The Dynasty Hotel in Taipei hasn’t changed in a decade. My directing life has seemingly come full circle as I finished my very first directing trip in this very lobby ten years gone.
Thirty-plus hours of complicated travel and the efficient Tour of Taiwan crew have provided a simple but delicious box dinner for Floyd’s Pro Cycling. With the riders up to their rooms, team staff took advantage of a few late hours and organized and assembled most of the Van Dessel bikes in the cramped but amicable bike room. We would finish the spares and Jen would take stock of the supplies in the morning.
I’m glad I packed my Biemme race kit, and the team brought an extra Garneau helmet that I quickly adjusted and joined the boys for our only pre race spin. Even in a vast, condense, intimidating, and foreign city like Taipei, with the aid of young minds and technology we ambitiously set forth a ride route. Under the runways of a closer municipal airport and over the bridge spanning the Keelung River, we found ourselves directly in the surrounding mountains. I was surprised at the numerous local road cyclists on our route and they all smiled, waved and welcomed our teal blue formation as we snaked upwards and deeper into the lush green canopy.
This was the first outing for me on the team bike, and the combination of new frame, Shimano carbon race wheels and the amazing Pirelli rubber gave me hope of actually keeping up with the leisurely pace of the guys. Up and up we went and I’ll never again tease and doubt the current generation’s insistence on a mandatory 28 cog. I visited it for over an hour on our journey up to Yangmingshan National Park.
These are the moments I miss most since retirement. Discovering new places and enjoying them with contemporaries and brothers from the vantage point of the saddle. I smiled inwards watching the guys laugh, snap and take in the majestic and haze obscured views of Taipei disappearing below us. I felt fortunate to be experiencing this again.
The race infrastructure has improved and was apparent on vehicle allocation. Brand new and uniform Nissan cars to all teams gave a professional feel. We set off for the stage one circuit in the streets of Taipei. A small but knowledgeable crowd sent us off on a routine bunch sprint stage. We had only one small issue with a crash involving Emile, who was expertly and calmly paced back by Jonny through the caravan. Travis would come to the front too soon and mistimed his effort for a solid yet disappointing 5th place.
Stage 2 was looking routine also until the base of the final climbs to the finish where Keegan flatted at the worst possible moment. I pushed the Nissan to its limit to help guide our climber through the carnage of the exploding peloton while the understanding and experienced commisaires recognized an obvious contender with a mechanical wading through the dropped and backwards heading stragglers. We multitasked this by keeping an eye on the helpful YouTube feed to see Zuke lighting up the race with punishing attacks. No sooner was he brought back that Keegan confirmed his talent by not only making it back to the dwindling pack, but attacking it late on. He would be brought back with scant few km’s to go when Jonny’s near miss of a year ago on this stage was atoned with an emphatic win.
Maybe you’ve seen on board, in-car cameras of bigger races to capture the joy of victorious directors and staff real time. I assure you both Richard and my celebrations upon hearing our #91’s victory would compare favourably with those images. It’s a feeling that never gets old.
Stage 3 was a blistering hot affair and we defended yellow with aplomb. Perhaps we spent a bit too much energy in controlling the race and that fault would lie squarely with my tactics. I often borrow from my racing days of better safe then sorry and assume perhaps a bigger workload then necessary. The boys put in tremendous work on the front of the peloton all day, only to lose the stage and jersey on stage place countback.
We made amends the very next day when we turned the tables and were once again on the front foot with Zuke causing trouble on the race’s front end. Once taken back, the last climb would drop the yellow jersey of the Nippo Vini Fantini rider mostly through the punishing tempo from our Serghei and Keegan. It was clear that Jonny would once again be inheriting yellow, but the question would be by how much? A cunning late attack by James Picolli would steal the stage putting him equal on time with Jonny and I was afraid we would lose the tie breaker once again on stage placing countback. However the tight photo finish pic would reveal that Jonny eked out two other riders and claim the jersey outright by the 6 second bonus offered for his 2nd place finish. This gave a handy margin of 16 seconds over the majority of the peloton with one day to go.
We still had plenty to do in the Tour of Taiwan’s final stage. Dictating a breakaway of our liking is always a tricky proposition and relying on other teams to race their own ambitions is guesswork too. Our nerves were further tested when an early crash nearly brought down our race leader. We were able to replace his wonky rear wheel and tape his broken Shimano shoe tight around his foot during unscheduled race neutralization when the break went the wrong way on course; a rare blemish on this incredibly efficient and well run event.
It came to a drag-race leadout between North American teams Elevate and Floyd’s with Emile in particular providing Travis a very valuable final draft, but the Nippo team would time it from behind a little better and snag the final stage win with Travis boxed again for another frustrating but encouraging 5th place. More importantly the team defended like champs and Jonny was crowned Tour de Taiwan champion for 2019.
We can’t thank Floyd and all our sponsors enough for their support. Road cycling has indeed changed in the last 10 years. Sponsorship stateside seems to be shifting focus while Asian races are blossoming. Floyd’s Pro Cycling has enjoyed tremendous success to start our inaugural 2019 season and I can’t wait to hear another team rider’s number being called as winner in the near future.