Phil Gaimon's "Worst Retirement Ever" Continues At The Taiwan KOM Challenge

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Phil Gaimon is a former World Tour rider, the host of “Worst Retirement Ever” on YouTube, Phil’s Cookie Fondo in Malibu, and the author of “Draft Animals: Living the Pro Cycling Dream (Once in Awhile).” Here, he reports on his experience going toe-to-toe with recent Tour of Lombardia winner Vincenzo Nibali on one of the world’s most iconic and longest mountain climbs.

I remember hearing about the Taiwan KOM challenge a few years ago. A race from sea-level to 11,000 feet with crazy prize money sounded great, except I could never make it there because I was too busy being a pro and pros are supposed to rest and hit the gym in October.

Now I’m done with that life, turning my attention to a silly YouTube channel called “Worst Retirement Ever,” in which I ride up mountains as fast as I can. So when I got an invitation this year, it was a quick “yes!” Then I learned that one of the other invited guests was Vincenzo Nibali, and I saw fewer dollar signs and more pain in my future.

I’ve always been a climber, but the races I won were on 10-20-minute rises and I suffered on anything longer. I can do a decent one-hour effort for Strava these days, but a 3.5-hour effort is far from my specialty. In the pro days, I’d have prepped with a few endurance weeks of 25-30 hours, basing in Big Bear to acclimate to the high altitude.

I’ve been to Taiwan a few times and I always enjoyed it. It’s a good amount of different and weird and fun, without being so alien that it’s intimidating or hard to find what you need. And believe it or not, the bike riding is incredible. Just outside of Taichung and Taipei, there are networks of bike paths and rural roads through lush jungles, and all sorts of crazy climbs.

The landscape looked like Jurassic Park. We raced over rivers and waterfalls, which were pleasant because it was incredibly hot and humid. At 9,000 feet, it was 10K to go and Nibali flicked his elbow again, so I attacked.

The KOM challenge is “sportive-style,” meaning 600 riders start together. The climb only averages 4 percent, so it’s pretty tactical and it took awhile for the pack to shrink from 600 starters to 30 or so. When Nibali attacked, 10 remained. (He was definitely not in full offseason shape, Alex and Mike — you jerks.)

The landscape looked like Jurassic Park. We raced over rivers and waterfalls, which were pleasant because it was incredibly hot and humid. At 9,000 feet, it was 10K to go and Nibali flicked his elbow again, so I attacked.

The Italian burned his teammates and then pulled himself to keep the pressure on, while I sat on his wheel in my cookie-covered San Remo suit and 12-pound Cannondale, refusing to pull or follow his snappy accelerations, which were obviously just trying to pop us. I watch TV, Nibali. I know your tricks.

Most of the front group cruised by me in the final 30 minutes, and I came in sixth — not the result I wanted, but definitely the result I deserved, with big enough time gaps that there’s really no point questioning tactics.

I’m not sure if “Worst Retirement Ever” will return to the Taiwan KOM challenge, because there’s other climbs and events out there that also speak to my soul, but I hope you can ride in Taiwan someday.

Thanks for reading.

By Phil Gaimon

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