ROAD magazine June 2013 : Page 58

By: Zach Bell / Champion System Pro Cycling Team, Photos: Jim Chen have done my best to prepare for the roads that lay before me. Part of that preparation has been trying to come to terms with the ever-changing nature of the sport. Trying to predict the trajectory of the controversy around doping that seems to barrel on and on is impossible. But I am always trying to fi gure out where things are going because I struggle sometimes – wondering if I should get off the ride. Either that, or determine if there are alternative aspects that would allow me to continue to enjoy the sport I invest so much of my life in now. My new approach to cycling at a professional level has granted me a clarity through which I have been able to forge ahead. Working with a clean slate and no specifi c expectations since my change over from track to the road, I am starting to see the soul of cycling alongside me again. At times, it is a great thing to behold. I rejoined the circus of racing at the Tour of Taiwan. It was great place to start for many reasons. I have never done this race before so it came with no previous baggage. Nothing familiar to spark a predetermined reaction that might taint how I feel about returning to sport. I was free to absorb the experience of racing again as a stand-alone moment and see if the best parts of cycling I have been writing about recently were still there, or if they where just some childhood dreams I had reconstructed in my time away. Taiwan is the birthplace of modern cycling. I say that strictly in the literal sense. Most of you reading this are owners of a bike that started its life on this island. Th e vast majority of cycling parts are made here. It is a culture that is as intertwined with cycling as any European nation; possibly even more so because it is actually a livelihood and not just a passion-infused pastime. Th e Tour de Taiwan is a chance for those who work so hard in the industry to witness the highest results of their labors. Th e landscape through which the race was run was an ambiguous and orderly canvas of industrial development. Not a post-industrial revolution kind of industry with the clutter and debris of progress strewn about like rubbish in the streets though. Th ere was a tidiness and order to everything, but there was very little punctuation on the backdrop of the race (other than perhaps Taipei 101). At any point in the race you could have been anywhere else in the race and not noticed a great deal of diff erence. We snaked through row after row of 8-10 story buildings fi nished in muted colors and covered in undecipherable signage. As the race moved forward, you could see the essence of the sport start to seep out into the streets. Th e fi rst few stages it was the odd spectator group, I 58 ROAD Magazine

