Over the 10 years of running the Andalucian Cycling Experience most of our roadie clients either want to get better/faster at climbing or descending. I’ve met a lot of cyclists and picked up a few good tips from them along the way and even had the pleasure of discussing climbing techniques with Sean Yates, who, lets face it, should know what he is on about!
There is no quick fix when it comes to becoming a little stronger when it comes to climbing but there are certain things you can do to make yourself a little more competitive when the road kicks up.
1) Cadence & Gearing.
The most famous head to head of different climbing styles was demonstrated in the Tour de France between Jan Ulrich (the grinder) and Lance Armstrong (the spinner). Lets take a look at the two different climbing styles.
Grinding, climbing at a low cadence of 70-80RPM puts your muscles under pressure for a longer period of time, compared to spinning at a cadence of 90-100RPM. When your cadence is higher, your muscles don’t contract for as long during each pedal stroke and therefore don’t get as tired. In very simple terms, the lower your cadence, the faster your muscles will fatigue.
We see at lot of cyclists climbing at 60RPM all day and they wonder why their legs feel horrendous. Try not to just settle into a climb, mix it up a bit, get up out of the saddle to increase your cadence when you feel that you have slowed down to much, practise little bursts whilst climbing to increase your cadence. Always climb at a steady pace, try not to fall into the trap of climbing at the same pace all the time. I have certain climbs in this area where I used to get to the bottom and select the gear that I always ride up in, try to vary this too. Get out of your comfort zone!
A higher cadence gives you the ability to climb longer, with more pedal efficiency and less muscle fatigue.
Gearing. When I moved here in 2004 I brought my road bike from the UK with the standard 53×39 & 12/25 gear ratios, I weighed 86 kilos and was 34 years old, I spent many an hour grinding out the climbs. Change your gearing depending on where you are riding, especially if your are going abroad on holiday with your bike, consider using compact cranks (such as a 50 x 34 combination) and cassettes with a 25, 27 or even 29 cog.
Your gearing will also depend on your weight & age. Heavier riders will typically need small gears (i.e. a larger cog) to achieve the same cadence as a light mountain goat climber. I am now 45 years old and 72 kilos I ride a compact 52×36 with a 29 cog as the largest on the back and can spin up the climbs at a comfortable cadence.
NB Last year I switched from a 25 to a 29 as the largest cog on the rear cassette, I flet like I was no longer Grinding up the climbs and knocked 1min 40secs off my PB on Las Palomas a 12.4k Category 1 climb. That only difference was the gearing!
2) Torque your bike not your body
To accelerate up a climb or put down extra power through a steep hairpin you need to learn how to torque your bike when out of the seat. The idea is that your body remains still, this will minimise energy loss, but you torque/angle the bike beneath you to improve the power through the pedals and thus your speed on the climb.
A lot of riders keep the bike completely still and rock their body over the bike when they try to accelerate, which is more energy-sapping and less effective.
To torque the bike, your front wheel should remain heading in a straight line and not zig zag up the road . To practise this find a climb with a white line on the edge of the road and keep both wheels on the white line then lean/torque the bike from side to side in sync with your pedal stroke as your left leg straightens, you push the bike away from you (angled to the right) and vice versa. Be aware of your body not leaning over the front wheel.
3) Don’t smash it every day
To climb faster, you can’t smash it every day. Eventually you’ll plateau and slowly see a decline in your ability to ride fast. To ride faster give yourself harder and easier days. There is some truth to the motto that we have to sometimes “ride slower” to get faster.
4) Idea race/climbing weight
As cyclists we put a lot of focus on training constructively and are improving our power. The other side of the equation you need to assess is your ideal race/climbing weight.
This can be a sensitive topic, but as cyclists we are always hunting for the lightest carbon bike with carbon wheels to minimise the weight of our ‘cycling machine’ … when sometimes all you really need to do is look down and work harder on shifting those few extra pounds around our middles.
Finding the ideal body weight will make a massive difference when you try to conquer gravity and of course cycling is a great way to trim down. However, we do like to reward ourselves for our efforts, try to make sure that the treats don’t outway the miles pedalled.
Often, the food choices you make are good, but the quantity is too much. So by looking at your portion sizes you can take care of those extra few kilograms that you are carrying up every climb.
Remember every extra kilo you carry up a 10k climb equates to about 23-30 seconds in time!
5) How to ride on a climb
We have a local climb called Las Palomas, a 12.4k Category 1 climb, which I have ridden over 300 times since moving here in 2004. The first time up took me 1hr 15mins, it took 18 months of practising to get below the hour and a further 9 years to get from 59m 57sec to 41m 40sec.
I’ve tried the smash it from the bottom and hope I get to the top before the legs and the lungs stop working, I’ve also tried the start easy and slowly get faster approach, I’ve tried the riding to a set heart rate too, I’ve also ridden up and pushed harder on the steep sections to maintain my pace and tried to recover on the flatter sections but after a chat with Sean Yates I changed my approach to riding up Las Palomas and my results have been more consistent and I’ve broke my PB 3 times. So having spent the day riding with Sean’s boys they told me to ease off on the steeper sections because lets face it by pushing hard I’ll only maintain my current speed (if I’m lucky) but will kill my legs and then go flat out on the flatter sections (rather than recovering) which would give me a bigger gain on average speed. not rocket science I know but sometimes we just need to be told the obvious! Sean Yates then clarified this by saying you should ride the climb at a set Power/Watts then you’ll naturally speed up and slow down as the gradient changes, on the flatter sections you really have to work hard to maintain the Power/Watts, literally sprinting in places.
To be honest, I haven’t got a Power meter but have been doing this by feel and have seen massive results. one of our guides, who has a Power meter and applied this principle has seen his time drop from 41m 32sec to 37m 15sec. 10% quicker….that’s a massive improvement!
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