Gaining Confidence

As The Tour of Pembrokeshire has some wonderful climbs along its routes, we thought it would be helpful to give riders some tips to assist them in their training and technique.  Who better to ask than author of 100 Greatest Cycling Climbs, Simon Warren.  Here he is with some advice to help you tackle the variety of climbs you’ll find on the Tour.

Climbing seated is best for long shallow gradients, stay relaxed and spin a small gear to measure out your effort from bottom to top.

Know your Enemy.

I’d always recommend having a close look at the route you’ll be facing before you ride an event and especially the key climbs, because knowing the strength of your enemy is an essential tool when heading into battle. How far you take your research is up to you, you may just cast your eyes over the route profile to check how many bumps there are and their relative lengths or you may go for a more forensic exploration by utilizing tools such as Veloviewer.com and Google Street View. By checking out a climb on Veloviewer you’ll get an instant image of where the toughest gradient lies along with its key statistics then by looking on Street View you can see how these match up with real life landmarks so you’re totally prepared. There’s nothing worse than starting a climb at full gas because you think you can see the top only to reach the perceived summit and realise that you’re nowhere near the finish. Your legs will be screaming, your moral will be in tatters and the remainder of your ascent will no doubt be played out at a snail’s pace, so to avoid premature accelerations do some homework, even a little will save you vital energy and a lot may really help if you have one eye on the QOM, or KOM.

Even if the climb is long and steady one, stand up every now and again as the change in position refreshes the legs.

Marginal gains.

We may have reached saturation point with the term ‘Marginal gains’ and even though a lot of the details and science behind the principle don’t apply to us regular cyclists there is one key area where time and effort can be saved, reducing weight. Whether you want to go faster up the climbs, or just make them easier to ride, the best way to do this is to carry less stuff. Let’s say you’ve spent £10K on a feather-light carbon bike, you’re ready to destroy those hills, but then you stuff enough food into your pockets to feed an expedition. Every time I see riders finishing events with 10 bars and gels taped to their top tube, and their jerseys still bursting because they haven’t eaten anything they started with, it drives me crazy. Ask yourself, do you REALLY need to take all this food? Are you crossing the Sahara unassisted or will there be regular feed stops along the route where you can fuel up? Of course carry a couple of gels and a bar or banana with you for emergencies but look at what is on offer at the event and make a plan. Think of it like Formula One, if you just plan on doing one stop, then yes take more and accept the weight penalty, but if you choose a two or three stop strategy then pack what you need to get to the first stop. Think of what you eat in training, if you ride 100km and eat one bar and one gel, then why would you carry so many more at a big event? Stuffing your pockets with a kilo of food just to take it out for a ride in the country before putting it back in the car is just making life more difficult for yourself.

As I said, even if the climb is a long and steady one, standing up every now and again will help to refresh the legs.

Is it better to climb in or out of the saddle?

I have seen many articles on websites and in magazines about this question, tests have been conducted, films made and experiments done in labs as scientists try and evaluate which is best. When it comes down to it though, there is no right or wrong, there is no one fits all answer, we are all different and all ride a different way. Science may say sitting is more effective as all your energy is being directed to your legs but if you aren’t comfortable doing this then just stand up, do it your way. The climb does often dictate which way you will ride, it is always more economical to sit and spin a small gear up a long steady incline than to try and ride it all out of the saddle and likewise on a short sharp hill it makes sense to stand up, to employ all four limbs and fight your bike over the top. I remember shouting at the TV when Bradley Wiggins was riding up the 20% slopes of The Angliru in the Tour of Spain one year, he just refused to get out of the saddle. It hurt to watch as he ground his gear over, it looked like his knees would snap, but this was just how he climbed, this is what suited him and he stuck with it. Fast forward a few years and Alberto Contador is tackling the same mountain and rode just about all of it stood up because that was his way, to dance on the pedals flexing his bike side to side. So find what suits you, what makes you comfortable or perform to your best and then perfect it. Look at the pro’s, look at their style, if someone looks like they climb like you then copy their style then imagine you’re them next time you ‘dance’ up your local killer hill, trust me, this works.

For short steep climbs get out of the saddle, grit your teeth and use the arms and legs to pull the bike through.

Pacing on the climbs during an event.

If you don’t want to, nor have the inclination to invest time and money in understanding your power and heart rate levels an easy way to gauge your efforts on climbs is how easy it is to talk whilst riding. As in any long ride you don’t want to be going off full gas at the start so I’d always say you should still be able to comfortably hold a conversation with your mates on the early ascents. If you are all panting and moaning on the very first ramp then you are going too hard, so reel it back in a bit. If you’re finding it hard going and your mate is making it look easy then ask him a question, if he or she stays silent then you know they are pushing too hard and just trying to make it look easy, so tell them to back off. The further through a ride you go, the heavier your legs will feel and the harder conversation will be until when you reach the final climb the only thing to come out of your mouth should be expletives or cries for mercy.

So long as the road is clear it is easier to take a wide line through steep corners to avoid the harsher gradient at the apex.

Big or small gear.

One of the first bits of advice I was given as a cyclist, when I was battling a pounding headwind on the plains of Lincolnshire in my teens was it’s always better to spin a gear rather than push a gear. This sage advice came from an elder club member as he caught me then passed me spinning his legs as efficiently as possible, and of course this applies not just on the flat but when riding uphill. Whereas back in the 1980’s this wisdom was a mixture of experience and common sense, now, with the appliance of sports science it has been proved that spinning a gear utilises the heart and lungs more and puts less pressure on the muscles. The more hard work you can save your legs from doing the longer they will last, the less of their stores they burn up the more strength they will retain for the latter stages of the event. Of course it’s hard to spin a gear whilst you battle round a 25% hairpin bend but if you can click down then do it, there is no kudos to be gained by ripping your legs apart just to say you did it all in the big ring, those days are long gone. Ride smart, change down and pedal, then at the end of the ride, when you approach that last challenge hopefully your legs will still be in good enough shape to give it full gas to the finish.

On long climbs I like to rest the hands on the bars, to be as relaxed as possible, then on short vicious ramps grip the lever hoods tight and fight out of the saddle.

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Mind control.

A climb can often break the mind before it breaks the legs so it’s good to equip yourself with the tools to fight back when self-doubt sets in. On long climbs I like to focus on rhythm, and to relax, I will push my body to a place which I dub ‘comfortably uncomfortable’ and hold it. I try and keep as still as I can on the bike, rest the palms of my hands on the tops of the bars and just concentrate on pedalling and enjoying the scenery. If you find your mind dwelling on the effort and the horizon not getting any closer then try counting your cadence, just keep the brain occupied to stop it moaning about the body hurting. If it’s say a 5km climb then keep an eye on the distance then when you hit halfway tell yourself that’s halfway, just 2.5 kilometres to go, then 2, then 1, then as soon as your inside the last kilometre you know you can make the top. Also offer yourself rewards, maybe each kilometre take a drink, never before, it has to be the carrot that you chase to tick of that kilometre so you must wait or it’s not a reward. If you are really in trouble then never look up, never look for the summit because often you won’t like what you see. Bring your focus to the few metres in front of you and again reach a state of sustainable discomfort and imagine that is your existence for eternity (slight over dramatization). Then, when you do reach the top, which you will, you are freed from the purgatory, I mean the joy of climbing, see it wasn’t impossible, you did it!

What to carry?

This is ALL I would carry to get me to the first feed stop, where I can then re-stock. Banana, gel, spare tube, tyre levers, pump, chain tool (essential) two self-adhesive patches and the EMERGENCY caffeine gel.