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TAIPEI — While most WorldTour riders are enjoying a well-deserved off-season break, a handful of brave elites travelled to Asia to kick off the fourth Taiwan KOM Challenge, which rolls out on Friday, October 30. The race starts in the coastal town of Qixingtan and rises to Wuling at 3,275 meters (10,745 feet) with gradients peaking at more than 27 percent toward the summit top at Mount Hehuan — Taiwan’s tallest mountain accessible by road.
At a media event in Taipei on Tuesday, 2015 Vuelta a España mountains classification winner Omar Fraile (Caja Rural-Seguros RGA) and three-time Tour of Taiwan mountains classification winner and reigning Taiwan national champion Chun-kai Feng (Lampre-Merida) headlined the elite men’s field, which also includes Irish hill-climbing champion Mark Dowling, and reigning two-time race winner John Ebsen, who recently signed with One Pro Cycling following a year with Androni-Sidermec.
Former Garmin rider and Olympic gold medalist Lasse Norman Hansen, who has just inked a two year deal with Cult Energy-Stölting Group is also listed on the start of the 105-kilometer non-UCI sportive that includes 412 men and women from 32 countries.
The race features a NT$2.4 million (approximately $74,000) prize purse allotted for the top finishers, including NT$1 million ($31,000) for the overall men’s champion and NT$200,000 ($6,200) for the women.
Past riders have included Jérémy Roy (FDJ), Anthony Charteau (Europcar), Simon Clarke (Orica-GreenEdge) and Will Routley (Optum-Kelly Benefit Strategies), and Tiffany Cromwell (Velocio-SRAM).
For the Fraile, 25, who lifted the polka dot jersey from Esteban Chaves (Orica-GreenEdge) on the second day of the Vuelta and held on for the final 19 stages, he understands that winning a grand tour KOM puts a target on his back, but he feels no pressure and looks forward to his first race in Taiwan. “For me, this is just another race,” the 2015 Giro dell’Appennino winner said. “But at the same time it has been a long time since the Vuelta, and I do not know how my body is going to react or how I am going to feel.
“I am here to have fun, but also compete,” Fraile continued. “If I have an opportunity, I will try to win.”
When asked about his strategy in the event French magazine Le Cycle labelled one of the top 10 toughest bike races on the planet, Fraile pointed to Feng and said, “I think the best thing is to follow the local hero, that would be a good place to start.”
For Feng, who is the first Taiwan rider to ride the WorldTour, this is his fourth appearance at the KOM and he hopes a year in Europe will help him improve on his top-five finish from last year. “The Taiwan KOM is just the climb,” he said. “It is very tough — no straights, no downhills, just climbing.
“Last year I kicked too soon, and this year I need to hold and watch the leaders inside the last 10km to make my move. I am in very good condition after racing the Tour of Qinghai Lake and have continued to train very hard.”
Aaron S. Lee is a cycling and triathlon columnist for Eurosport and a guest contributor to VeloNews.