Drake Deuel has quite the resume: at 22 years old, he’s a Harvard graduate, a software engineer, an elite rower, and one of the fastest guys on Strava. VeloNews’ own Betsy Welch chronicled the life of Deuel in an article last month.
In 2021, Deuel has taken his Strava exploits to the next level, going after some of the most famed climbs in cycling. With no racing on the horizon and six months before the start of his post-collegiate career, Deuel set his sights on some of the biggest Strava KOMs around.
It may not be Alpe d’Eze, Mont Ventoux, the Poggio, or the Oude Kwaremont; but Haleakala is one of the toughest climbs in cycling. The European cols hold their old place in history, marked by decades of racing, crashes, and triumphs. But there are other climbs famous for their profile alone.
The Taroko climb, for example, makes up the Taiwan KOM Challenge, and climbs nearly 11,000 feet in just 105km, with 20 percent pitches a-plenty over the final few kilometers. Haleakala is a different beast – climbing from sea level to 10,000 feet, the Haleakala climb is one of the longest paved climbs in the world.
Also known as the East Maui Volcano, Haleakala a massive volcano that forms more than three-quarters of the Hawaiian Island of Maui. The top portion of the climb is desolate, with nothing to look at other than the volcanic rock on the side of the road, or the clouds and the sea tens of miles away. There’s nowhere to hide from the sun or the wind, making it tough to find ideal conditions for taking one of the toughest KOMs in the world.
At 7 a.m. on March 4th, Deuel set out to take the Haleakala KOM from Mike Woods, the charismatic Canadian now riding for Israel Start-Up Nation. Woods began his professional cycling career when he broke Ryder Hesjedal’s record time of 2:32:51 on Haleakala in 2013. Word got around the cycling world, and soon Woods had opportunities with the Canadian National Team, a number of North American professional teams, and then a spot in the WorldTour with Cannondale.
Strava KOMs won’t guarantee you a pro contract, but they can certainly get your foot in the door.
Deuel had already come close to taking the Haleakala KOM – 49 seconds slower than Woods in a recent attempt. So in the winter of 2020, Deuel committed himself and his training to this specific type of effort, holding 350w (5w/kg) for as long as possible. Of course, there were days when he would go out and smash out 429w (6.2w/kg) for 16 minutes up the Piuma climb, beating names like Neilson Powless, Eddie Dunbar, and Brandon McNulty, but the focus remained on Haleakala.
Fueled by a brown sugar Pop-Tart the morning of his attempt, Deuel started the climb as the sun began to peek over the clouds. 340w was his target for the early slopes, being careful not to drift too far over the target, and suffer the consequences later on. Deuel is a smart guy – i.e. Harvard and software engineer at Zwift – and so he calculated that an average power of 340w should be enough to get him the Haleakala KOM.
Average Power: 342w (4.9w/kg)
But numbers aren’t always as straightforward as they seem. Factors such as wind, temperature, pacing, and weight would all play a major role in determining the outcome of Deuel’s ride; but unsurprisingly, he had thought ahead. Deuel waited until the day of the week with ideal wind conditions and had his pacing and nutrition strategy laid out from the moment he woke up.
On the flatter and faster sections of the climb, Deuel focused on his aerodynamics and efficiency, keeping his speed as high as possible without wasting watts by pushing into the wind. Aero wheels and a time trial helmet only increased Deuel’s aerodynamic efficiency, allowing him to save watts and energy for the steeper sections of the climb.
A rolling section of Haleakala from kilometers 10 to 18 could’ve been a challenge for Deuel to pace, but he still managed to keep his average power at 340w by going harder on the steeper pitches and easier on the flatter sections and downhills.
Kilometer 10 to 18
Average Power: 338w (4.9w/kg)
Normalized Power: 344w (5w/kg)
The middle section of Haleakala is perhaps the toughest mentally. For 15km, the road switches back and forth, winding its way up the side of the volcano at an average grade of 6.3 percent. Deuel was nearly 90 minutes into his effort at this point, but still had an hour to go. His heart rate climbed in sync with the reading on the altimeter, and soon he had climbed up over 6,000 ft. (1,829m).
Average Power: 352w (5.1w/kg)
As Deuel made his way up the climb, the trees and vegetation slowly disappeared, giving way to barren, volcanic rock. An empty landscape greeted Deuel for the last few kilometers. He is perhaps used to the art of contemplation after spending so many hours on Zwift.
The sky was clear as Deuel wound his way around the switchbacks. He was up on Woods’ time now, ready to set a new record on Haleakala, and make a name for himself.
The shot is a bit blurry, but the cameraman at the side of the road pans with Deuel as he makes his way into the homestretch. Deuel leans his head toward the camera as he goes pedaling by, and gives them a little smile. He knows what he’s about to do.
Kilometer 35 to 45
Average Power: 348w (5w/kg)
Average Gradient: 5.4 percent
The high altitude began to take its toll as Deuel climbed past 7,000 ft. He’s not used to the lack of oxygen, and he can feel it in his legs and lungs that his body is beginning to suffer. His heart rate climbed as he fought to keep his power from dropping. It’s becoming harder to breathe, but he’s almost there.
High altitude section
Average Power: 354w (5.1w/kg)
In the final stretch, and Deuel is way up on Woods’ time – wayyy up. With minutes to spare, Deuel pushed as hard as he could all the way to the crest, not only smashing Mike Woods’ time by three minutes but also putting it nearly out of reach for anyone who was even contemplating going after Haleakala.
Deuel – Haleakala Climb
Elevation Gain: 9,701 ft. (2,957m)
Average Gradient: 5.3 percent
Average Speed: 14.2mph (22.8kph)
Average Power: 348w (5w/kg)
Normalized Power: 350w (5w/kg)
Rider: Drake Deuel