You don’t have to be a 58kg Spaniard to climb hills. Sure, it helps in the Pyrenees when its 35 degrees centigrade and the climb is some 20km long, but those guys never win the Tour of Flanders where the climbs are steep and short. Here in the UK you’ll be desperately unlucky to stumble on a climb any longer than a mile. You’re far more likely to be faced with a short sharp 18% climb where you’ll need a 39×23 and have your nose on the front wheel. These are the climbs us Brits need to train on – as they’re the ones you’ll be riding up on a Sunday morning trying to hammer your club mates on ;)
So exactly how can you go faster on these climbs? Well, training on them helps. Try and incorporate a specific hill session or two into your weekly training programme. I always had 2 hill session routes per week; 8-10 times up and down Box Hill and a small 2.5 mile circuit on the torture route! Mentally I found it easier to do 6 small hard loops than do a focusless ‘hilly’ ride.
One of the most common climbing problems is changing pace – that ability to jump away from your club mates on a climb. One of the best ways to develop this is to do flat 200 metre sprints. They are both similar efforts and both force the body into an anaerobic state. Secondly when you are out riding hills – change pace! Don’t always ride at threshold all the way to the top, but instead try sprinting for 100 metres and then settling back down to your regular pace. Break the climb into segments; 50 metre sprint, 100 metre recovery, 50 metre sprint, 100 metre recovery. Train and practice at changing your pace and you will develop the ability to do it.
On a hilly training session use a variety of gears. First time up the climb ride at an Armstrong like cadence, next time up at an Ullrich like cadence. By riding at a high cadence on a climb (80rpm+) you will be able to jump around and change pace a lot more. High cadence will produce more lactic acid in the muscles, but it won’t damage the muscles as much as low cadences. By riding bigger gears at low cadences you will develop a lot of strength and power. When riding big gears uphill, don’t move your upper body around too much, instead stay seated in the saddle and use the power from the lower back, the glutes and your thighs. Ideally when doing hill reps, you should aim to mix the session up with both big and low gear efforts.
Technique is something often ignored by cyclists and is an integral part of efficient climbing. I’ve seen many riders thrashing out of the saddle up hill with knees and elbows flailing everywhere. Spend some time developing your style whilst climbing easily. If you’re seated then try not to force the bike forward by moving the arms and body, practice staying still on the bike and concentrate on your pedalling. When the climb is steep enough that you need to climb out of the saddle, then follow the same policy as before. Don’t thrash around throwing both your bike and body from side to side as you’ll simply be wasting energy. Try to keep the arms and body still whilst moving the bike gently from side to side beneath you.
But just think, after all this stress and effort, there is nearly always a good view. And even better a descent!