Australian Benjamin Dyball (Victoire Hiroshima) won the 2023 Taiwan KOM Challenge on Friday, breaking the record held by Vincenzo Nibali since 2017 by more than three minutes. The 34-year-old veteran completed the 105km climbing event, with its signature single ascent of 87km to Mount Hehaun, in 3:16:09. Nibali’s mark was 3:19:54.
Known as the ‘race through the clouds to the heavens.’ a mass field of more than 950 elite and non-elite riders started at sea level Qixingtan Beach Square on the Pacific Ocean in the dark and followed a route to the top of the mountain at WuLing at 3,275 metres, the highest paved road in elevation in Taiwan. After the first steady 18.5km, the clock began for the official uphill grind across the final 87km.
Dyball had finished runner-up twice on the hill climb, 2018 and 2019, calling it, “one day and one climb, it’s just brutal”. There is one 4.5km descent on the route, but it is really one sustained climb, with half a dozen short sections reaching 12-15% gradient and one stretch 7.4km from the summit at 27%, according to organisers.
Friday’s runner-up was WorldTour pro Jesús David Peña (Team Jayco AlUla), 4:20 off the record-setting time. Sohei Kaneko of Japan was third, another 2:32 back.
“Today was really really hard – harder than I expected. I was thinking the last hour and a half to start pushing but it was maybe two and a half hours at a really high pace,” Peña told GCN at the finish. The Colombian had come off an eighth place finish in GC at Gree-Tour of Guangxi.
“At over 2,000 metres it was fog, we couldn’t see the road too good, but it was OK. It was really hard in the last 10km, steep, hard, and also the altitude. The last kilometres each time were harder.”
Peña’s teammate Simon Yates also took part in the epic event, finishing in 11th place in a time of 3:35:55. He called it “good fun” but added “It was a hard race today”.
“Me and David tried to give it our best but got beat by some of the other guys, but that’s how it goes. I really enjoyed the challenge and I’m sure I’ll be back another year,” Yates told GCN.
Having raced in 2020 at the WorldTour level with NTT Pro Cycling, Dyball joined the Japan-based Continental team Victoire Hiroshima this season and was second overall at the Tour of Japan. Now in his 14th season of competitive cycling, Dyball has a long list of accomplishments in the Oceania region, from double Continental Championship wins in 2019 in the road race and time…