HUALIEN, Taiwan (VN) — It was a tough day at the office for off-season pro cyclists Damien Monier and Eri Yonamine as they took on and won the Taiwan KOM Challenge, which French magazine Le Cycle labeled one of the top 10 bike races on planet earth.
On Friday, 412 riders from 32 countries started the combined men’s and women’s sportive that starts in the coastal town of Qixingtan and rises to Wuling at 3,275 meters above sea level with gradients peaking at more than 27 percent toward the summit at Mount Hehuan — Taiwan’s tallest mountain accessible by road.
The win for Monier, who rides for Bridgestone Anchor Cycling Team, did not come easy over the 105-kilometer, non-UCI sanctioned bike race after a final break of 12 riders, which included three-time Tour of Taiwan king of the mountain and reigning Taiwan national road champion Chun-Kai Feng of Lampre-Merida, was whittled down to just five in the closing 7km after being decimated over a 300-meter section boasting a torturous 27.3 percent gradient.
In trademark fashion, two-time defending champion John Ebsen of Androni Giocattoli-Sidermec attacked and scattered the final quintet before Monier was able to claw his way back and overtake Ebsen inside the final 4km. Monier finished in 3 hours, 34 minutes, and 19 seconds — 33 seconds ahead of Ebsen, who just signed with One Pro Cycling.
“I was very surprised he came back,” Ebsen told VeloNews. “I actually made a big mistake because I took a piss right before the downhill section (at 84.4km) and they attacked me so I needed to sit at 400 watts for 4 to 5 minutes to get back on.
“After that I never got my breath back and I needed to attack as it was my moment on the peak gradient.
“I am very disappointed,” the 26-year-old Dane who lives in Taiwan continued. “I am definitely coming back for revenge.”
Multi-time Irish hill-climbing champion and current criterium crown holder Mark Dowling, who is currently unsigned and looking for a pro contract, improved off last year’s ninth-place performance to fight back from fifth to edge Ariya Phounsavath (Laos) for the final podium spot and a share of the $75,000 prize purse — $31,000 of which went to Monier.
The 33-year-old Frenchmen’s fellow compatriot and teammate Thomas Lebas finished fifth, while Australian Stuart Smith took sixth, followed by Suleiman Waithuweka Kangangi (Kenya), Yun-Fe Wu (China), and Geoffrey Kiprotich Langat (Kenya), and Rustom Lim (Philippines) to round out the elite top 10.
“This is a very, very hard race,” said Monier, a 2010 Giro d’Italia stage winner. “I saw John attack, and he attacked with a powerful punch. I am not a climber so I had to try to stay with him. Once I caught him I think it’s OK for me to attack, so I did once, then twice and he caught me both times. Then at 4km, I broke away.”
After the race, Monier was very complimentary of the event.
“It’s just an amazing organization and I am very happy to try this race and very happy to win,” he told VeloNews. “I recommend every cyclist come and try this race at least once.”
In women’s action, which is run concurrently with the men, 2013 champion Yonamine of Japan finished in 4:03:29, more than 13 minutes faster than her race-winning time two years ago to beat Canadian endurance icon and defending champion Marg Fedyna (4:20:31), who finished second. Taiwan’s Hsiao-Chia Tseng (Axman) took third (4:21:53).
“I am very tired,” Yonamine told VeloNews. “ My legs not climbing legs, but I trained very hard for two years since the last time I raced Taiwan KOM and I am very happy with the win.”
Aaron S. Lee is a cycling and triathlon columnist for Eurosport and a guest contributor to VeloNews.