BY MARC SANI
TAIPEI, Taiwan—Getting 32 executives from 32 companies to set aside business for 11 days and go for a 612-mile bicycle ride is quite a feat no matter what the industry.
In Taiwan, where business is business 24/7, few executives ever spend a sizable chunk of time away from the office. So Giant’s president and A-Team chairman, Tony Lo, appears to have pulled off a one-time miracle certain to be remembered for years.
For most participants stepping away from day-to-day business was less difficult than, what for many, would be the most physically challenging event in their lives; they had seldom faced the rigors of a pure physical challenge.
So when the A-Team ended its 11-day circumnavigation of this island nation their faces beamed with pride. Daisuke Kobayashi, president and CEO of SR Suntour, told me in halting English how worried, almost to the point of fear, he had been when he agreed to join the Tour de Taiwan.
At age 65, Kobayashi said he would practice alone riding up hills to get in shape and then join others for training rides. As each day of the Tour progressed, Kobayashi appeared to get stronger, cheered on by Suntour employees who would pop up along the roadside waving banners and shouting encouragement.
For Masao Chu, general manager of Post Moderne, at age 67 and the oldest in the group, the Tour de Taiwan posed a life-threatening choice. Chu underwent major heart surgery a year ago. Once a heavy smoker and a man known to enjoy a drink or two, Chu wore a heart rate monitor and at lunch would check his blood pressure before deciding whether to continue that day.
Chu had two dizzy spells on the ride, one of which left him flat on his back at a rest stop. As riders rushed to his aid, Simon Lin methodically massaged his chest. In a few minutes, he was up and walking but retired to the bus for the rest of the day.
Voxi Chen, president of Liow Ko, was another who took on the Tour despite heart surgery nine months ago. Chen, 47, had had a major heart attack followed by bypass surgery yet he rode every mile often near the front with Lo.
And Stella Yu, the 60-year-old owner of Velo, one of the world’s largest makers of saddles, began to train, lost weight, and was the only woman to complete the Tour. Every day she would tell me how worried she was that she wouldn’t keep up; yet every day she rode in with the pack—no small feat for someone five feet tall, tipping the scales at 90 pounds, and riding a carbon-fiber bike sized just for her.
Hongder Chang, Kenda’s general manager, said that before the ride he, too, was worried. Would he finish? Would he keep up with the others? Those were questions he kept asking himself right up to the start. After all, he said, he hadn’t ridden a bike since he was a kid. But the 48-year-old Chang, despite some knee pain along the way, finished without missing a pedal stroke.
Specialized’s Bob Margevicius, the only U.S. supplier invited on the Tour and an ex-pro racer, called the riders “real heroes.” Few had ever ridden bikes and, for most, cycling around Taiwan was the single biggest physical challenge they had ever faced, he said. “This has been a scary proposition for most of them,” Margevicius added.
Before the ride began, Margevicius said he doubted that a third or more would finish. He later admitted he was surprised at their determination to tough it out through torrential rain and tropical heat. “It’s really a testament to their will,” he said.
The A-Team, a group of manufacturers closely aligned with Giant and Merida, has been led for six years by Lo, who steps down in July. Getting these executives to take this challenge tested his political and leadership skills. But Lo insisted that if you make frames, components and accessories, then use the equipment you produce, learn what works, what doesn’t, and use that knowledge to improve. That’s the only way to keep the industry’s base in Taiwan growing, he said.
“Our goal is to use the A-Team as a platform to improve quality and develop better products unique to Taiwan that supports the IBD,” he said in an interview shortly before starting the Tour. Lo, however, never asked riders to do anything he wouldn’t do. Each day he rode at the front, setting the pace and taking care to keep the group together.
Several times Lo cited Italy and its passion for the culture of cycling. There’s no reason why Taiwan can’t be known as a center for innovation, manufacturing and passion for bicycles, he said.
More importantly, and largely left unsaid, was the need for industry leaders to set an example. How can they ask Taiwanese officials to spend money to improve cycling access, build bike lanes and bike paths if they, themselves, never ride bikes?
Taiwan’s new president, Ma Jing-jeou, a cyclist and triathlete, enjoys wide support among Taiwanese businessmen and, in particular, the bicycle industry. Ma, who hopes to ease tensions with China, signaled the importance of cycling to the island’s future and urged Taiwanese to choose bicycles over fuel-consuming cars and scooters.
Ma, addressing a crowd of several thousand well wishers who came to the Presidential Office to see the riders start the Tour, said he wants more bike lanes built and more laws