Sat, Nov 15, 2003 - Page 16 News List

High hopes for the Tour de Taiwan

Even as Action Asia falls victim to delay, the Tour de Taiwan is gearing up and hoping to put on a competition that will qualify Taiwan to upgrade its road race into a truly international event

By Ian Bartholomew  /  STAFF REPORTER

Action from last year's Tour de Taiwan.

PHOTO COURTESY OF CHINESE TAIPEI CYCLING ASSOCIATION

Getting back on its feet after it was cancelled in 2001, the Tour de Taiwan was wrong-footed last year when a bad crash stained the record that Li Kai-chi (李開志), secretary general of the Chinese Taipei Cycling Association was trying to create for international monitors as a prelude to raising its ranking to that of a major stop on the road-racing circuit.

This year, Li and the association have high hopes for the race, both in terms of sport, and also as a step to gaining greater recognition on the world stage.

The Tour de Taiwan will start out with a circuit race in the Baolai hot springs district in Liukuei Township in Kaohsiung County on Nov. 19 and having wended its way up the east coast through Taipei County and then to Taichung, it will finish up in a circuit race around a section of Kaohsiung's Love River on Nov. 26. In between, there will be some tough mountain sections which will delight veteran Hong Kong racer Wong Kam-po (黃金寶), who picked up awards in the individual and King of the Mountain categories last year and is the model for Taiwan's racers.

Over 15 international teams are expected to participate in the Tour de Taiwan this year, with star cyclists from BRC Kennemerland of Holland and Team Merrida of Germany. Taiwan will be entering only one team.

"It is all about keeping up a very professional standard," Li said, "We only want the best we can get, so we can't afford to consider local cyclists who are below international standard."

Up and running

Getting cycling up and running as a major sport in Taiwan has proved hard work for Li, who shook his head over last year's debacle, which put a spanner in the works of upgrading to a 2.5 grade on the international circuit this year. Li said the current race is still listed as 2.6, a grading that is also due to the relatively small purse that awaits the victors, a total of just over NT$1 million.

"It is not enough to attract the very top riders," Li said, "but we are working at it."

Safety for the cyclists will this year be a major concern, but Li pointed out that in a road race, there were too many variables, and Taiwan's drivers and not used to making way for cyclists, even if they know a race is on.

"We will be closing off sections of road as the cyclists go through and will hand out fliers to drivers are passing through, but that's the most we can do."

The stakes are high for the Chinese Taipei Cycling Association as there will be a new lot of international monitors from International Cycling Union (UCI), the main body behind international bicycle competition, to view Taiwan's performance as host.

Local organizers are enthusiastic about the course, citing the many arduous sections, especially sections such as the ascent to Tatachia, which stands 2,610m above sea level from the banks of Sun Moon Lake.

"This is comparable to anything in the Tour de France," Li said proudly. The race will run a total of 1,031km over eight days (no rest day), and according to Li is the longest yet held in Taiwan.

Tourism agenda

Another factor in the design of the racecourse has been the desire to showcase major scenic locations around Taiwan.

"We have managed to include many of the locations that are being especially promoted by the Tourism Bureau," Li said, a statement that does not sit altogether well with his desire to create a truly unique international cycle race.

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