We all know about that glorious gold crown awarded to the strongest athletes in the area. The crown that draws so many amateur and professional athletes to the mountain side. Long or short, Strava segments is something that keeps athletes using Strava. The virtual race scratching that competitive itch of most humans, especially athletes. I will admit, I am one that can easily fall into the Strava KOM trap. This voice in the back of my head screaming at me to get that KOM. Prove you are worthy of racing at the higher level… But how much value should we actually put into these segments?
Alright, so as some of you know I used to live in Asheville. Asheville is a cycling Mecca and is host to many “Kings of the Mountains.” While living in Asheville my desire to get KOMs was not at the top of my list. Why? Simply put, I knew I couldn’t compete on most of the climbs. Asheville is host to many World Tour and Pro-Continental riders. These guys are strong. Dethroning one of these guys takes years of training or Segment doping. Segment doping is going to the segment with the sole intention of getting the KOM and only riding it during perfect conditions. This isn’t my style. So I just relegated myself to chasing PRs on the segments. Improving my times week after week. But last July I moved to Oak Ridge, just north of Knoxville.
Knoxville is home to some professional riders, but most living to the south. They occasionally venture north to the Cumberland Range which is immediately north of Oak Ridge. There are a couple climbs, one of them being a 15 minute 5km climb averaging 7%. This climb, named Mt. Larry, begins with straighter roads and consistent gradient. Once you hit the middle you begin to hit the switchbacks. Gradients reaching 14% make you start to doubt your legs and question if this climb will ever end. I remember the first time I rode it I was almost 3 minutes down from Stephen Bassett, a local pro-continental rider for Silber. I was astonished by his time. I couldn’t figure out how I could possibly make up 3 minutes. I went back to my thoughts in Asheville where I would never be able to match the effort to grab the crown. That was true until last week.
Last week I was doing my typical ramped interval session. I usually finished the session with 3x5minutes but this time decided to do 2 x 15 minutes at FTP, with one effort up Mt. Larry. My goal was not to get the KOM. I wasn’t even planning on attempting the segment for the crown. I cross the start line and my Wahoo Elemnt flashes orange. I immediately hit mute and turn back to my power screen. About halfway up the climb the Elemnt updates me on my time versus my PR. It said I was almost 60 seconds ahead of my PR! I began to think the device was broken. There was no way that I was climbing that fast. My legs were feeling fine and my RPE was manageable. I went back to ignoring the results and just focused on the workout. But after 15 minutes, I crossed the line at the top and saw I was only 20 seconds behind Stephen and his KOM time! I immediately began to think that I could get this segment. I was determined to come back. I was now all consumed by Strava and the segment.
Yesterday, I purposefully planned my long ride to make the Mt. Larry ascent. It is about a 45 minute ride from my apartment to the base of the climb. I kept the ride out in Z2 as to simulate some early road race pace. I then reached the bottom of the climb, pulled to the side of the road and turned on some tunes. I took a deep breath, clipped in, and was off. Yet again, the Wahoo Element flashed orange to signify the beginning of the segment. Since the segment is so long I turned off the screen and went to my power screen. I wanted to focus on holding 400 watts until the switchbacks. I pulled a Chris Froome and glared at those numbers, immediately reacting to deviation from the goal number. I reached the first switchback and turned my screen to the live segment. From this point on I did not want to know my power numbers. I was beginning to suffer and all I wanted to see was my predicted time versus the current KOM. As I turned up the first switchback section my predicted time fluttered around 14:51, the current KOM time. It was going to be close! I raced up the mountain, continuing to push hard. Sweat dripping onto my Elemnt and by bars. My breathe was labored and my legs began to ache as the lactate built. I made the last turn, which signifies only 90 more seconds of effort. I sprung out of the saddle and cranked on the pedals. My time continued to jump around the current KOM time. I sprinted across the crest. My Wahoo Elemnt changed screens and displayed the provisional KOM time… 14:41. I was the new King.
I now revisit my original question of what value should we put on these segments? The answer is actually different for all of us. I used the segment as a confidence booster. I knew that my training was spot on and there was no need to doubt myself. Going into my biggest spring race, Joe Martin, confidence is key. I am now race ready.