Meet Drake Deuel, the new King of the Strava KOM

This story was originally published by VeloNews.

Drake Deuel’s post-collegial path could have been relatively clear: to work as a software engineer and at the same time to train for a place on the US Olympic rowing team.

Now, for a month, the 22-year-old Harvard graduate has been a full-time Strava KOM hunter who wants to go back to work in six months. I have my doubts.

On March 4, Deuel smashed Mike Woods’ eight-year-old KOM on the Haleakala segment of “World’s Longest Paved Climb” Strava on the Hawaiian island of Maui by three minutes. A couple of weeks earlier, he’d sustained a 430-watt load for 17 minutes to handle the Piuma road climb KOM in Southern California from Phil Gaimon.

That was the day after he did an eight-month internship as a software engineer at Zwift.


So why does Deuel, who has no personal sponsors and makes no money riding a bike, need the next six months to see how many other records he can break?

“It’s a way to get attention, to get noticed,” the 22-year-old told VeloNews. “Especially without running, if I want people to see my fitness, there’s not much I can do other than smash a few KOMs.”

Row your boat

Deuel spent eight years as a competitive rower until the coronavirus pandemic abruptly ended his season – and effectively his rowing career – in March 2020. He was barely in his junior year at Harvard (and just back from the Maui trip that would inspire his Haleakala KOM a year later) before he was sent home to Dallas. He didn’t know then, but the day he left campus would be the last day he was in a boat.

Deuel told me that he once had the ambition to come to the Olympics as a rower, so I wondered if he was crushed that his career was ended so abruptly by something so uncontrollable.

“I loved rowing and I think I got a lot of it, but rowing is harder after an academic setting where it’s harder to find a team and a lot of the value is in the team aspect,” he said. “People describe cycling as a team sport, but rowing is much, much more. Without this aspect, you simply row alone. “

Deuel (third from right) rows on the starboard side for Harvard during the Head of Charles Regatta (Photo: Courtesy Drake Deuel)

Fortunately, Deuel discovered that he loved cycling when he was still a student. While the school year was devoted to boats, summers were devoted to bicycles.

Several rowers have switched to cycling and have had success, including Olympic champion Rebecca Romero and German rider Jason Osborn, the reigning UCI esports world champion. Deuel had some rowing successes that indicated possible successes on the bike: In 2018 he set two world records over the 10,000 kilometer and half marathon distance on the Concept2 indoor rowing machine.

When I asked Deuel for identification on a photo he sent of his team rowing at the Head of Charles Regatta, he said that he is the three-seater that is considered the “stupid muscle” seat for people who really do it are strong, but not as tech-savvy. ”

“So I knew that my fitness would transfer well to cycling,” he said. “But it’s about taking to the streets and actually learning to ride a bike so that you can develop your basic fitness.”

Ride your bike

Fortunately, in addition to his physiological affinity, Deuel also enjoyed cycling.

“Shortly before the first year of study, I was invited by a future fellow student to go on a ten-day cycling holiday in Switzerland,” he says. “I did, and the first day I got there I was on a racing bike for the first time. We went on a full day tour of Geneva and France and back, I crashed six times and decided I loved it. Less than a year later I bought my first racing bike. “

Then, in the summer vacation from school, Deuel drove more. After his first year, he raced New England for a month and a half. After his sophomore year, he took a trip to Colorado and completed the Mount Evans Hill Climb, ending three minutes behind Lachlan Morton of EF Education-Nippo. Since it was not enough to cycle up a fourteen, he also cycled up Pikes Peak. That ride became a different kind of race.

“It was the first KOM hunt I ever did,” said Deuel. “I think the reason I chose it is because there was a former rower at the top of the leaderboard that I wanted to beat.”

Deuel still rowed at Harvard, but bicycles became more than just a sideline.

In the fall of his junior year, Deuel found out about the Zwift Academy, the Talent ID program that the online racing platform has been running since 2016. He signed up and made it to the semifinals. That wasn’t the program’s only success, however. After graduating from academy, Zwift CEO Eric Min’s secretary reached out to Deuel and asked if they could meet at Harvard campus before the holidays.

“I gave them my résumé back then,” he said. “Of course I couldn’t have foreseen the dramatic increase in popularity of Zwift back then.”

Deuel landed the internship at Zwift; it should be a buffer between his junior and senior years in college. Then COVID-19 canceled face-to-face tuition and Deuel spent the months leading up to the internship at home in Dallas. He also realized he had enough credits to graduate early, so he had a diploma in May and a month before his internship – and his post-college life – began.

“I borrowed my dad’s van, drove west from Dallas, and managed to get some big KOMs from Phil [Gaimon] in LA, ”said Deuel. “That’s when I really started getting involved.”

Back to life back to reality

Deuel was returning from the mountain landscape of his road trip to a huge collection of computer screens. His internship at Zwift began in late June, and since he had finished early at Harvard, he was able to extend it for almost eight months to last February.

If you work from home and work for ZwiftIf you work from home and work for Zwift (Photo: Courtesy Drake Deuel)

He said the experience was invaluable.

“When it came to study time management, personal wellbeing, and mental health, I found a much more balanced approach than the one I had in college. The structure of that time definitely helped me move forward, ”he said.

At Zwift, Deuel immersed himself in various elements of the game. His first project was to help develop a feature that would remove uncooperative players. He was also part of a project developing key gameplay elements like the controls in the game, and he built the calibration tool for the Sterzo, an electronic control device from Elite.

“And at the end of the internship there were still some internal tools that I can’t reveal yet,” said Deuel.

Deuel said Zwift was generous with its request to take six months off between the internship and the full-time position he was offered as a software engineer. After hearing the story of his Haleakala KOM and looking at his other Strava awards, I asked Deuel if he thought cycling could become his full-time job.

“Well, I was almost on a traditional development path,” he said. “Last spring, shortly before [COVID-19], I should go to Redlands Guest with Aevolo and then do Gila with CS Velo. “

Although he is familiar with very high achievements and records, Deuel does not believe that his KOM project will get him into a professional team. He currently drives for the Team California amateur development team, which seeks to help talented drivers advance from junior to professional level. He plans to return to Zwift in September, maybe even in person in Los Angeles. However, when I asked him again if his recent celebrity might be an indication that another path was emerging, he said he was open to the idea.

“I think USA Cycling just announced that the professional national teams will start again in June, so that’s a big goal now,” he said. “When do I become a professional? As soon as I win the Nationals time trial. I just didn’t know that it could happen so quickly. “

This story was originally published by VeloNews.

Main Photo: Courtesy of Drake Deuel

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