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Mercier: Using Strava to satisfy your personal cycling needs during pandemic

Scott Mercier
Special to The Aspen Times
Scott Mercier
The Aspen Times file photo

The pandemic continues to wreak havoc on our daily lives. And cycling has not been spared. Most mass start events have been canceled, including the Leadville 100.

So how can a local, competitive cyclist get motivation to train? We are fortunate the Aspen Cycling Club is still putting on races. The series has pivoted from mass start events to time trial only events. This creates logistical issues for the club, but kudos to them for their flexibility and determination to offer something for the local cycling community. The races are Wednesday evenings and alternate each week between road and mountain biking. Check the ACC website at http://www.aspencyclingclub.org for a schedule and race details.

Another way to satisfy your competitive cycling need is with the Strava app. One of the fun things about Strava is that it ranks you compared to everyone else who has ridden a segment of road or trail. There doesn’t seem to be any rhyme nor reason to the segments, and it seems like anyone can create a new segment. This is cool, but it’s also kind of weird, because it leads to multiple segments within segments. Some are as short as 100 meters. There are hundreds of segments throughout the valley.

Bragging rights come with KOM’s and QOM’s as well as getting into the top 10 for a segment. Three of the more prestigious and well recognized local segments are Independence Pass and the Maroon Bells for the road, and Smuggler Mountain for mountain bikes.

The Independence Pass segment starts at the outskirts of town. The segment is 18.18 miles and climbs 4,004 feet at an average gradient of 4.1%. So far, 3,471 people have ridden the pass and logged it on Strava and the fastest time is 1 hour, 3 minutes, 45 seconds, set by American professional Kyle Murphy during the Pro Challenge on Aug. 20, 2015. In fact, all of the top 20 fastest times were set on the same day. Kyle averaged 17.1 miles an hour to take the KOM that day. No, that’s not a typo, 17.1 miles an hour UP Independence Pass. Wow! Former professional Aimee Vasse has the QOM with a time of 1:27:10.

There seems to be some debate about whether the official Maroon Bells segment starts at Highlands or the visitor center. For me, I think it starts at the visitor center. Tejay Van Garderen set the record on Aug. 3, 2016, during one of the ACC races with a time of 16:42. He’s the only athlete to have gone under 17 minutes on this segment and the only athlete to average over 16 miles an hour. Former professional Alison Powers has the QOM with a time of 21:24. So far, 5,822 people have times on this segment. My fastest time of 21:12 puts me in 91st place. I’m 52 years old, so I like to be in the top 52 for most segments. Ironically, I need to improve my time by 52 seconds to get to 52nd place. I set that time in 2014, so it may be a tall ask to improve upon it. Maybe I can hit it with a strong tail wind!

The Smuggler Mountain segment has been ridden by 3,100 people. It’s 1.48 miles long and climbs a brutal 822 vertical feet at an average gradient of 10.5%. The KOM is held by Rally Cycling professional Gavin Mannion with a time of 10:49 and the QOM is held by Team 2020’s Larissa Connors with a time of 13:46. The pandemic hasn’t seemed to slow Larissa down, as she’s logged an average of nearly 20 hours/week on the bike over the past four weeks.

Strava is filled with all kinds of controversy, as well. People take their KOM’s seriously. There are debates about whether motor pacing is legal or working with a group or if times during races count. My former teammate, Dr. Peter Stubenrauch, proudly wears a T-shirt that reads, “Strava made me dope!” One of the worst e-mails you can get is one from Strava that says, “Uh oh, ____ has stolen your KOM!” I don’t get those too often, since I only have a few random KOM’s remaining.

The main thing about Strava is that it’s fun and it’s addicting. I find myself thinking about what I need to do to improve a personal record on a certain segment and how I compare to others. It offers something for everyone, from training tips, to tracking miles and elevation climbed, to other activities like skiing, running and paddleboarding. And targeting PR’s and KOM’s is a fun way to satisfy your competitive needs.

Good riding!

Scott Mercier represented Team USA at the 1992 Olympic Games and had a five-year professional career with Saturn Cycling and The U.S. Postal Services Cycling teams. He currently works in Aspen and can be reached at scottmercier24@gmail.com.


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