Australians shine at Taiwan KOM Challenge with two top 10 finishes

By Aaron S Lee

Aussies Stuart Smith and Ali Watts secure sixth-place each in one of the world's toughest one-day bike races.

HUALIEN, Taiwan—France's Damien Monier (Bridgestone Anchor Cycling Team) and Japan's Eri Yonamine may have won the annual Taiwan KOM Challenge on Friday, October 30, but Australia's Stuart Smith ( and Ali Watts made an impact with two impressive sixth-place performances in what French magazine Le Cycle labelled one of the top 10 toughest bike races in the world.

"The scenery up here is ridiculous," Smith told NZ Bike after the race. "I didn't wipe the smile off my face all day... I was having a ball."

A total of 412 riders from 32 countries started the combined men's and women's 105-kilometre sportive that starts in the coastal town of Qixingtan and rises to Wuling at 3,275 metres above sea level at the summit of Mount Hehuan – Taiwan's tallest mountain accessible by road.

The 24-year-old Melbourne native, who finished third in the 2011 Oceania road race championships, found himself in a 12-man lead group, that included last year's race winner John Ebsen (Androni Giocattoli-Sidermec) and reigning Taiwan road race champion Chun-Kai Feng (Lampre-Merida) and that had already disposed of current Vuelta a España mountains classification winner Omar Fraile (Caja Rural-Seguros RGA) and Danish Olympic gold medallist track cyclist-turned-roadie Lasse Norman Hansen (Cannondale-Garmin) before he was dropped by five-man attack inside the final 10 kilometres.

"I was just taking it easy today, but further and further guys just kept disappearing" explained Smith. "We hit that steep bit and I said 'wait I'm pretty good here and it's not that bad' and then 2km late I'm like 'I'm outta here... let's switch this off and tap' and I tapped for a couple kilometres.

"I hit that last 5k and that little descent and I'm like 'great, I've got a little bit left and I finished sixth and I was like 'wow, I didn't see that coming.'"

For Smith, who works fulltime at iBikes Australia in Oakleigh, Victoria, his future is uncertain considering the potential folding of his Subaru National Road Series team in Australia. But he is certain that a return to Taiwan is in his near future.

"Our season has not been too good," explained Smith. "We had a bit of a mixed calendar, but I felt we came good at [the Melbourne to Warrnambool Cycling Classic] and we got [Oliver Kent-Spark] up for third and I was super happy with my ride.

"Like I said, it hasn't been the best year, but I enjoyed today and I'm looking to have a go at nationals in January and see where the road takes me, but I am certainly interesting in coming back and racing the Taiwan KOM again."

The 33-year-old Monier, who won a stage at the 2010 Giro d'Italia, withstood an attack from the reigning two-time champion with less than 8km to go on a 300-metre stretch boasting a torturous gradient of 27.3 percent. Monier counterattacked with 4km remaining and rode off to a 33-second lead and win. Multi-time Irish hill-climbing champion and current criterium crown holder Mark Dowling finished third.

In women's action, which is ran concurrently with the men, 2013 champion Yonamine finished in 4:03:29 more than 13 minutes over her race-winning time two years ago to beat Canadian endurance icon and defending champion Marg Fedyna (4:20:31), a three-time Haute Route winner and the second woman to finish a 2,900km, 28-stage adventure race from one end of New Zealand to the other in 2001.
Taiwan's Hsiao-Chia Tseng (Axman) took third (4:21:53). 

For Watts, a health and fitness coach residing in Hong Kong, her prize-money performance came at a cost.

"My back was seizing and I was in a lot of discomfort," admits Watts. "So, I'm not pleased with my result, but I will definitely come back and race the Taiwan KOM Challenge again.

"This place is amazing and I know I can perform better."

Aaron S. Lee is a cycling and triathlon columnist for Eurosport and a guest contributor to NZ Bike.
Image credits: Courtesy of Daebong Kim | VeloPaper​

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