by Aaron S. Lee
For two years, road cyclists—both men and women—from around the globe have attempted to conquer the Taiwan KOM Challenge held in November. Canadian cyclist Will Routley (Optum presented by Kelly Benefit Strategies) looks to cap a stellar season by being the first elite male to reach the summit atop Mount Hehuan on Saturday and capture a NT$1 million (CAD$37,000) prize purse.
The 31-year-old, British Columbia native who won Stage 4 at the Amgen Tour of California in May and finished with the king of the mountains classification will attempt to do what past participants Jeremy Roy (Team FDJ), Anthony Charteau (Team Europcar) and 2012 Vuelta a España KOM winner Simon Clarke (Orica-GreenEdge) have been unable to do by winning the event that the French magazine Le Cycle has called one of the top 10 toughest bike races in the world.
“I think at particularly this time of year, I’m in for a world of hurt,” Routley told Canadian Cycling Magazine during the event press conference on Wednesday in Taipei. “I know myself that regardless of what the form is, I am still going to go as hard as I can suffer it out.”
The 2010 Canadian road race champion expects a long day in the saddle marking recent Lampre-Merida signee Fang Jun Kai and last year’s third-place finisher Wang Yin-Chi over the 105-km non-UCI event that starts in the coastal town of Qixingtan and rises to Wuling at 3,275 m with gradients peaking at more than 27 per cent inside the final 10 km.
“I will be following the seasoned vets for the majority of it and see how far I can make it on their wheels,” said Routley, who lives in Abbostsford, B.C., and has spent much of the off-season “swinging a hammer” and “chopping wood” around the house. “We don’t have climbs even close to this high at home because the mountains start at sea level and our latitude you don’t have to go very far to get into the snow so this is a bit of a different world.”
Race organizers have implemented new doping controls for 2014 to be run by the Chinese Taipei Olympic Committee that will prohibit any riders who have previously been suspended for doping infractions.
“The anti-doping stance is really neat,” said Routley, who has been a strong advocate of drug-free cycling through his career. “As far as I know this is the only event that is not allowing anyone who has served a suspension to participate regardless of when your suspension was served.
“We are talking about the sport getting cleaner, and I believe it is,” he added. “I’ve been outspoken on this issue and I think it’s really neat to see that they’re able to succeed doing that.”
According to Routley, who said he was “pretty cracked” for the latter half of they year, he is excited to be back on the bike and beginning his preparations for another solid North American season, which will include a return to the Tour of California, and perhaps end in at the UCI road world championships to be held in Richmond, Virigina in September.
“I’ve yet to talk to the team about meshing my goals with the team’s goals, but I’m carrying on with Optum and I have had a great time with them,” said Routley.
“Like last year, my focus will be specifically racing the UCI events in North America. The only difference is that I normally come out strong in the early half of the year, but with the world championships in the U.S. next year, there is a little thought in the back of my mind to hold together some really good late-season form and do well at those WorldTour races in Montreal and Quebec, and maybe the world championships if I am lucky enough to get on that roster.”
Other pro riders joining Routley in Taiwan are two-time Haute Route winner Marg Fedyna (Canada), and Australians Joanne Hogan and Tiffany Cromwell, who recently finished fifth at the UCI road world championships in Spain and rode the Taiwan KOM Challenge in 2013.
Aaron S. Lee (@aaronshanelee) is a pro cycling columnist for Eurosport and a guest contributor to Canadian Cycling Magazine.