged alveoli to keep my muscles running strong.
I watched as all kinds of riders blew on past me. It was shameful, humiliating and rough. I knew where I should have been and felt awful for where I was. I hoped I would recover and get back into it.
Then I was hit with a major cramp in my left quad. This was followed by a cramp in my right quad. I dismounted to ease my legs back into shape, but almost tipped over as my right hamstring cramped up as I was unclipping. I was in total agony. I stopped at the feed stations to keep filling up on water, but I couldn’t lose the sensation that any exertion over 16mph would result in a cramp. My muscles just felt dead. I couldn’t summon anything out of them. Essentially, I had asked my body to perform lacking the two major ingredients– water and oxygen. The result was an absolute physical breakdown.
At one point I dismounted to get a sport drink. My leg cramped at a 90 degree angle for 30 seconds as I propped myself up on my bike waiting for it to straighten out.
I finally slogged my defeated self into Changhua city at such a shamefully slow pace, that I didn’t care. My wife was waiting for me at the finish line with a big smile and that was good enough for me.
We waited in line to collect my participation award and then I hopped back on the bike for some food before riding the 12k home. Official time: A disappointing and agonizing 4:24:18.
I will just have to get my body back into racing shape and show’em next time.
The view from Wuling
The Challenge the Ultimate- Puli to Wuling race was held this weekend and the title was claimed by Lin Huan-tze, the 21yo. cyclist who also won the event in 2009. Lin finished the 55km ascent to the 3275 meter summit in 2:56:07, taking 5 min. off his previous record for the event. The winner of the Women’s category was Cheng Shih-hsuan, who finished in 3:46:03.
The event is known for its difficult climb and is known to attract thousands of participants of varying degrees.
The event is organized by the Taiwan Neverstop cycling group and has drawn wide criticism within the cycling community for the way the organizers manage safety for the riders. Critics complain that the number of cyclists who are registered by Neverstop to compete in the event is too great for the road and the conditions, making it a hazard for all cyclists in the event. This year nearly 6000 cyclists participated in the race while the road remained open to vehicular traffic. Many in the cycling community are discussing limiting the event to a fixed number of participants or delaying the start by category.
Neverstop has, so far, been unresponsive to these suggestions as they would like to get as many people put on bikes as possible.
This blogger can sympathize with the concerned cyclists as novice cyclists can easily be a danger to themselves and to others, especially on such a demanding route. My scariest cycling moment occurred coming down from Wuling when an impatient driver tried to pass three cars and a tour bus on a series of curves on a section with no shoulder, just a half-meter rain gutter on the side. Scary stuff.
Earlier in the trip we went out to the Seattle suburb of Redmond to watch the races at the FSA Grand Prix on the old velodrome.
We had a great time watching the races all evening as they started with the kids and worked up to the championships.
A little smuggled beer helped set the mood for the night.
There were both individual and team events taking up the bulk of the nights racing.
As the night wore on the riders, who had been competing all week, looked like they were aout spent.
Lots of fun!
I understand that at times it might seem like I am an ARP (arrogant roadie prick) because I might cringe or comment on all the loaded, fat tired, heavy mountain bikes on the roads in Taiwan that never see more in the way of off-road than a sewer cap. I would just like to say that that is not the case. I am in no way against mountain bikes in any way. More accurately, I am all for seeing bikes used… and even more for seeing bikes used for their intended design purpose or build type. I love seeing road bikes perform on the road and heavy mountain bikes perform in the dirt.
That is why this video is so awesome. This is why bikes should have full shocks, fat tires and soft tails. Really amazing stuff! I love it.