Nine tips to help you take a Strava King (or Queen) of the Mountains title - Road Cycling UK

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Nine tips to help you take a Strava King (or Queen) of the Mountains title

Want a hallowed Strava King (or Queen) of the Mountains title? Follow these nine tips to help put you in striking distance

The digital age is certainly upon us in the cycling industry, and for a great many cyclists Strava has become the go-to medium through which to record and review rides. Nothing else has changed the way we ride quite like Strava has in the past few years.

Gone are hand-written training diaries (mostly), instead replaced with a plethora of GPS trace lines, countless metrics and predictors of condition, form and future performance.

But, for many riders, Strava is less about hardcore training, and more about chasing segments, personal bests, leaderboards, a little friendly competition, and, for the lucky few, King (or Queen) of the Mountain titles.

Hunting a Strava KOM or QOM title? Here’s how to improve your chances (Pic: rb create)

As more and more riders have signed up to Strava, it’s become increasingly difficult to nab a KOM or QOM. Sp how can you make sure you’re giving yourself the best chance of sitting at the top of the Strava leaderboard? Or, at the very least, achieving a personal best on one of your favourite segments as you attempt to climb the rankings?

Here are nine of our top tips to help you on your way.

Select your segments wisely

As the saying goes, you need to choose your battles. If you’re a rider that relies on explosive power, going for a record on a segment that involves a steady six kilometre climb at an average of four per cent isn’t likely to result in a competitive time.

Likewise, a lightweight mountain goat might want to avoid putting all their eggs into a flat 10-mile time trial course.

Choose your Strava segments wisely – a short, steep hill is not going to reward a rider more at home on the flats (Pic: Strava)

Understanding your strengths and choosing segments that match up well with those will give you the best chance of rising up the leaderboards. You can look for indicators of this by reviewing your general average position on local, well-traveled segments.

If you notice your position is higher up on certain kinds of segments, or on a favourite one or two, these are the kind of segments that you want to be targeting.

Avoid the crowds

More than 115 million rides were uploaded to Strava in 2015 – and 23 million in the UK alone. That’s a lot of rides – or, another way to look at it, a lot of competition.

Pick your battles (Pic: Richard Washbrooke/Silverhub for RideLondon)

Sure, everyone wants to top the leaderboard on the most popular local segment, but it also pays to be realistic. Are you going to nab the King of the Mountains title on Box Hill, which, at the time of writing, has more than 66,500 riders on the leaderboard? The current record holder? Pro rider Ian Bibby, for his effort during the 2013 RideLondon-Surrey Classic.

If you really want a KOM or QOM, try and find a segment with more realistic competition, which also suits your strengths as a rider. You’re naturally going to give yourself a much better chance of success.

You could also look at it a different way. If you regularly ride a popular segment (be it Box Hill or somewhere else), you could set yourself a personal target. That may be to break into the top 100 riders or the top half of the leaderboard. Either way, you’re leaving your best performance out on the road.

Train for the job in hand

Taking a KOM is no easy task these days and, unless you’re an experienced rider or blessed with natural talent, that means you need to get training for your segment. At the very core, this means riding the kind of roads that are similar to your target, including the segment itself (more on that to come).

Train on the specific efforts the segment will demand of you (Pic: Simon Wilkinson/SWPix.com)

Then, choose a specific training session in order to improve your effectiveness on that road. For example, if your segment is going to last for 30 seconds of intense effort, then doing maximal efforts and HIIT training to improve your power output will undoubtedly assist with this.

In need of some training advice? We’ve got tips on how to become a better climber here, training sessions for short, steep ascents here, top training rides for time crunched-riders here, workouts to become a better sprinter here, five of the best turbo trainer sessions here, and advice on how to improve your all-important Functional Threshold Power here.

Go Premium for Live Tracking

If you own a recent generation of GPS head unit, you can see in real time where you’re losing time against your rivals for the KOM title.

With a Garmin Edge 510 or upwards, or a Wahoo ELEMNT computer, Strava Premium subscribers can select their favourite segments and then get live tracking when out on the road.

Strava Live Segments can help you track where you are losing time on your KOM ‘rivals’ (Pic: Strava)

In effect, each time you sync your head unit with your mobile app or computer, your ‘starred’ segments on Strava are synced with your device too, downloading the latest times – including the KOM. You can then track your progress on your GPS computer.

