Love or loathe it, climbing is an essential part of cycling. Most riders – whether they’re chasing QOMs or simply trying to reach the summit – are looking to get faster and stronger on climbs.
When it comes to riding uphill quickly, there are two main aspects that come into play – technique and your power to weight ratio. In this blog we want to move away from ‘weight talk’ and instead focus on other strategies that can help you improve your climbing. Luckily, Voxwomen know a few people for whom climbing is all part of the job. We spoke to Brodie Chapman, Alice Cobb and Sophie Wright to ask for their advice on how to push onwards and upwards…
1) Train for gain
The more hills you climb, the better you will get at them. If you avoid hills in your training, you will always struggle when the road kicks up. Brodie Chapman, 2019 winner of the notorious Tour of Gila, is a rider who excels on climbs. Her number one tip was simply ‘to do more of it!’ Adding more climbing to your training will not only improve your strength and ability but will also instil some confidence and make climbing less daunting.
2) Climbing in the saddle
On longer, more gradual climbs, staying seated is the most aerobically efficient way of climbing. Technique can make a huge difference to your power and speed. Avoid the tendency to creep forward on your saddle, keep your core strong and pedalling smooth. Relax your hands on the bars, tug your shoulders back and look forward. This will help open up your diaphragm, making more space for your lungs to expand. Chapman also advises riders to ‘think about rhythm’ and to focus on breathing – keep it steady, controlled and deep.
3) Stand up to gradients
On steeper gradients and shorter, punchy climbs riding out of the saddle is very effective. When climbing out of the saddle one secret pro tip is to try to bend your elbows slightly and use your triceps to balance your body.
Alice Cobb, a former junior hill climb champion explains: ‘by having a slight bend in your elbows not only are you engaging your core more, but you also bring your chest lower, and further over the bike which places your pelvis in a better position for climbing. This is because you’ve improved the angle of your upstroke and downstroke which allows you to generate more power for the same effort. Another tip is to think about engaging your glute muscles as this can help unburden the load on your quads as well as increase your overall power’.
4) Cadence: mind the grind
A steady cadence is essential to climbing. When you pedal slowly and at a high resistance you engage your fast-twitch muscles and sap your precious glycogen reserves. This means you’re likely to induce the onset of ‘the leg burn’ as well as fatigue more quickly. A good target cadence to aim for is around 80-90rpm.
Grinding your way up a climb is not ideal so if you’re struggling to maintain a cadence in this range it may also be worth adjusting your gearing. Even top professional riders use compact chain-sets on mountain stages, so there is certainly no shame in fitting one along with a wide-ranging rear cassette.
5) Pacing: know thyself and the climb
Knowing the climb you’re about to tackle really helps and can also give you a mental boost. How long is it? What is the average gradient? Are there any steep pitches? Also knowing your strengths and limitations as a rider helps you pace a climb correctly. The key is to not go too deep, too early; it is always best to finish strongly and push on over the brow of the hill than grind to a standstill mid way up.
Combining knowledge of the two allows you to come up with your best strategy for conquering a particular climb. Sophie Wright, wearer of multiple QOM jerseys this year, also recommends breaking a long climb down ‘into different sections of varying lengths’. She says this strategy helps her as ‘ticking the sections off one by one rather than tackling the climb as one big effort is much more motivating’.
So whether you have plans to out-climb your riding buddies or simply make it to the top of your local hill give these pro tips a try. You never know, the mountains may end up calling.