Two pro-approved workouts for strength on constant and rolling hills.
- By Chris CarmichaelStage 8 of the 2012 Tour de France was what is called a “medium mountain” stage. of the race. This is a mountainous region, but not quite the major mountain ranges of the Pyrenees and Alps. The climbs are not nearly as great as the ascents in the Alps and Pyrenees, nor are the elevations at the summits.
But just because the climbs aren’t as big or as long as the major mountain stages, these races can be extremely difficult. The challenge here is that the peloton does not split up like it does on major mountain stages. In these stages, the majority of the field largely stays intact all the way to the finish; meaning riders who struggle to climb have to stay with the fastest climbers in the world a lot longer than they will when the big mountains arrive.
The other reason these stages are so hard is that there’s no break for your legs. It seems like you’re constantly going up or down; there are virtually no flat roads in the region. The descents are not long enough to provide a lot of recovery and the pace up the climbs can be quite high because riders can see the summits or know they’re only a few minutes away. In the big mountains, after the initial flurry of speed heading into the climb, the pace settles down (unless you’re fighting in the contenders’ group) because the climb is going to last 30 minutes or more.
Skills & Technique
In races with big rolling hills or a series of climbs that only last 5-10 minutes, it’s important to conserve as much energy as possible in the early climbs. Amateur racers frequently struggle with this balance between riding strong enough in the early going to stay with the pack, while still conserving power for later climbs.
One way to delay the onset of fatigue is to think about how you’re generating your power for climbing. Standing up in a big gear and stomping your way to the summit of a short climb feels pretty good when you’re fresh at the beginning of a ride, but you’re recruiting a lot of muscle fibres and a lot of them are fast-twitch fibres that fatigue quickly. You want to save these for big accelerations when you really need them and should instead rely as much as possible as the endurance-oriented slow-twitch fibers.
To do this, stay seated in the early climbs, shift into easier gears, and bring your cadence up. Your power output will be the same, or may be even higher, than when you’re out of saddle stomping on the pedals.
When you do choose to get out of the saddle – which is a good idea every few minutes to stretch your back, give your legs a bit of a break by changing your pedaling position, and reset your seated climbing position – it’s very important that you take advantage of the increased leverage that standing up provides. In the seated position, much of your bodyweight is supported by the saddle. When you stand up, you have the opportunity to use the vast majority of your weight to push directly down on the pedals. It’s like giving your leg muscles a power boost, but if you stay in the same gear you were in when you were seated you don’t gain any additional advantage. Shift into one or two harder gears and get your weight over the pedals. Your cadence will fall when you’re out of the saddle, so shifting into a bigger gear and using your weight is the way you can maintain – or even increase – your power output and speed.