Climbing the mountains
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  Posted November 10th, 2017 by Zdenko  in Cycling | No comments yet.

Coach’s corner

By: Alex Stieda

Master the Mountains
With the right strategy, you can reach the top of any hill with ease. You can get to the top faster—and fresher—with these smart strategies.

PIKE'S PEAK - A race to the cloudsClimbing the mountains on your bike

Many riders at my camps are anxious about their climbing skills—specifically, whether they’ll be able to keep up with the group. Pro riders struggle with the same issue. When we watch the Tour de France on TV, we always see the leaders at the front hammering comfortably up the mountains, but the truth is the rest of the field is simply trying to survive. Those riders need to expend their energy as efficiently as possible so they can make the time cut and advance to the next stage. As a neo-pro riding for 7-Eleven, I was no climbing specialist, but the strategies I developed have helped me over many years of riding. Here’s how to make the most of your own climbing ability.

The stunning Lacets de Montvernier1Big group of cyclists climbing some steep mountain during the race

TRAIN THE TERRAIN If you typically ride flat roads, you will most likely find climbs difficult. Even if your local rides include short, steep hills, don’t expect to lead on a long climb. Andy Hampsten, the only American to win the Tour of Italy, grew up in the flatlands of North Dakota. It wasn’t until he moved to Boulder, Colorado, that he became a true climber.

SPIN LIKE A PRO Most of us aren’t naturally blessed with a climber’s 4 percent body fat. Consequently, we need to be strategic about how we approach a climb. A general rule is the bigger the rider, the more important it is to sit and spin. On an extended climb, the pro peloton’s larger climbers pedal seated at 110 to 120 rpm for greater efficiency. A lighter rider might be in and out of the saddle, pushing a bigger gear at 80 to 90 rpm.

steep climbSteep climb

RIDE YOUR OWN PACE Many people make the mistake of hanging onto the wheel in front of them until they blow up. They think that if they do this often enough they will improve, but it’s the opposite of what you need to do to get better. Instead, try the following workout.

Warm up for at least 30 minutes.

The first week, do one five-minute climbing effort, pedaling at 90-plus rpm. Go as hard as you can while keeping your breathing under control. Each week, add another five-minute effort to the ride until you can do five in one session. Pedal easy for at least five minutes between intervals.

USE THE TERRAIN Most climbs don’t have a constant grade. When you reach a flatter section, shift into an easier gear and spin at a faster cadence to let your legs recover. As you approach a short, steeper section, you may want to shift into a harder gear and get out of the saddle. As the terrain levels out, you can sit down and go back to your easier gear and higher cadence.

RELAX Even the best riders will have a bad patch during a climb. The key is not to panic–if you stay within your limits, you’ll often start to feel better mid-climb and go on to finish strong.

The stunning Lacets de Montvernier2The stunning Lacets de Montvernier climb

The Biggest Mistake You’re Making on Climbs

Relax – Starting a climb more slowly can help you finish fresher. You know that burning feeling you get 10 minutes into a hard climb? It shouldn’t be there. It’s your legs telling you that you’re burning too many matches too early—and if you’re not careful, you’re going up in flames before you reach the top. Sure, you can go all Jens and tell them to “shut up,” but honestly they’re probably going to win that argument. And there’s a better way. The biggest mistake cyclists make on climbs is going into the red too early, even if they don’t mean to, because they feel fresh and their heart rate is still low. But when you amp up your intensity, it doesn’t take long to generate far more lactate than you can clear and use. And once you’ve pushed past your threshold, it’s very difficult to recover while you’re still fighting the forces of gravity. So you slow to a crawl—not good. Here’s how to make every climb faster and more fun.

cyclist-climbingTypical climbing style sitting in the saddle

Switch gears. Sounds obvious. Yet many riders roll onto a hill pushing a big gear because of that fleeting fresh feeling. When you mash a monster gear your legs need to call in the fast twitch fibers, which suck up energy far more quickly than the slow twitch endurance fibers, create tons of lactate, and fatigue relatively quickly. Find a gear you can spin at least 70 rpm and keep shifting to keep your cadence in that range.

Engage your core. You’ll get to the top faster and stave off fatigue longer if you climb hills with more than just your legs. Bend your elbows, flatten your back, lower your torso, and pull through your core to put more power in your pedal stroke without bathing your legs in lactate.

Pikes Peak Highway's challenging switchbacks in the 2013 Pikes Peak Cycling Hill ClimbPikes Peak Highway’s challenging switchbacks in the 2013 Pikes Peak Cycling Hill Climb

Stay seated – Standing to stretch your legs and put down extra power when the pitch gets steep is good. But it also makes your heart rate rise and uses about 10 percent more energy, so use the standing position sparingly.

Switch positions – Keep your climbing muscles fresher by shifting positions in the saddle. When you feel the burn creeping into your quads, push back further on the saddle to recruit and leverage more force from your glutes.

Say something – You want to aim to climb right at threshold, which is your sustainable upper limit. That’s about a 7 to 8 on a 1 to 10 scale. The best way to know you’re there is opening your mouth and saying something. If you can speak in short phrases, but not long soliloquies, you’re there. If you’re gasping for air, you’re going too hard. Save that for end.

Have a good and healthy season.

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