Most of my followers and readers get me, so feel free to not read this if you’re not new here, and as always much love to everyone who’s on the page or gives me the benefit of the doubt. I don’t think I have a guardian angel, but I have a lot of good folks to enjoy what I do and I’d be nowhere without you. This post is for the other good folks, who’ve come in here at chapter 18 of my cycling career, where the book is over and they’re witnessing the aftermath. I understand it’s hard to get my motivations and what I’m up to, because I’m still figuring it out myself, and it’s evolving, which is part of the journey for all of us. I also want to make it clear that this isn’t about anyone specifically. I’m trying to answer a question/comment I get a lot, and for good reason. So here goes:
I’m not counting, but I think I won about 50 races since I took out a USA Cycling license in 2005. You get a rush when you win a bike race—a high that I chased for a decade at the cost of stability, career, friendships, and relationships, but finally, I had to accept something: I’m not good enough. That was really hard to deal with, so while I’ve been retired from the pros for seven months, I’m still processing it. It’s so hard to figure out, even Kobe Bryant couldn’t hit a three-pointer his last year. Do me a favor and take a second to understand the failure, the giving up, the starting over.
Then I discovered Strava. Getting a KOM is nothing like winning a race, but I admit that my legs find a few more watts when I’m going for one. Mostly, I love having a reason to dig deep, trying to find the best of myself physically, seeing my body and my life as a project. I know I have to let the competition aspect go eventually and just be happy with being my best self, but for now, KOMs are good methadone for that addition, while there are so many other changes in my life that are tougher to handle or control.
I was probably the first pro to give this stuff 100%, so lots of people enjoyed seeing what I could do on Strava, no longer forced to guess where they might stack up in a bike race. Most of you started to notice when I went for doper segments. I’m known for a CLEAN tattoo, it’s a funny story, Cyclingtips had an article that got crazy traffic, and it spread from there to the point that when I decided to do a brand ambassador thing as one of my 11 jobs this year, instead of going to events and kissing babies, my version was a YouTube show called “Worst Retirement Ever,” where I challenge myself to get the toughest KOMs in America (climbs were voted on Facebook or submitted by email, some doper, some not).
When I started taking KOMs from pros, they loved it. There’s no ego involved, because we know exactly where I stand in the cycling world (like I said…not good enough), so when I got Baldy from Ian Boswell, he was laughing about it on Whatsapp. I got one from Chris Butler, and he commented “You got me! :)”. On “Worst Retirement Ever,” I went after Tom Danielson’s KOM on Mt. Lemmon, and he gave me pacing advice on Skype which we used as voiceover on the show.
When I snagged a KOM from Jeremy Powers in his own neighborhood, he was downright excited, thinking about how to raise his game, where he could get that time on me. Correct me if I’m wrong, but I don’t think Ryan Sherlock ever raced professionally, and he was stoked to lose Old La Honda—one of the most coveted segments on the app. Jesse Anthony took 7-minute hill from me a few months ago, and it put a big smile on my face. He had a time trial bike and a speedsuit, but I don’t call that cheating, just like Ford didn’t call Elon Musk a jerk for coming out with the Tesla. Cheating is wrong, but if it’s fair and square, this is an opportunity. Innovate. Do better. If you can’t, the other guy deserves what you have. It’s harsh, but imagine how it was for me as a pro, when it’s your livelihood. Records fall. Welcome to sports. Welcome to life.
Locally, I’ve pretty much run out of doper KOMs, and then I mostly ran out of pro ones. I’m not doing a 4-day taper and carb-loading and bringing a follow car on my training rides, but I’ll get some KOMs, because I am going hard, trying to make some good video content, or I just have a workout. Or maybe I don’t have any better reason than I just want to go rip a new hill as fast as I can, because they all have their own personality and I love that shit, and the alternative is repeats on climbs I know well, which is boring. That’s when there’s collateral damage, and I take a KOM from someone who’s not a doper or a pro. That seems to be when I get in trouble.
I’ve read long Facebook threads about what an asshole I am, and I have a lot of thoughts about it (most of them defensive and probably hypocritical). What’s funny is that one of the angriest was a pro for many years himself. I looked up to him when I was starting out, because he lived nearby where I spent a summer when I was 21, crammed in a house with a bunch of teammates. We’d go do a race, and then I remember him going out for drinks, while I went to bed because I wanted to train the next day. Ten years later he’s not a pro anymore, I take a KOM from him, and he says it shouldn’t count, that I shouldn’t be taking Stravas from hardworking guys. A) Count for what, exactly? And B) Literally, I got this because I worked harder than you.
If you think a pro (or a retired pro, or a guy who races full-time because he has a trust fund or whatever else) doesn’t deserve any KOM they can get, go out and try some 40/20 intervals. That’s where you sprint for 40 seconds, ride zone 2 for 20, and repeat for 10-30 minutes. It’s hell, and the one workout I told coach Frank Overton that I’d never do again. Now do those for a decade and tell me I’m not a hardworking guy. By the way, the most I ever made for salary as a pro was $65k/year, which isn’t much when you need apartments on two continents and you’re on the road all the time, so I always had a job or three on the side. I was starting businesses and writing books and coaching, where it seemed like I was always working and I didn’t do much else. I’m not complaining, but the logic that I’m not entitled to take a KOM because I didn’t have a job is just silly. If you want to hate me for it, that’s on you and feel free to unfollow, but I don’t need the shitty comments, because life is hard enough, and I’ll block you as fast as I can.
We all get something different out of this app, but I think it’s safe to say that some folks have lost perspective a bit, to the point they’re judging their self-worth on their KOMs. That can’t be healthy (I’ve been on that roller-coaster as a racer), stoking their ego by being the big fish in a small pond. Having made a living as an athlete and raced at a high level, I don’t consider Strava a sport, a race, or even a true measure of physical ability. There’s no drug testing, no officiating, and too many factors. The proof: I’m ahead of guys like Ian Boswell, Robert Gesink, and Neilsen Powless on some climbs, and they’re significantly better than me. I see Strava as a beautiful social media application, where you can express yourself with not only a map and some photos, but hard-earned physical fitness, and free competition in a safe environment.
Personally, I’m using it to make a show, tell a story, and enjoy myself. I have goals and I like to do my best, but if I ever get angry because I lost a virtual image of a crown on a cell phone app, it’s time to examine my life, and probably put an axe through my Cannondale.
Most of you get it and I love and appreciate you for that, because while the show is way over budget and much more work than I expected, it’s honestly the first time as an adult where I’m doing exactly what I want and nothing I don’t, which is a beautiful thing that won’t last forever. In some ways, my biggest failure has become the best thing that ever happened to me, and I don’t take for granted. If I take your KOM, I hope you’ll also see it as an opportunity rather than an insult. It’s not personal…except for a very select few 🙂