Many triathletes are anxious about their climbing skills, especially when they're racing or out on group rides. Professional cyclists struggle with the same issue. When you watch bike races such as the Tour de France on TV, you always see the leaders at the front hammering comfortably up the mountains, while 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 gruelling stage. Here are some strategies to help you make the most of your own climbing ability.
1. Train the Terrain
If you typically ride flat roads, you will probably find climbs difficult. Even if your local training rides include short, steep hills, don't expect to lead on a long climb. Andy Hampsten, the only American to win the Giro d'Italia, grew up in the flatlands of North Dakota. It wasn't until he moved to hilly Boulder, Colorado - where triathletes Chrissie Wellington and Craig Alexander train - that he became a true climber.
2. Learn from Lance
Most of us aren't naturally blessed with a climber's four per cent body fat. Consequently, we need to be strategic about how we approach a climb. Generally speaking, the bigger the rider, the more important it is to sit up and spin. At 72kg Lance Armstrong is big for a cyclist, and on an extended climb he's most efficient pedalling seated at 110 to 120 rpms. A lighter rider might be in and out of the saddle, pushing a bigger gear
at 80 to 90 rpms.
3. Ride your own pace
In training, many people make the mistake of hanging onto the wheel in front of them, until they run out of steam. They think that if they do this often enough, they will improve, but it's the opposite of what you need to do to improve. Instead, try the following workout:
- Warm up for at least 30 minutes
- The first week, do one five-minute climbing effort, pedalling 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 efforts.
4. Use the terrain
Most climbs don't have a constant gradient. 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.
Even the best cyclists suffer during a climb. Stay within your limits; you'll often start to feel better mid-climb and finish strong.