Monday, December 6, 2010

Taiwan train ride with pro's and Taipei sightseeing

Day 8 Taiwan: Sound bites, Dining and Ferris Wheels

The press conference (October 21, 2010) at Taipei's Train Station ended with a mass march to the train cars Taiwan had newly renovated with fabulous bicycle accommodations. Each car was equipped with bicycle racks so you can sit in the same space, and keep an eye on your bike. Our media group was invited to join the Rabobank team in their car, as we had requested an opportunity to interview Óscar Freire and/or Robbie Hunter of the Garmin pro team. Óscar is a top sprinter with 3 World Championships, an honor that only a few elite cyclists can share. 

Obligatory groupie shot of blogger - Beverly Garrity and famed racer Óscar Freire
This car had not only the team and it's staff, but our friends - the Taiwan dignitaries that we were again so fortunate to have access to. Taiwan really treated us as VIP's - and I hope we can repay the favor with our outlets back here at home, to spread knowledge of what a fantastic destination this country is! Since the TV cameras of Asian media swarmed our man of the hour, we waited our turn. 

In the mean time - as I mentioned in a previous post -  I didn't waste my time, as I was there between the bike racks and the seats with Erik Dekker.  Dutch like his team sponsor, Erik is now the team manager, and was once a force to be reckoned, an Olympic medal holder, followed by many wins and stage wins in pro tours (in 2000 he was voted the "most aggressive rider").  A charming fellow who hesitated when I asked him how he felt about leaving Colnago Bicycles behind, and moving to Giant Bicycles as their main sponsor and equipment provider. (I explained my query came from my own personal connection with Colnago. See my work/shameless plug here.) He clearly got my question, and his face let us know he missed the famed Italian bike frame with European heart.  He also - realizing the conversation would be an interview, not just sharing words in a sweaty humid car with some Americans - sincerely spoke of Giant Bicycles quality, and responsive and stiff frames. 

The line of the day from him, however, is that after we all exclaimed how darn hot it was in the humid car that made us all sweat like we were sharing a sauna - was that I smelled. I responded with "but good right?!"... and he said he didn't say that. We all had some good laughs, and we could tell they were sad to see us exit at the first stop.

Mark Blacknell, interviews Óscar Freire as Kate LaCroix records the conversation.
"My future plan is to enjoy the present now" - Óscar Freire
Before the train stopped though; there was the headliner to interview, and our very own interviewer from Podium Cafe &, Mark Blacknell, was already several questions in, before I noticed he snagged a slot between the TV cameras. I snuck up as well to join the party, and just in time for this precious quote when he was asked about his racing future, after they discussed how the tours have many more crashes now. Significantly different than stage races in the past he noted. So his response to questions about his future? "My future plan is to enjoy the present now."

Our brief time with the Rabobank team proved to be informative and candid (including time with our new Taiwan dignitary friends). I think we all wanted to stay, spend more time, and certainly want to return.

We made a quick exit at the first train stop, as we were off to tour Taipei for one more night.  The plan, after that, was to rejoin all the racers on the train on the East Coast (for the Taiwan Cup). They would train down now, we would bus over later.  Or so we thought. Our new girlfriend Megi - had different ideas. 

The nearby Typhoon Megi not only brought rain and high winds, it stranded hundreds where it hit the hardest.  Worse, it brought mud slides and buildings were actually collapsing... exactly where we were supposed to be. The Taiwan Cup had to be cancelled, the racers were stranded less than an hour after we left the train.  They stopped, as the tracks were washed out or blocked.  And most tragic of all, lives were lost elsewhere on the island. The next day when the race was supposed to start, we were planning on a bike path ride to a Buddhist Temple in Hualien. The very temple collapsed, and killed 7.   

We all felt not only deep sorrow for the victims of the natural disaster, but for our new friends trying so hard to promote Taiwan, and have this well organized cycling festival, not be able to come to it's fullest fruition. Not surprisingly, they handled it with grace. Quickly they found new hotels for us (as well as all of the Taiwan Cup riders) and allowed us to see a part of Taiwan we'd not expected to see.

But I get ahead of myself, as we were all still in Taipei, and the news of the race cancellation hadn't even come through yet, as we were about to tour Taipei 101. (Building Wikipedia facts <here>, or official Taipei 101 website <here>), then check into the Grand Victoria Hotel. Dinner at a unique artistic restaurant "The Five-Dime", then a spontaneous rain-defying ride on the Miramar ferris wheel

Celebrated as the World's tallest building from 2004-2010, and remains landmark feat in architecture and design, Taipei 101 is both beautiful and symbolic. She boasts the fastest lift at 37 seconds to go from the 1st to 89th floor! I noticed Taiwanese are so aesthetically oriented, that the view from their famous building affected the cityscape below, propelling them to pay attention and decorate rooftops. This was something I was particularly impressed with.  I always wonder why roofs are so poorly neglected, coming from one who loves flying, and seeing the world from above. 

Five-Dime restaurant was designed by Hsieh Li-Hsiang with every nook and cranny either sprayed concrete - or collected items of oversized bolts or eye-hooks to rusty metal and mosaics, or driftwood and ceramics - all organically arranged.  I'd never seen so many dishes on one table. This made the ceramic artist in me very happy. The food was amazing, even the limited number that were vegetarian (as I was eating) were outstanding. It was during this dinner that we found out that the train filled with professional cyclists never made it to Hualien.  Rather, it only made it another 45min down the tracks (from where we departed) before stranding all its passengers. 

After hearing the news that the Taiwan Cup was cancelled, and the road was out, we knew our plans would be changing soon as well. No longer could we bus down to Hualien with the roads out.  Typhoon Megi had spoken.  So our amazing guide John was busy making alternative plans, soon we would find out, to get us to another stunning location on the island. 

In the meantime, since the night markets were closed (because of the rain) we thought it was a fine time to see if the 70 meter high ferris wheel was in operation.  And yes, my friends, it was. Nobody else was brave (stupid?) enough to go up in it, but four of us piled into bucket with a clear floor, and went for the almost 20 minute spin above the Miramar mall.  We were laughing the entire time, at the fact that we likely - in a typhoon - ought to not be there. But if you look at the history so far, we were being taken care of - and somehow, a safe and good energy surrounded our group, be it Taiwanese good luck, or just dumb luck, we were having a blast, still, even thought all our clothing was soaking wet.

Next stop: factory visits to SASO's carbon manufacturing and Giant Bicycles' high-end bike frame facility, then to Sun Moon Lake!

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