I’ve never done a Strava challenge before. This is mainly because most Strava challenges seem to involve indiscriminately racking up a large number of kilometres (or metres of vertical ascent),
an old fashioned quantity-over-quality approach to training which I’ve never subscribed to. I love Strava for the segments though, so when I saw a Box Hill KOM Challenge announced I knew this could be something for me. The challenge was simple — fastest time up the famous Zig Zag Road over a two week period wins. Making this more interesting was the fact that Box Hill would feature as the final categorised climb of the Prudential RideLondon-Surrey Classic (1.HC) road race, ensuring a number of pros would also be logging times going up.

My previous fastest time (5:44)… (Click more to read on)…was set with former 5th Floor member Josh Greet in May 2013. As I generally do Box Hill at the end of a ride I’ve never dipped under the 6 minute mark since, so I had no idea if improving my time was even possible. To set a fast time up Box Hill requires an average speed of almost 30km/h the whole way. At this speed wind resistance is a major factor, so I donned my 5th Floor skin suit, and set out on a beautiful Saturday morning with a couple of friends for a first attempt. Wind conditions were perfect, with a slight tail wind on the bottom and top zig zags.

My run was almost perfect. Being completely fresh I felt almost no pain for the whole climb, despite putting down much more power than I was expecting to. However, as I swung into the last forest section before the café my heart sank as I saw slow cars ahead. Easing off the pedals I had to wait a few seconds until a gap appeared, and I then accelerated past to the sound of an angry driver beeping the horn. When I got home and saw I’d logged 5:31 I was both thrilled to have improved my time by 13 seconds, but gutted that I’d lost time at the end, probably 5-10 seconds. 5:31 put me around 6th overall in the challenge, and I decided to not have another go as I wasn’t sure if I could repeat that kind of performance.

Fast forward a week later and with wind conditions still being favourable for a good time, I found myself agreeing to meet fellow 5th Floor team mate Pasquale for one more attempt on the final weekend of the challenge. I only needed to improve my time by 9 seconds to top the leaderboard, but I knew it would come down to seconds, so every detail of the run had to be perfect. Having done his attempt as I was arriving (and knocking off six seconds off his PR himself) Pa agreed to give me a lead out. Coming off Old London Road onto the Zig Zag Road involves a sharp left hand turn with no visibility, but it’s absolutely vital to get this part right and at speed, or you have no chance.

Pa and I had discussed how to best do this part, so as we approached the turn onto Box Hill we used the whole width of the road for the left turn to ensure the highest speed onto the start. Pa then set a searing tempo and I was putting out 500W just sitting on his wheel! After around 2-300m he flicked the elbow and I launched past him down the bottom zig zag. I took the first corner at full speed, but as I hit the head wind of the middle zag zag I started paying for the fast start and saw the power dropping below 400W. Unlike the first attempt my legs were already burning at this point, but when you’re motivated it’s amazing how you can ignore the pain. On the top zig zag I somehow managed to pick up the pace again, and I cut a very aggressive corner to swing into the final forest section at almost full speed, and no cars! Wrenching the bike forward I gave it absolutely everything I had for the final sprint to the café, gasping for air as I cleared the forest to complete the segment.

Cycling home I didn’t think I’d made it, as it didn’t feel as fast as the first time, but uploading the ride onto Strava I was ecstatic to see I’d chopped another 10 seconds off my time to finish in 5:21, pipping the time of RideLondon-Surrey Classic winner Adam Blythe (NFTO Pro Cycling) by two seconds. This was enough to top the challenge leaderboard, and for an overall Box Hill segment position of 34th / 28,254. I was even more surprised to see I’d set my highest ever 5 min power of 429W, 10W higher than my first run. With wind conditions changing for the final day of the challenge, I knew it was going to be difficult for anyone to go 5:20 or faster – so I won the first and only Strava challenge I’ve entered! The October hill climbs are still more than a month away, I feel I can still improve before then, but I am confident I am on the right track.

– D. Slotte