The King of the Mountains is one of the most prestigious prizes in cycling. The leader of this competition for mountain goats instantly recognisable by the polkadot jersey on their back. Through the Alps and the Pyrenees the diminutive members of the professional peloton battle to every peak for the right to wear that gaudy but ultimately desirable jersey all the way to Paris and into the history books. It is the stuff that Legends are made of. Frederico Bahamontes – ‘The Eagle of Toledo’, Charly Gaul – ‘The Angel of the Mountains’ Luis ‘Lucho’ Herrra the first Colombian superstar of cycling, Claudio Chiappucci, Marco Pantani and Robert Millar – Britain’s first King of the Mountains – all tiny men with huge reputations.
These climbing superstars were very rarely Tour winners – too slight to make good all-rounders , they just didn’t have the power to ride a decent time trial, where they lost minutes and any chance of overall glory in the Tour. And generally the bigger guys just didn’t stand a chance up those monstrous mountains when the bantam weight climbers took flight up those vertiginous mountain passes.
But in the 90’s the balance of power began to change. Perhaps partly due to the dreaded scourge of EPO, but more importantly because of advances in technology and training methods the professional peloton got more…. professional! Heart rate monitors and training in zones became de rigueur. Consequently the standard of the whole peloton was raised. Tour winners could no longer afford to leave the climbers to gain minutes in the mountains. Huge ‘engines’ like Miguel Indurain were so powerful they overcame their inherent weight penalty to match the pure climbers. Then along came Laurent Jalabert – who started out as a sprinter, then after an incredibly nasty crash in a sprint at the Tour, he redesigned himself as an all rounder – taking countless one day and week long races. But the Tour was always beyond him. He’d won stages at the Tour and the Green ‘points’ Jersey, but knew he could never win the Yellow jersey outright. What else was left? The highly prestigious polkadot King of the Mountains jersey. Make no bones about it, Jalabert was a classy rider, but when he broke away day after day to target the famous Polkadot jersey he certainly broke the mould of a typical King of the Mountains. A brilliant tactical win by a non-specialist – perhaps a sign of things to come…
Then along came Strava and changed how we train, changed the very nature of many of our rides, and brought the KOM title to the masses! Now after every ride we religiously download our data to see if we managed a PR on the climbs we rode today, or even a KOM – the fastest time EVER up a specific hill. It may not be a mountain, but you or I can be the King of that Mountain! It may not even be a hill – KOM’s are available whatever the segment, whether uphill or down dale, a famous climb or your favourite piece of fast flat road. You no longer need to be a mountain goat to be King of The Mountains – somewhere out there there’s a KOM for you – and if there isn’t you can just make a segment that suits you. Being King of the Mountains on the road at the end of your street might not quite have the Kudos of KOM on Alpe D’huez – but you’re still King of the Mountains! …until someone faster comes along…..