One of the most incredible experiences we’ve ever had living on a bike.
It was in 2016 that we first heard about the KOM. The race has been in existence since 2012 and its reputation has taken only 4 years to cross the planet to us.
Each year more media-friendly and attracting more participants, Vincenzo Nibali’s victory in October 2017 has strongly contributed to his popularity.
To reach Hualien, the departure point of Taiwan KOM requires almost 17 hours of travel and 6:00 hours of jet lag. 13 hours flight from Paris to Taipei, then 3:30 hours by car. On the spot we recognized the ascent, in order to get used to the altitude.
0-3275 m alt.
From the Pacific coast to the Wuling Pass.
The Taiwan King Of Mountains Challenge links the shores of the Pacific Ocean in 105 km at Wuling Pass at 3275 m altitude (Mt. Hehuanshan). The time window is a maximum of 6:30 hours to cross the finish line.
The possibility of participating in one of the most difficult bicycle races in the world is a source of motivation in itself, let’s add to that the fact that there are more than 800 riders from all over the world, including a few pros, that’s all it took.
“The support of the locals during the recon was incredible.”
Even if cycling in all its forms is part of our daily lives, the preparation of bicycle trips does not necessarily allow us to be always on our machine. Throughout the season we spend a lot of time travelling, driving thousands of kilometres across France and Europe to supervise or recognise the cycling tours we offer.
All this to say that our preparation in the mountains was far from sufficient, but no matter, we are young and love challenges.
The day before the start the riders are invited to pick up their number signs at the Hualien Parkview Hotel, we meet some guys we saw a few days earlier on the road. The local and foreign press is there interviewing personalities, we have the opportunity to talk with some pro riders. We are surprised to meet so many Westerners here in this small country on the other side of the world.
Taiwan KOM has the particularity to allow amateurs to run with pros or Neo pros. This year: Laurens Ten Dam (Sunweb), Feng Chun-Kai (Bahrain-Merida), Damien Monier (ex-Cofidis), Jan Bakelants (AG2R), Sergio Tu (Sunweb).
We have chosen to spend the night at the KADDA hotel, a place dedicated to welcoming cyclists, with a small workshop, a place to store your bike in your room, which is also very comfortable, with a panoramic view on the Pacific Ocean. A number of pro riders and staff organisation have decided to stay there as well.
The night was short and agitated, the importance of the event undoubtedly. We need to be at 5:00 am at the start to hand over our bags with our personal belongings to the organization that will transfer them at the finish line.
It was at 3:00 am that the alarm clock rang, leaving time to have breakfast but especially to repair Florian’s slow puncture on his bike, a little adrenaline rush we could have done without given the rather tight morning timing.
6:00, the start is given, the atmosphere is falsely relaxed. Already over 20°C at the start and 10°C expected at the summit at the end of the morning, the weather is there with a bright sun forecast all day long. At the start line, we try to be in the top 100 of this group of 800 riders for several reasons:
– to limit the risk of falls and the funnel effect on restarts and braking
– to be able to realize this old dream of riding with professional riders in competition.
– to be able to take a group that will pull us as long as possible, without making any major effort, staying in the wheels, a group that will have to be dropped before overheating.
The first 18 km along the Pacific are neutralized, allowing everyone to warm up and take their marks.
The approach of the official start allows the pressure to be felt, creating an immense accordion effect in the peloton with each braking, everyone wanting to come to the front of the group before entering the Taroko Gorges. After passing the Taroko Bridge, we turn left, facing 3275m of altitude difference and definitively abandoning the Pacific. This is where the official timing begins.
The road leading us into the Gorges is incredible, alternating between shaded and sunny areas, wet and dry roads, tunnels lit or not.
The slope is gentle, 3-4%, the surface is good, the most difficult remains to come. Already we can see the peloton of the most hardened riders escaping in the distance, a few curves higher up.
During the recon, we decided to take advantage of the peloton or small groups to reach in good conditions the area called Tianxiang at 400m altitude, where the percentages become more severe, 8%, maybe more. Once this village is past, it is between your legs and your mind, there are 75 km left.
The average speed was over 30 km/h during the first half-hour of the official race. Florian’s in a big day, he’s flying away.
We saw so many guys going too fast in the first part of the race (overestimating their capacity or underestimating the rest of the climb) and then push the machine (on foot!) on the steepest slopes of the final.
Our “strategy” now consists in riding at our own pace, especially, not letting yourself get carried away by following stronger guys. Hydration and nutrition are also key to success. Feed zones are present every 10/15 km between km 45 and km 90.
The tropical forest replaces the gorges and canyons, the temperature is pleasant, the sun accompanies us.
Km 64 – 1500 m of altitude. In only 40 kms of ascent we will reach the summit and its 3275 m. The most difficult percentages are approaching. For a few kilometres now, each rider has been driving alone. There is no more group. The competitors form an endless line. Everyone at their own pace.
Alone into the wild, the spirit escapes to subdue the difficulty, to perhaps outwit it. But the muscular pain is there to bring us back to reality, a look at the clock, a thought for the objective set: about 5 hours.
On the other hand, the mind also makes the void, savoring each moment, outwitting time, conscious of the beauty of the instant, the physical challenge leaves you suspended in space.
Florian will later tell me that he started to suffer from cramps around km 65. With his good start he thought he could go under 4:30, but the kilometers passing and almost not being able to get into the dancer’s shoes in the last hour, he had to face the facts: the 5-hour target would be reasonable for today.
Vegetation is becoming rarer, we do not feel a lack of oxygen, we are at 2300 m altitude.
As we knew, the last 15 km are by far the steepest, with percentages ranging from 15% to 27% in places and a few areas of respite at 8%. 4 hours already that we pedal, having for only stops the few feed zones where in a few seconds we take energy bars and fruits we need for the next kilometers. The quadriceps are getting harder.
“The KOM teaches you to consider the 7-8% as moments of potential respite.”
So close, So far away. The last Km is the most difficult.
The last kilometer is a synthesis of what we have just experienced. It concludes the longest ascent we have ever made, giving us a sense of accomplishment and pride when we cross the line.
Florian climbed in 4h50, finishing 152nd (number sign 152, wink). As for me, I finish in 5h09, 223rd out of 576 finisher.
Team Veymont Travel – Taiwan KOM Challenge Finisher 2018.
Thank you to :
Mavy Cycling Club – Our Taiwanese friends – Trek Bike Taiwan – Taiwan
Writing : Romuald B.
Credits photos : Veymont Travel / ORA Dimension
Taiwan Cyclist Federation