If you’re serious about comparing yourself against the very fastest on your chosen segment, essentially acting as a live carrot on a stick, this is the way to go about it – and it’s the ideal way to help pace your ride. Which takes us on to…

Recce the segment

If you’ve targetted a particular segment, it’s a good idea to go out and recce it before you make your KOM or QOM attempt. Of course, you could go out and ride it as hard as you can (that’s Strava in a nutshell, isn’t it?) but a reconnaissance mission will give you the chance to get to grips with the segment.

Recce the segment so you know where to hold back – and where to attack (Pic: Garmin)

That’s particularly important on a longer segment, whether it’s be a flat time trial-style ride or a climb, as you can work out how to pace your effort – where to hold back, where to attack and where to make that final push for the line. On a climb, for example, that might mean holding back on the opening steep section to avoid blowing up, before making gains as the gradient levels.

Of course, there’s a good chance you’ll already be familiar with the segment, but if not, take the time to sniff it out thirst – even if you only loop back round to attack it again.

Shed weight

Power-to-weight ratio is the key measurement that will indicate if you’re capable of climbing your way to a Strava title.

Tour winners have a power-to-weight ratio of around six watts per kilo – that’s essentially a combination of low weight and lots of power – which allow them to scale climbs as quickly as they do. You can read more about power-to-weight ratio here but, in short, the same principal applies to you (even if six watts per kilo may be well beyond the realms of possibility…).

Losing weight doesn’t just mean from your body (Pic: Sweetspot)

Common wisdom suggests many riders can lose far more weight from their body than their bike (it’s cheaper, too). That’s something which will help improve your climbing, Strava KOM attempt or not – however, when you go for a shot on your segment, you could go the whole hog and make sure you’ve shed all the unnecessary weight you can from your bike and your pockets.

Hide away in the wheels

Sometimes, you can rely on the efforts of others to help you achieve your goals. Pro teams have used sprint trains and climbing domestiques for years to deliver their lead riders to the finish line without using too much energy in the build-up.

While you can tactically sit in the group and let your club mates do the hard work at the bottom before attacking, the most efficient (and socially acceptable) way of sitting in the wheels is if it’s planned.

Pro teams use lead-outs – you could do the same if you’ve got a few like-minded riding mates to team up with (Pic: Sirotti)

A key component of cycling is sacrifice for one another and sharing the workload. Try to get a few suitably-able – and like-minded – club mates to help you in your goal, peeling off one at a time until you’re left on your own to finish off your effort.

This will allow you to retain fresher legs further into the effort, leading to a faster time. Just be sure to return the favour – remember, cycling is as much a team sport as it is one of individual glory! And remember to stay safe on the road at all times. It’s only Strava, not a race.

Seek a tail wind

Using the conditions to your advantage is a key component of setting a quick time. If the weather is inclement, with wild, blustery conditions and rain, this may have an effect on your bike handling, as well as potentially hold you back by creating extra resistance in the case of a headwind and reducing the road grip you might need to put maximum power down if your segment is short, steep and explosive.

Check the weather conditions – a tailwind could be a big advantage, as long as it isn’t gusty (pic: Scott Connor/Factory Media)

A tailwind, however, can be your best friend if seeking a Strava PB, effectively pushing you along.

It’s best to check the prevailing wind conditions of the day are behind you on your segment – and if you get a particularly windy day, coming from a consistent direction, it could be time to go Strava hunting. Just remember, it also means you’re likely to face a mean headwind at some point in the ride.

Create your own segment

Sometimes, KOMs can be put out of realistic reach, either by current pros as they pass through your local area during a race, or by the local KOM hunter who simply has some kind of advantage that you can’t counter.

If the pros have put your local segments on the shelf, perhaps it’s time to get off the beaten track and create your own?

This means the only option open to you could be to create your own segment – perhaps of a particular loop of yours or somewhere which takes you away from the well-beaten Strava path.

As a result, you can claim this segment as your own (for the time being anyway), and potentially keeping the time out of reach as you continually improve it. Of course, it’s certainly not the same as topping an established leaderboard – but a win is a win, right? And if you can stay top as more riders discover the segment and the leaderboard fills up, then all the better.

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