If climbing is your thing, then the Taiwan KOM is for you....
Created in 2012 the Taiwan KOM is recognised as one of the toughest races in the world attracting some of cyclings elite. With a distance of 105km starting at Hualien which is at sea level and finishing 3275 meters above sea level at Mount Wuling this it not a race for the faint hearted, but then again you don't need to 'race' it, just getting to the finish line is an achievement in itself.
You don't need to live in Taiwan for the race to be accessible, as one of our customers (Wei Kiat Soon) from Australia explains.
SPOKEN: What made you decide to travel all the way to Taiwan and ride Taiwan KOM?
WKS: The Taiwan KOM route is one of the highest fully paved roads in the world reaching a peak of 3275m and that in itself was enough to make me want to take on this challenge and test my hill climbing ability
SPOKEN: Do you normally ride a lot of hills?
WKS: Yes, our weekly ride normally includes over 2000m of elevation and earlier this year I rode the Audax ACE 250 which includes 4200m of climbing, I enjoy the hills and the challenge they bring.
SPOKEN: You flew to Taiwan from Australia, was it difficult to find affordable flights and accommodation?
WKS:Not at all, flights were actually quite reasonable especially in October as it's off peak. I flew with Cathay Pacific which required a transit through Hong Kong and it cost me approximately AUD850 return.
Accomodation is generally quite affordable in Taiwan, our hotel cost us AUD60 per person per night for a twin share room which also included breakfast.
When you register for the Taiwan KOM, the registration form has the option to book the hotel directly with a discounted rate, the hotel will also prepare a breakfast box available from 4am on race day.
SPOKEN: Did you have any language difficulties given Taiwan speaks Chinese?
WKS: No, I speak Chinese myself. Getting around Taiwan is not hard at all if you do not speak the local language, Taiwanese people are friendly and very happy to help.
SPOKEN: What is the sequence of events for registration, is it straight forward, any special instructions?
WKS: Very straight forward, all via the single online registration page with the option to book transport from Taipei to Hualien, selection of hotels, and post race downhill transport to east/west coast or Taipei (the race doesn’t allow a rider to ride down after the reaching summit).
As part of registration you will also receive a free t-shirt and the options to purchase event merchandise
SPOKEN: How did you feel on race day, you must have been a bit nervous and excited, tell us about it…
WKS: It was mixed feelings, nervousness, excitement, especially the ride from the hotel to the starting line. Once we were at the starting line, I took couple of minutes to soak up the atmosphere and fully focus what lay ahead while at the same time trying to enjoy the moment as much as I could.
Prior to race day, I had planned my strategy which included pace/effort, feed zones, climb route/profile and timing. This took away some of the nervousness and gave me something to focus on.
SPOKEN: What was race start like, was the pace fast and did riders of similar ability form groups reasonably early in the race?
WKS: The race started with 18km of flat neutral riding before the official clock starts at the beginning of the climb. The neutral part of the ride is probably the scariest part as 750+ riders with differing levels of ability and skill are riding in close quarters which could result in nervous riders making sudden moves bringing down the riders around them, thankfully this didn't happen.
Once we started the climb, the peloton slowly split and naturally formed into smaller groups so finding riders of similar ability was fairly straight forward. Once you've found your new group of companions the focus becomes on finding a steady rhythm.
Tip, the groups will split again into various smaller ones and it's is easy at this point to get carried away and push beyond your limits. Make sure stick to your plan and follow the group which is aligned to your power output or pace.
SPOKEN: What was your plan to manage your pace knowing what lay ahead?
WKS:We knew the race had a cut off time of 6.5 hours to get to the summit from the start of the climb. My aim was to finish within 6 hours with some buffer if things don’t go according to plan. With 6 hours in mind, and total of 3400m of climbing, my plan is to make sure I climbed at least 600m per hour.
I knew the last 10km had an average gradient of 9% with some sections reaching 27.3% so reserving energy as much as possible before this section was key to reaching the finish line within the allotted time. I made sure I stayed in zone 2 and 3 until I reached the last 10km at which point I emptied the tank and gave it my all.
SPOKEN: Did you have a nutrition plan?
WKS: Not specifically but In preparation for the race I made sure I had a balanced diet, vegetables were lacking in my normal day to day diet so I adjusted and had vegetarian meals during the week and meat-based meals on weekend. It worked well for me.
SPOKEN: Did the temperature change a lot as you reached higher altitude?
WKS: Not at sea level, the forecast for race day was a high of 28 degrees and a low of 23 degrees but the summit had a high of 5 degrees, because we were climbing for the entire race I found the change in temperate as we ascended worked out well, as we got tired the temperature also cooled down.
When I reached 2500m I did start to feel some high altitude sickness but it only lasted 10 mins and my body seemed to adjust.
SPOKEN: What was the finish like, how would you describe the atmosphere?
WKS: One of the best experiences in my cycling career especially the last 2km. It was probably the hardest 2km I've ever ridden with tired legs, body drained of energy, and facing into a 12% ramp up to the finish line. The atmosphere near the finish line is amazing with people cheering you on to give the extra motivation needed find that last piece of energy and push through to the end. Once you cross the line, a finishing medal will be waiting for you acknowledging and rewarding all the efforts leading up to the race and completing it.
Don’t forget to take a photo at the sign with the name of the peak and elevation height
SPOKEN: How do you get down from the mountain, do you need to ride?
WKS: You're not allowed to ride down from the mountain for safety reasons and to avoid collisions with riders on their way up. You either have to book the downhill shuttle through the event organisers or get your own transport such as a team support car. The race downhill shuttle is available to book when you register.
SPOKEN: How do you unwind after the race?
WKS: At the finish line, lunch and various hot drinks are available and once I'd filled myself up with a meal and nice hot tea, the journey back to hotel took about 2.5 hours. During this time I just relaxed in the shuttle before reaching our hotel.
Night markets are a big thing in Taiwan (night markets sell all types of street food, drinks and beer) so we spent the evening enjoying all the delicious food and indulging in a few beers.
SPOKEN: Do you have any advice for anyone else wanting to do the Taiwan KOM, particularly those travelling from outside of Taiwan?
WKS: In general Taiwan has a very strong cycling culture and is generally very accomodating when they see cyclists on the road.
- Currency exchange at the Taiwan airport offers very reasonable exchange rates with an AUD2 transaction fee
- Sim cards can be purchased in the airport, cost varies based on the number of days and it's unlimited data
- Two types of train travel is available from Taipei to Hualien;
- Express - Trip takes approx. 2.5 hours. Bikes must be in a bag and make sure to purchase a ticket in advance and leave your bike (in it's bag) at the 1st or last carriage
- Local - Trip will take up to 4 - 4.5 hours - Bikes do not need to be in a bag
- Night market is a must see and be sure to try out all the local food.
- The Bike shops in Taiwan have some of the best service I ever experienced and are reasonably priced. Some bike shops also have facilities to wash your bike to save you that chore when you get home.
SPOKEN: Anything else you’d like to share?
WKS: Taiwan KOM is a very good experience and I'd suggest taking some time to ride around the region either before or after the race. If you love the hills, Taiwan has over 200 mountains higher than 3000m so you have plenty of options and you'll find a 7/11 or convenience store every few Kms so refuelling and replenishing food is never a problem.
Thank you Soon We Kiat for your insights.
By all accounts it looks like Taiwan KOM is a unique event and worth making a trip to Taiwan for. If you're travelling from outside of the country or region it would make sense to extend your stay and explore some of the great riding Taiwan has to offer.
If you are after sustainable custom kit for your team or club, please get in touch, we'd love to help.
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