A Beginner’s Guide To Riding Big Climbs

Col d' Pailheres

Col d’ Pailheres

Cycling up another mountain climb in France last week, I started to think about how my approach to this type of riding has changed over the years. I’m not saying it’s always easy but there are certain things I do to make the whole experience as enjoyable as possible. In a nutshell, ’How to Give Yourself a Fighting Chance’.

Take more water with you than you would in the UK. It may be hot and you’re going to be working hard. You can always ditch some part way up.

Start off in an easier gear than you think you really need. If you over gear early on it will be difficult to recover. I have a 32 sprocket on the back and I’m not afraid to use it! It’s much better to keep the cadence high (the number of pedal revolutions per minute) than to maul. Look at Chris Froome, he’s a master of spinning those pedals round.

Sit down for most of the climb. It’s more energy efficient and let’s face it, unless you want to race the other ‘Tour de France wannabes’ who may be accompanying you, you’re not going to have to respond to an attack. I am not the right body shape to be a great climber, so I prefer to move to the back of the saddle when my cadence has dropped to 60rpm (i.e when it’s getting steep). I then focus on pedalling in nice circles ensuring that I am pushing the pedal down and as it gets towards the bottom of the stroke and dragging it back up. This helps to gain maximum propulsion. My hands rest lightly on the top of the handle bars and I try to stay fairly relaxed.

If the gradient steepens and I can’t pull the pedals round then I sit further forward on the saddle with my hands on the hoods in a more aggressive position. I may even then get out of the saddle. Obviously this means not only am I moving the bike up hill, I’m also supporting my body weight which takes it’s toll. If you are fortunate enough to be a natural climber and can nip up any gradient go for it. You may be able to dance on the pedals a lot better than me and it may be quicker.

Having tried to persuade you to sit for the bulk of the climb, it is worth getting out of the saddle every now and then just to stretch your back and stop your under carriage from falling asleep. This is relevant for both men and women. Personally I favour the corner of a hair pin bend because it gives me a little bit of momentum for the next section.

When it’s safe to do so, take the line on the road with the least off camber. When you’re struggling every centimetre counts so you don’t want to pedal uphill anymore than needed. Look for the shortest and flattest route particularly on corners. Needless to say, be aware of other road users.

If you start to realise that those pervious days in the saddle have ripped your legs off, it’s time to adopt a bit of psychology. I personally like to focus on a sign post, tree etc say 100ms up the road and just think about pedalling to that spot. No I don’t stop when I get there, I just choose another feature up the road. In stops me from concentrating on negative thoughts.

Finally ensure you have left a bit in the tank to arrive in style out of the saddle. After all who’s going to know that for the bulk of the ride you’ve been crawling along having a crisis. The lasting memory captured on film of you arriving at the col is all that counts, isn’t it???

Enjoy and remember it’s all about personal challenges and not what others are doing around you.

Happy cycling 🙂

One thought on “A Beginner’s Guide To Riding Big Climbs

  1. Love this Julie… Saw your post on the Ronde Van Calderdale.

    Great advice. Don’t think I could ever attempt that ride so hats off to any lady doing it. Brilliant.

    I love climbing – big climbs but its the steep, even short ones that kill me. Probably should do more of them..

    All the best x

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