“That’s him. I think it’s him!” my husband blurts out as a dude slumped over the aero bars of a brand new Specialized flashes a grin on a straight stretch of early morning road.
Nothing more has to be said. I’ve never met the guy, never ridden with him. But I know who he is. We both do. He is just a name and a tiny photo on a leader board, but he has also just bumped my husband to second place, stripping him of a precious KOM crown.
I remember a simpler time when hills were just hills and the only competition stemmed from the group of riders who hit the climbs with me. The first one to the top was the fastest, the KOM, the time to beat. Period. I often ascended long climbs alone, not knowing if I was fast or slow. I always felt slow and deemed a climb successful based purely on the fact that I had pedaled to the top without blowing up and stopping to rest.
I’m more of a recreational rider than a racer, but when I started uploading my Garmin to Strava, something ignited inside of me. That tiny voice that guiltily kept score of the times I beat my friends on a climb or launched a successful attack, now had a megaphone. Some people complain that Strava is too competitive and takes away from the true essence of what it means to ride a bike. For me, it’s just the opposite.
Strava changed my definition of a hill from something I either downright avoided or merely hoped to survive to something to attack the everliving crap out of. When I rode alone, I had no incentive to ever leave my easiest gear, no reason to suffer needlessly like the pros on an Alpine mountain pass. I could keep telling myself I was a crappy climber and always the last one to the top because I never had a compelling reason to be anything else.
Now I know that if I want the crown, I have to suffer. I have to rise out of the saddle to battle the steepest risers and then settle back in and find my rhythm as I push through a hard gear. The adrenaline surges and my mouth gapes open, sucking air into aching lungs. My legs are two burning matches. I know the time to beat; it’s drilled inside my head and I keep repeating it like a mantra. Just a few more pedal strokes and I’ve passed my phantom competitor, knocked her out of number one. Seized the crown.