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King of the volcano: Inside Drake Deuel’s Haleakala Strava KOM ride

On March 4 Drake Deuel broke Mike Woods' Strava KOM on Maui's famed Haleakala road climb, which soars 9,700 vertical feet over 34.5 miles.

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In many ways, Drake Deuel’s 2019-20 winter break in Maui was that of a typical junior in college: he stayed at a hostel (the Banana Bungalow to be precise), visited a ton of beaches with other travelers, had a few drinks at sunset, and generally basked in the warm glow of the island.

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In other ways, Deuel’s Hawaiian holiday was an anomaly. He traveled to the island with his bike, curious about the famed Haleakala volcano climb, which is one of the longest sustained climbs on the planet. Even though the hostel made him keep the bike locked outside, where it accumulated a fine layer of sea salt and sand, Deuel went for a few rides that weren’t your typical beach cruise.

“I had the idea for the [Haleakala] KOM at that point, but I didn’t expect to get anywhere close,” Deuel told VeloNews. “I went for the climb four times. The first couple were just for fun, to have an interesting experience. The last time, I had decent conditions and I had a good day and was amazed at how close I could get. That was when I was like, ‘I could get it.’ I was 49 seconds off. People talk about marginal gains and that’s where it matters. Maybe if my chain wasn’t so rusted and I wasn’t spending so much time drinking at the beach I could get it.”

Deuel, a Harvard graduate and former intern at Zwift, said that even before he flew back to the mainland, he had decided that he would go back to Maui someday soon and try to claim the Strava KOM he’d narrowly missed. At the time, it belonged to Israel Start-Up Nation’s Mike Woods, and had been untouchable since 2013.

On March 4, just over a year after his first attempts at the volcano, Deuel knocked Woods off the throne with a time of 2:24:04 for the 34.5 mile, 9,700-foot segment titled “Haleakala ‘World’s Longest Paved Climb.'”

How he did it

In the scheme of things, Deuel’s KOM attempt was an incredibly low-fi and low-budget affair.

First, his bike: Deuel rode a Cannondale SuperSix EVO frame that he bought in 2018 from eBay. Funny story — when he bought the frame, it was “this hideous green team color.”

Drake Deuel
Deuel in the wee hours of the night, doing some aggressive sanding. Photo: Courtesy Drake Deuel

Deuel discovered a power sander in the Harvard boathouse and snuck in one night to sand paint off the bike. He was so zealous in his sanding that he wore a small hole into the carbon frame.

“I’ve been riding it for two and a half years and it’s still going strong,” he said. “It looks interesting, a bit of a multi-colored extravaganza with about four layers of paint. Some primer, some pink, some neon green. It has some character. And it was a smoking deal.”

It was also the bike whose chain rusted from all the saltwater during his first trip to Maui. If it ain’t broke…

For the KOM ride earlier this month, Deuel rode the SuperSix EVO on 45mm Mavic rims. His groupset was a combination of Shimano Dura-Ace and Ultegra Di2 with 52/36 chainrings and an 11-30 cassette.

In terms of support, well, Deuel didn’t have much of that, either. On his prior trip to Maui, he went on a group ride and met some of the local cyclists on the island. He was impressed with how supportive they were, especially of a youngster like himself. When he went back in March, he reached out via a group text to see if anyone had time to ride sweep and shoot some pictures and video while he cranked up the hill. He mainly needed someone, he said, because “you have to pay a fee to the national park halfway up which is a bit inconvenient.”

Deuel also kept his fueling and nutrition simple. He ate a brown sugar cinnamon Pop-Tart shortly after he woke up at 5:50 AM, and then completed the ride on two bottles, each containing 400 calories of a 2:1 maltodextrin fructose mix.

Drake Deuel
Cloudline. Photo: Courtesy Drake Deuel

One way in which Deuel’s KOM ride followed a more conventional approach was in how he prepared for it. He bought his plane tickets for Maui in December of 2020 and began training in January.

“Everything was tailored to just taking that KOM,” he said.

“In the lead-up to Haleakala, I was mostly doing 60-90 minute workouts on Zwift,” he continued. “It was all mostly after work, indoors. I did some Zwift races, and on the weekends I would do long rides. In my structured intervals, I would hit a certain watt goal on all the climbs. I knew what I needed to do for Haleakala, so I’d try to spend as much time around that power as I could.”

While Deuel knew he needed to maintain an output of around 350 watts — he ended up averaging 348 — he said that in a KOM effort, you’re mostly looking at speed.

“What matters is how fast you go up the climb,” he said. “For Haleakala, there are a few different gradients so I knew about what average speed I needed to do. I’d look at power when I didn’t want to go too hard in the beginning.”

Deuel knew that Woods had gone a bit too hard at the beginning of his ride, so he wasn’t that concerned when he saw that he was down on the Canadian’s pace for some of the ride. More important was his plan to ride at an average of 14mph. On the flatter sections, he tried to focus on aerodynamics and efficiency, and he ultimately met his speed goal for the ride, averaging about 14.5 miles per hour.

Deuel also lucked out with the weather. Conditions on the islands can change quickly, and they vary depending on where you are. Deuel said that the locals told him what to look out for for a fast day on the climb.

“It was the best weather I’d ever had up there,” he said. “It was beautiful and clear and you could see far into the horizon and the other islands.”

In the end, Deuel took the KOM by a little over three minutes, with an average power output of 348 watts and speed of 14.5 mph. He was pleased with the effort and expects it to stand for a while.

While Deuel’s list of KOMs and course records on Strava isn’t as prolific as that of other Strava royalty (ahem, Phil Gaimon), he also has only been chasing them for less than two years. In that amount of time, he’s rocketed to the top of many leaderboards, knocking Gaimon down a notch or two in the process.

So, what does an insanely fit and strong rider with some time off from work plan to do next? Use his same approach to snag some more KOMs, especially a particular one in southern California, and see where the ride ultimately takes him.

“I don’t have a coach or anything, so I’ve been applying what I know from rowing and listening to a couple [of] podcasts,” Deuel said. “It’s gotten me fairly far, but I guess I might need to step it up in the future.”