My good mate James Raison is a total jerk. He is lean, super positive, and BLOODY FAST when the road goes skyward. As such, he brings a swag of Strava KOM’s to the party, and knows better than most what it takes to nab one. Being a good 10 kegs more weighty for the same height, I am a touch shyer than him in the KOM ledger, so I asked James what it takes to prepare for and execute a ride to bag a crown. This is his method:
I never realised how much time and energy I devoted to chasing Strava KOMs until I was asked to write this. In a way, I’m always physically and mentally preparing for my next big effort. But you don’t have all day, so here’s the short version.
Taking a Strava KOM is a 4 step process:
1. Know your road
2. Know your enemy
3. Know yourself
4. Hauling ass.
1. Know your road
Most Strava flogs will admit to targeting KOMs that suit their skills. I’m the same. My skills suit high-gradient climbs. I need the road to be steep enough and long enough for stronger, more powerful riders to suffer. I’m fully committed to a gravity resistant, low BMI. I’ve got no chance on flats or descents so they’re no good to me. I’m not about power, but power to weight.
The road also has to be non-iconic. Big time roads bring out big time riders. Roads like Corkscrew have club races, the Tour Down Under, and other events drawing riders to them. I’m good, but I’m not pro, or aspiring pro cyclist good.
Generally I will have ridden the road a few times before. It’s very unusual for me to take a KOM on my first ascent. I’ve done it, but only a couple of times. I like to get a feel for the road. The length of the effort, the gradient changes, how weather can affect you. Reconnaisance is crucial.
2. Know your enemy
To be the best you gotta beat the best. Someone has already busted their ass to take the KOM so you need to know how they did it. Strava stalking is awesome for this. Look at their effort. I use the comparison tool to see how it compares to my current best. Where are they faster than me? What’s their average speed? What’s their heart rate? Have I seen this person towards the top of any other leaderboards?
All of this information combines to assess whether I can actually take it off them. Sometimes my research tells me not to bother. I’ve had pros take KOMs off me before. When you see their actual power output is 200W above your Strava-estimated output then I’ll curse them and move on… damn Tim Rowe… and Steve Morabito…
3. Know yourself
This part is all about gathering data. I almost always ride with my Garmin visible, and wearing a heart rate monitor. This allows me to monitor my efforts and understand the effect it has on my body. I know the heart rate I can hold sustainably for the time required.
It’s not as exact as a power meter but I’ve used my heart rate monitor for long enough to know use the data feedback properly.
4. Hauling ass
I’m done geeking out, now it’s time to haul ass.
I casually ride to the target hill and get to business. I start to wind it up just before the start. It’s always best to gradually get your heart rate up. Too hard too soon and you’ll drown in lactic acid. But you gotta balance it. Too slow, and you’re losing time already.
After that, it’s all about monitoring the stats. How’s my heart rate? What’s my cadence? What’s the gradient? I also keep an eye on gear selection. What cog am I on? How many are left if I need them?
The next part is about suffering. A lot of people say I never look like I’m working hard on the bike. That’s because no-one has seen me working my hardest. Chasing KOMs is either done alone, or while leaving my group behind. These efforts bring out all the signs of agony. First there’s the heavy breathing. Then my mouth gradually drops wider and wider to suck in the oxygen. Sweat pours down my face. Often I’ll start drooling, spitting, and snot-bombing. I get intense as the red mist descends. I ride like a wounded animal, on the edge of lashing out if anything gets in my way.
My brain soon starts willing me to stop. It hurts too much. Just stop. We aren’t going to get the KOM anyway. Stopping is easy. Continuing is hard. Shut up brain, we’re doing this whether you like it or not!
I’ll usually have a point close to the finish where I give it 100%. Click up a gear, get out of the saddle, and sprint. Every second counts. This is when my heart rate gets into the danger zone. That’s when I’m all-in. Maximum heart rate.
Once the effort is over, I’m destroyed. Sometimes I won’t recover on that ride. I’ll keep going, but with absolute jelly legs. I’ll often feel sick, have a coughing fit, or almost collapse. I’ll slump over the bars and gasp until I can start to pedal out the lactic acid. There is no comparable pain to this. Giving everything usually leaves me with nothing.
I’m rarely sure I’ve gotten a KOM once the effort is over. The pain of the effort makes me forget my target time. I have to ride home and upload for confirmation. On the way home I’ll usually doubt that I did it. I could have, should have, gone harder. I’m my own biggest critic. Why didn’t I go faster? Retrospect is cruel.
After upload I’m either elated to have achieved my goal, or crushed to have failed.
Success is sweet. I’m the fastest. The King. Someone is getting an email that I beat them. People will comment on my ride. They’ll give me kudos. My reputation will grow. People know that I’ve kicked some serious ass. My name will be at the top, I’m the new benchmark. What now? Keep improving. Someone will beat me eventually. I need to be better so I can take it back.
Failure means only 1 thing: starting the whole process again.
The video below is of James putting all of this into practice, and grabbing the KOM on Mt Alma. It should be noted, this was half-way through a 300km ride also…
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