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The Tour riders seem to “dance on their pedals” as they climb up the likes of the Tourmalet. You too can climb like Tommy Voeckler and the boys. Here’s how.
Ascending seems to be the most generally frustrating component of cycling: Almost all of us feel either as if we’re unfairly pitted against riders who simply float up inclines or, if we climb reasonably well, as if there still always seems to be those one or two other grimpeurs who can ride away at will during the crux of any uphill effort. But you can turn the frustration into satisfaction by taking greater control of your ascents. Here’s how.
1. The big picture is the most important:
Many cyclists go into a climb without a clear strategy – they think something like, ‘I’ll try to hang on’ or ‘I’ll go hard after the halfway point.’ Such goals don’t incorporate group dynamics, which have more of an affect on your climb than the road itself. To climb in a way that suits your strengths and adjusts to the vagaries of the pack, you need to understand your personal climbing style.
Rhythm climbers are most comfortable maintaining their own pace and gradually changing speeds. These climbers appear to drift off the front when they attack and slowly burn riders off the back. When responding to attacks, they don’t try to match violent jumps but patiently reduce the gap over time. They generally like to climb seated, prefer shallower slopes, and favour conservation and efficiency – like a time-trialist, they try to maintain a steady output that lets them arrive at the finish just as they exhaust their energy.
Jumpers enjoy varying the pace of a climb, alternating between out-of-the-saddle bursts and seated recovery periods. They hope to create gaps with attacks, recover a bit, then widen the gap or, if they’ve been caught, shake cyclists off their wheels again. They like steep sections, and tend to be inconsistent both from day to day and on the same climb. They freely risk blowing up on climbs because, on the occasions when it all comes together, no one can stay with them.
Both of these types of climbers also populate subsets: pacers perform better when leading on a climb, and chasers go faster with other riders in their sights or when challenging them for the lead.
Figure out which type you are and start to climb to maximise your strengths – you’ll be amazed at the improvement in your performance.
2. One slightly corny but ridiculously effective mental trick:
When you start to become fatigued or demoralised, anchor an imaginary bungee cord around a distant object such as a telephone pole or boulder, and concentrate on the image of the bungee pulling you to that object.
3. And one just-as-effective technique tip:
To vary the exertion among muscle groups, occasionally slide slightly forward on your saddle as you climb and push directly down on the pedals (which uses your quads and hamstrings). Then sometimes scoot backward and push against the pedals almost as if you’re doing leg presses in a gym (which uses more of your glutes).