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Rapha Cycling Club Tour of Taiwan

Approaching the end of a sabbatical year in Taiwan, Rapha Cycling Club member Daniel McCallig joined clubmates from the Taipei chapter for one more memorable ride.

Prologue

Approaching the end of my sabbatical year in Taiwan, I realised I hadn’t seen much of the country outside of Taipei. Then, as I was browsing kit at the Taipei Clubhouse one day, Tsai, the assistant Clubhouse manager, said, “We’re organising a Tour of Taiwan.”

Great, I thought – here’s my chance to see it from the bike. After signing up a few days later he remarked, “You’re joining us on the tour?” And with a smile, “This will be your graduation from Taiwan.” I had no idea the weight his words would carry.

As an average amateur, any ride over 100km feels long. How I thought I would manage this kind of distance day after day remains a mystery. But still, I found myself packing up and hurtling towards this unknown adventure.

Stage one

Taipei–Taichung, 171km

Up at 5am. Rides start early in Taiwan to avoid the midday heat. We rode out of the Taipei Clubhouse with fellow RCC members for the first 50km as a group send off. As they turned back for Taipei, 30 riders were reduced to seven. “OK, this is it.”

Stage two

Taichung – Chiayi, 159km

The first real climb of the tour. We reach the top around 9am, dripping with sweat, and stopped at a small café. Ray handed out Taiwanese hard-boiled eggs, and we noticed a group of local riders enjoying some cold beers – that’s the way to do it.

To ride this kind of distance day in, day out, for seven days, everything becomes focussed on getting to the end of the stage. Hydrate, caffeinate, eat, apply sun cream – our hourly ritual.

Stage Three

Chiayi – Tainan, 127km

Today we arrived in fellow rider Ahsien Yen’s hometown of Tainan. We ate at his favourite hotpot restaurant and met his family, a nice personal touch.

Each night in bed I felt the motion of the road; the twists and turn of the descents, the spinning of the pedals and the gentle sway from side to side after eight hours in the saddle every day. My thoughts often turned to Mark Beaumont who recently completed a record breaking round the world ride in 79 days. He spent so long in the saddle that at the end of it he struggled to walk.

Stage Four

Tainan – Manzhou, 181km

We arrived at the southern tip of Taiwan after hitting the halfway point. It was all a bit of a blur, and I almost blacked-out on the bike due to the heat and headwind. My legs went numb. I was delirious.

As we rolled through the hills of Kenting National Park, the sun set and the views were majestic. What an achievement.

Stage Five

Manzhou – Chenggong, 181km

The longest day of the tour started with a hot climb in 80% humidity. The descent was magnificent, with a tailwind gently pushing us north up the coastal road, sandwiched between sea and mountains.

It was the hardest day on the bike I've ever done, and my whole body burned with exhaustion. But there’s no glory without suffering.

Stage Six

Chenggong – Nan'ao, 181km

The Queen Stage began with a climb from the Pacific and a descent into a lush valley of paddy fields. I was hurting everywhere; butt, back, neck, hands, feet. Bring on the final Taipei homecoming stage tomorrow.

Stage Seven

Nan'ao – Taipei, 181km

Energy, adrenaline, power, and excitement to get home.

We rode through Taiwan’s oldest tunnel, now a dedicated cycle path, before stopping at a famous spot for a ‘lunchbox’ – a traditional Taiwanese boxed meal made popular by the government railway.

After battling through the now-unfamiliar traffic, we were welcomed back to the Clubhouse as heroes and given a rose each. Camaraderie at its highest. I was then presented with an RCC jersey signed by teammates and Clubhouse staff. A fantastic memento of the tour, and of my time in Taiwan.

Epilogue

This was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done in my life, but also, one of the best. It was a transformative experience for me, and thinking back to Tsai’s words in the Clubhouse, they could not have been more prescient. I learned so much: about the country, about cycling, about myself, and my limits of mental and physical endurance.

“Ex Duris Gloria”. I learned the true meaning of the motto during the Tour of Taiwan – the suffering lasted seven days but the glory will last a lifetime.

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