On Wednesday, the eight-day Tour de Taiwan came to a close with Ghader Mizbani of Giant Asian Racing picking up a grand slam of individual winner, king of the mountain and best Asian rider.
Going into the time trials Tuesday, Giant was already expected to pick up the team award, which it did without a hitch, maintaining a comfortable 24.41-second lead over its closest rivals Merrida with a winning time of 69:27:29 over the 958.1km course.
Going into the final day of the race, Giant fielded Edmundas Hollands as its front-runner for the stage. Although he came in third, Giant was in such a strong position that there really wasn't too much excitement.
Of the eight local cyclists participating, Lai Kuan-hua (賴冠華), riding with Giant, performed best, posting 13th place individually. Huang Kim-pao (黃金寶), who was the great South Asian hope for this race, made a disappointing ninth place in the individual overall placings.
Merrida, which was the only real competition for Giant in the team placings, rode well overall and provided much of the excitement along the route with a competitiveness that kept Giant and the other teams on their toes. Solid team-work won it second place in the team placings, significantly ahead of Dinamo-Alatau Team in third, who lagged the winners by 42.31seconds.
According to Giant team manager Lin Wen-chin (林文進), the decisive factor in the Tour de Taiwan in past races has always been the mountain legs. On this occasion, the team fielded three strong mountain riders, who established what was regarded as a virtually unassailable lead in the Sun Moon Lake to Tatachia leg on the seventh day, a wicked ascent of almost 2,000m.
Giant simply dominated on the seventh-day mountain stage, taking the first three stage places with Mizbani followed by Australian Glen Chadwich and Kazem Sarai, creating a situation in which only an absolute disaster in the final circuit race aound Kaohsiung's Ai River could change.
The Tour de Taiwan, while it does count as a race on the international circuit, is a relatively minor event and Li Kai-chi (李開志), secretary general of the Chinese Taipei Cycling Association hopes that the good performance this year might lead to its being upgraded in subsequent years. He said that prize money kept the event relatively insignificant on the international circuit and made it difficult to get top-class riders to participate.
While there were no disasters equivalent to the embarrassing pile up last year, the race still had a spur of the moment feel -- it was decided to cut 69km out of the competition along the notoriously dangerous Hualien to Taitung Highway due to safety considerations on day four.
Team managers, having considered road conditions along this route -- which had been touted as one of the most scenic parts of the race -- concurred with the organizer's decision.
"The race still followed this course, but it was not part of the competition," Li said in an interview with the Taipei Times. "We included it because it is one of the most beautiful sections on this route, and part of our mandate is to promote tourism through the Tour de Taiwan."
He added that without the support of the Taiwan Tourism Bureau, the Tour de Taiwan would likely never have got off the ground. "So, of course, we must take into account the wishes of our biggest sponsor."