My first years of college were spent as a music major. As such I had to attend ear training classes that didn’t just involve hearing a pitch, in relations to others, and getting it down on a page. I could handle that. What I couldn’t do however was sing those notes back. Maybe it was stage fright, maybe it was just a lack of that bullshit notion – talent.
There were prizes for singing back the line perfectly. A small round sticker, varied in design, handed out by the teacher. I wasn’t motivated by the sticker. I wanted to do well, sing the line back perfectly because I saw it as important to what I wanted to do. At twenty-two (the late age that I started actually going full time) I was dumbfounded that anyone would be motivated by stickers, generally the concern of much younger children. However I was nearly alone in my disdain for the stickers. Most of the students went crazy for the stickers. Counting them at each class, comparing who had the most. Some even stated that they were trying to cover their class books in stickers.
I don’t’ spend a lot of time thinking about those days. I failed there for a multitude of reasons, most of which having to do with my inability to work hard. I was reminded of those stickers the other day when I was uploading some rides to Strava. Sitting there on my dashboard was a badge. Apparently I had signed up for something or other in January and had ridden the prescribed distance to receive my honor.
I get it, these badges and training series are meant to motivate and inspire. KOMs and QOMs are meant to push us just a little harder. For some it adds to their riding. For me, I sometimes get caught up in the pursuit of these invisible finish lines. Feeling a sense of (what I consider) false pride when I “steal” a KOM, and along with that, an uneasy disappointment when I then “lose” one. It’s a fictional play at racing and I often have to ask myself: “Why the fuck do I care so much?”
It’s not all bad. If you were paying any attention after Paris-Roubaix you saw Terpstra’s winning ride. That’s the beauty of it no? Used to be that the training of PROs was passed down by folklore and rumors or straight up things that just don’t make sense (like a “small cigar with meals in winter). Now you can just follow a Pro, click on their rides and if you pay enough attention you can figure out the work being done and repeat it (probably at your peril). In a way it can demystify to most important aspect of Pro life.
But I keep coming back to the chasing to pixilated KOM/QOM crowns, and its separation from anything resembling real performance. Snagging a QOM after soft pedaling to, and then taking a good run at “the start line” is a hell of a lot different than going for an actual KOM after riding hard for an hour or two or three. That’s the actual test of performance, one that matters, assuming any of it matters at all. In the end I think I agree with Tom Southam. Want to chase the QOM or sprint line? Do the training, pin on a number, fight for position and give it a go. At least a few times.
But maybe I’m just being a curmudgeon. Because in the end, if it makes if it gets you riding then I guess it’s A OK. Just don’t use me a lead out as you sprint for the stop sign.