When I invited Claudia o the Taiwan KOM Challenge 2017 I must admit that though I knew of her, it took Emma Pooley to pull me aside and explain just how great a rider Claudia is.
"Claudia taught me so much," said Emma. "I was her domestique when she won the Tour and the Giro in the same year." High praise indeed, and that, by the way, is a feat that has been rarely achieved on the men's side either. It's indicative of the state of women's cycling that almost no one recognised Claudia. However, looking on the positive side of things, it was fantastic to see an increase in the number of female pros at the event and to have finally achieved the long-term goal of having equal prize money for both men and women.
And so, onto Claudia's comments about her time at the KOM and in Taiwan. I originally asked her for 200-300 words to put up on pur KOM FB page, but she felt she could not do her trip justice in 300 words, so she wrote this - and I am very happy that she did becuse it's very good and explains very well just how hard the KOM hill is, even for the pros.
So, thank you Claudia!
My Taiwan KOM Challenge, by Claudia Lichtenberg
I expected this to be special, but it was more special, than I could think about it before! The Taiwan KOM Challenge made me feel new limits – I’m thankful for this experience though it was very painful.
Everything started with the long flight from Europe to Taiwan. Suddenly you step out of the plane and you are in the jungle, totally different culture undefinable food... The night before the race I slept for 30 minutes. Time difference was not on my side. But as soon as I arrived on the start line I was turned on again. It was a great feeling to be part of so many, about 400, crazy cyclists who wanted to take this challenge. And to be honest, it was special for me to stand on the same start line as Vincnzo Nibali.
Though the bunch was huge, it was a very respectful atmosphere. Everyone knew, that good positioning is nice but not deciding at all. The beginning went like expected. It was a solid speed, but steady. As after maybe 1 hour Bahrain Merida started to drive it, I felt how I hit my threshold. This was my sign to let go and not fight to stay at the wheels, though two other women, Emma Pooley and Eri Yonamine, were still in the first bunch. Also this was not a surprise for me and I just kept riding my own speed. I found a good rhythm, had fun pedalling and thought I can do this forever, until the top. After a while, maybe 2 hours, I caught and dropped Eri and just continued in my flow. The scenery was amazing and I was busy to soak up every single moment.
Claudia relaxing at the Xincheng, Taroko Gorge.
And suddenly everything changed. I was just over the 2000m mark and lost all my rhythm and power. From one second to the other everything was painful. Speaking to myself: „OK, Claudia, just relax, recover a bit, eat and drink and you will be fine.“ But in fact I never came out of this crises again. It was not possible for me to recover any more. I think, that I can say, that I know my body quite well and that I know my limits, but this was something new. I must admit, that I totally underestimated the effect of altitude. In any normal race I know, I would have been good in my own capabilities, but this was not a normal race! When the second and third women passed me, I had nothing left to even think about racing against them. In my suffer-try to recover-rhythm I made it to the last 10km, which everyone knows, are the hardest. Ramps up to 27% speak for themselves. But now I know, that the altitude up to 3275m is the bigger problem. The first time in my whole career, I was doubting if I even can reach the finish line. Totally empty, I recognized, that I start to see everything double and that I should concentrate to not crash myself – riding maybe 3 km/h. Now my tactic was to ride as slow as possible- just give the power that is necessary to keep the pedals moving. Incredible!
Somehow the finish line came closer and I made it. After laying on the ground for 10 min it felt great! It was so hard and painful but something new for me. I got to know myself a bit better in this race. What a nice present! Like a special souvenir of new experience for life! From my heart, I want to advice everyone, who gets the chance to start at Taiwan KOM Challenge - DO IT!