Mmmm... teppenyaki. Photo: RTS Racing

Lee Rodgers’ Tour de Taiwan Diary: Anyone got a GPS?

Diarist Lee Rodgers gives his off-beat take on the first stage of the Tour de Taiwan

Where am I?

This is a question that comes to every stage racer at some point in the season. When the hotel you’re in feels just like the last one and the one before that and the one to come tomorrow. You’re in a washing machine on deep spin and haven’t got the energy to care. Each of the comforts of the hotel room begins to feel like a little assault on your sense of self. Generic toothbrushes, toothpastes so tiny they compound the loneliness of the pro racer — it’s like that miniature tube is saying, “You get two squirts bud, then you’re out.” The crappy shampoo, the 3-in-1 coffees, the stiff towels, the rubbish slippers, the tiny glasses!

You wake up and don’t know where you are because, well, you don’t know where you are.

So let me check. Ah, Taoyuan City, just south of Taipei, sat up in bed typing this, watching Taiwanese television and so glad that I can’t understand a word. If only all TV was like this…

Tomorrow we have a stiff stage, going up all day with a leg-breaker at the end, 400m in about 3km. Hard to describe the speed we hit these things at, but by the end you’re swinging like a pirate in the rigging in a hurricane, dodging past Blowees and bad moto drivers and absolutely killing it. To replicate the speeds we go up these things in training, as anyone who has raced will know, is just about impossible.

Amazing what the fear of being dropped will do.

So on the second of today’s two climbs with 30km to go, a group of about 40 went clear over the top and we barreled down the wet descent — the scent of blood was in the air. And once the pack senses a break, it’s full gas, riders of the apocalypse-style, and I just love that moment. You look back and see 40 instead of 140 and then turn back and it’s nose-to-stem. They all love it; I know they do, and of you look close you might sometimes see a little smile between the snarls.

For all that we spend hour-after-hour taking it easy, letting the escape go, covering breaks or jostling for position before a climb, it’s going as fast as we possibly can that we are addicted to, delivering pain, tapping out Morse codes of suffering on those pedals! Get crushed, laddo!

It’s that primal.

So that’s where we were, we headed down the descent and hit the coastal road and we were flying. Attacks started and my two teammates and I went in some but nothing stuck. Finally one went and the quality was, well, quality. Dirk Muller, Wam Kam Po, Rhys Pollock, Floris Goesinnen, Taiji Nishitani and Takashi Miyazawa — some names there you might not have heard, but very solid, impressive riders.

We chased, but it was forlorn; those guys were on rockets. In the end, Wam Kam Po (at a very young 39 years of age) won and Miyazawa took yellow. The Saxo Bank rider was said to have tears in his eyes at the end — this was the one-year anniversary of the tsunami that hit Japan, and I for one am thrilled for Takashi. Wonderful result.

Taiwan is where I live so this is like racing my home tour. It’s a little weird seeing it all through the eyes of the other guys in the bunch who have never been here, nice to recognize the unusual that has, after two years here, become normal. I can’t recommend Taiwan enough for a cycling trip — awesome roads, huge climbs, beautiful coastline and of course the people, who are so welcoming to foreigners that they put my countrymen to shame.

Oh and great food. Shabu shabu last night, teppenyaki Taiwan-style tonight.

One complaint about this race, though, is the Taiwan Cycling Federation. Get this: the foreign teams are all in the official hotel. They get breakfast and dinner, etc., but the local teams? We have to find and pay for our own hotels. This, Mr. Commissaire, is not how you support local talent, and at a 2.1 UCI race, that is out of order. As is cars still coming in the other direction during the stage. This sport is dangerous enough; we don’t need to come round the corner and see a car doing a three-point turn in the street.

The first day was very cold and wet, pretty miserable after Oman and Langkawi! The course was in a great place, downtown Taipei, but on a dodgy course with huge cats-eyes and cobbles. Fortunately there were no real casualties. My legs felt great, but again I missed the break. (I need to get that on a t-shirt. It’s my new motto.)

So I’m sat in 25th on the GC with a teammate in 24th and another in 28th, all 58 seconds down — a decent platform hopefully for moving on up. The parcours this year looks great, all uphill finishes except the last day. When it’s this hard you can’t complain too much about the result. What you see is what you got.

Personally, form is good after the other three tours, but mentally, another story. The cold is eating away at me and I am bushwhacked, but hey, could be worse, right? I could be sat at home wishing I were here.

Or I could have been in an eastern town on Honshu this day last year. No matter what is going on, it could always be worse.

Ganbatte Nihon.

17 years after stopping racing as a junior in England and traveling and working around the world, Lee Rodgers started cycling again 4 years ago “to lose a bit of weight” and now rides for UCI Continental team, RTS Racing Team, based in Taiwan. He works full-time as a journalist and part-time as a cyclist. Check out Lee’s previous diary entries