Tour De Taiwan

Zach Bell

I have done my best to prepare for the roads that lay before me. Part of that preparation has been trying to come to terms with the everchanging nature of the sport. Trying to predict the trajectory of the controversy around doping that seems to barrel on and on is impossible. But I am always trying to figure out where things are going because I struggle sometimes – wondering if I should get off the ride. Either that, or determine if there are alternative aspects that would allow me to continue to enjoy the sport I invest so much of my life in now.<br /> <br /> My new approach to cycling at a professional level has granted me a clarity through which I have been able to forge ahead. Working with a clean slate and no specific expectations since my change over from track to the road, I am starting to see the soul of cycling alongside me again. At times, it is a great thing to behold.<br /> <br /> I rejoined the circus of racing at the Tour of Taiwan. It was great place to start for many reasons. I have never done this race before so it came with no previous baggage. Nothing familiar to spark a predetermined reaction that might taint how I feel about returning to sport. I was free to absorb the experience of racing again as a stand-alone moment and see if the best parts of cycling I have been writing about recently were still there, or if they where just some childhood dreams I had reconstructed in my time away.<br /> <br /> Taiwan is the birthplace of modern cycling. I say that strictly in the literal sense. Most of you reading this are owners of a bike that started its life on this island. The vast majority of cycling parts are made here. It is a culture that is as intertwined with cycling as any European nation; possibly even more so because it is actually a livelihood and not just a passion-infused pastime. The Tour de Taiwan is a chance for those who work so hard in the industry to witness the highest results of their labors.<br /> <br /> The landscape through which the race was run was an ambiguous and orderly canvas of industrial development. Not a post-industrial revolution kind of industry with the clutter and debris of progress strewn about like rubbish in the streets though. There was a tidiness and order to everything, but there was very little punctuation on the backdrop of the race (other than perhaps Taipei 101). At any point in the race you could have been anywhere else in the race and not noticed a great deal of difference. We snaked through row after row of 8-10 story buildings finished in muted colors and covered in undecipherable signage.<br /> <br /> As the race moved forward, you could see the essence of the sport start to seep out into the streets. The first few stages it was the odd spectator group, Maybe a school of kids out to cheer you by. By the middle of the race this had grown into a sea of celebratory colors and sounds that was now splashed across the grey parchment of infrastructure. People lined the streets in festive colors and played traditional drums even as we passed in the neutralized starts. They where cheering for the race, for the sport, and for what the sport meant to them. They enjoyed the competition but more because there was an understanding that they were an integral part of the spectacle that was unfolding in the streets of their homes. It is sure that many of them didn’t understand the intricacies of racing, but that didn’t stop them from reveling in the beauty of the spectacle that is cycling.<br /> <br /> That passion for the sport was the fuel powering the race as well. Riders from nearly every team attacked relentlessly all week. Honestly, it was often devoid of strategy and you could tell it was just driven by a desire to play a part in the outcomes of the race.<br /> <br /> I was lucky enough to be there at the moment in the race when the sport laid bare its DNA. I am talking about that passion for struggle that sets cycling apart from every other sport. It was in the breakaway on Stage 4, with maybe 15 kilometers to go. A group of riders bridged to our lead breakaway. In the group was Drapac’s Bernard Saulzberger and one of his teammates. As they joined us, I could see they had been riding flat out to come across. Their team car came up at precisely that moment of contact.Their director, Augustino, was leaning out the side of the car and yelled to his guys, “Don’t ease up now, this is it, this is the tour!” His eyes where wide and wild with excitement and his words drove his guys on. He was right, that break ended up deciding the GC in their favor. It was a single moment, among hundreds of others, that defined the race that week. The only ones to bear witness to it were those of us in the breakaway. It was that moment that happens in every race. That instant in which the day is won through an athlete’s willingness to manufacture his own suffering.<br /> <br /> I was the beneficiary of their work over the last 10 km and was able to freshen up just enough from a long day off the front to steal the biggest UCI win of my career so far. This was a great way to start the year for my new supports at the Champion System Pro Cycling Team. It was thanks to that dynamic in the race that I was given the opportunity to show the best of myself. This is one of the aspects of cycling I find so fantastic, and something I have touched on in other pieces I have written in the last few months.<br /> <br /> The racing in Taiwan, and in much of Asia, is certainly in its infancy. It tends to be passed over by much of the competitive world as unimportant, or somehow inferior. Granted, the depths of the race fields may not be what you see in Europe; you are not going to find any races with a classics-style history or catalogs of epic photography about the hard Asian racers of the bygone days. What you will find is an ever-growing corner of the sport that is not tainted by people who want to see more out of the sport than it can offer. In this corner of the world the sport is rising out of a passion for both the competition and the aesthetic associated with the creation of the tools of the trade. The fans see the value in the drama that can unfold when the athletes are imperfect. It means there is more to celebrate when they see my teammate, Chun Kai Feng – the first pro continental Taiwanese cyclist – fight and falter his way to the king of the mountains jersey.<br /> <br /> As the high-ups of this sport sit and consider the future, I think they may be able to learn how to move forward by looking to where the sport began.Surely, in its infancy in Europe, this was a sport full of passion and good intentions. In the attitude and approach to racing that is growing in Asia, they also have a living case study of what the early culture of competitive cycling might have looked like. If it can be used to remind the rest of the cycling world why we are racing bikes in the first place, it might be able to help push the sport back to a place long ago. One where those who favor the creation of scandalous headlines about corruption and doping in bike racing are again forced to the outside to watch as the rest of us celebrate dramatic humanity of imperfect, passionate bike racers.

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