Road cyclists have a love-hate relationship with climbing. Riding in the hills hurts, but roadies are ready to pedal through the pain for the satisfaction of conquering the climb. Whether it’s a local Strava segment or a celebrated mountain pass, it doesn’t matter; the challenge is the same, even if the scale changes.
Some riders are born climbers, with a lightweight physique and the ability to spin their legs quickly and smoothly while others are pedalling squares. But for most of us, climbing is something we need to work on, and improving our ability to ride uphill is a key part of any road racing or sportive training regime.
- Lose Weight
Gravity is your enemy when the road heads upwards. You can’t cheat gravity, but you can give the climber’s nemesis less weight to get a hold of.
Shedding a few excess pounds will improve your climbing. Don’t go in for crash diets or gimmicks. Instead, ditch the junk food, cut down your alcohol consumption and keep tight control of portion sizes. This will lower your calorie intake for steady and controlled weight loss.
Aim to trim away a couple of pounds a week. Lose weight much more quickly than this, and you could shed muscle mass or suffer from low energy levels, making training difficult. Slow and steady is the way to go.
- Improve Your Power to Weight Ratio
Reducing weight is just one half of the equation; increasing the power output you can sustain while climbing is the other.
If you are preparing for a particular race or sportive, look for a local climb that’s similar in length and gradient to the significant ascents in your target event.
Ride out to this hill and once you’re thoroughly warmed up, ride up it as hard as you can. Recover by cycling back to the bottom of the hill, then hit the climb again. Repeat the effort three to five times depending on the length of the hill and your level of fitness, but stop early if there’s a big drop off in your speed.
Perform this workout a couple of times a week to improve your climbing power.
- Training for Long Climbs
If you are training for an event in the mountains, you may not have a similar climb near home to practice on.
If that’s the case, try riding for an hour close to the highest pace you can sustain. It should be a tough effort, but not so difficult that you have to ease off before the end of the 60 minutes. Riding in a headwind will help make the workout consistently tough. Don’t ease off when riding downhill, but rather continue to push hard on the pedals just as you would when riding up a mountain.
- Pacing and Position
As well as making the body lighter and stronger, careful pacing and an efficient position on the bike will help your climbing.
Push too hard on a climb and you’ll blow up with no opportunity to recover. So on a long ascent (especially if the climb is one of several in a sportive), ride with determination but not absolutely flat-out. Breathe deeply and calmly and try to keep your upper body relaxed.
Getting out of the saddle means more power gets to the pedals, but this position becomes tiring very quickly. For most gradients most of the time, it’s best to stay in the saddle as it’s a more efficient, less fatiguing position. Out-of-the-saddle efforts are best kept for very steep sections, attacks in a road bike race or stretching out your back on a long ascent.
- Before the Climb
It’s hard to eat while riding uphill so if you are approaching a big hill or mountain (mountain bike ?), take an energy gel a mile or two before the foot of the climb.
If you’re in a group of climbers who are stronger than you, aim to be on the front when the climb starts. That way you can gradually slip back through the group without losing touch completely.
But if you lose excess weight and practise hill climbing regularly, it could feasibly be you at the front setting the pace to the summit.