4. Anaerobic Training — The last part that many climbers ignore is anaerobic training. Many athletes, especially touring cyclists and triathletes, ignore the need for training above threshold because their events don’t necessarily require it. By training above threshold level, not only will you improve V02 max and anaerobic endurance, you will also improve threshold power. In addition, it will prepare you to follow accelerations and adjust to grade variations.
5. Positioning — Start the climb near the front. If you start near the back, not only will you have to keep the pace of the lead riders, you will have to make the additional effort of accelerating around dropped riders. A strong climber might be able to bridge one or two gaps, but if it is a long climb and a big pack, eventually they will burn their last match and go off the back, even if their power-to-weight ratio is higher than that of the leaders.
In races such as the Vuelta Sonora, I've had to fight for wheels at the base of the climbs, the same way sprinters do at the end of a criterium. We were smashing shoulders, pushing each other out of the way, riding each other off the road. It’s quite amusing seeing these skinny little guys, normally considered somewhat docile, getting so aggressive.
6. Pay Attention — Don't just look at the move in front of you; try to see two or three moves ahead. Pay attention to everything. Listen to the breathing of the riders around you. Notice what gear they are in and if they discretely shift into a bigger one. Watch out for a rider who seems fresh and is looking around sizing up his competition.
Look up the road for switchbacks or changes in pitch that may spark an attack. If you are not paying attention, by the time you shift, get out of the saddle and accelerate, the attacking rider may have opened up a gap that will take considerable effort to close.
If you can predict which rider is about to pounce, stay right on her wheel and then match her acceleration. In this case, all you have to do is keep his pace rather than sprint to catch up with him and then attempt to stay on his wheel.
Similarly, keep your eye out for a rider who is about to be dropped. If you see her start to struggle, shift gears, or rock her body back and forth, don’t sit around waiting to see if she’ll hang on. Immediately accelerate and take the wheel she was on. Closing one bike length might not be that difficult, but if you wait till he has dropped, you might be required to close three or four.
7. Follow Through — Whatever you do, do not sit up as you crest the hill. It's tempting to think, "Great, we made it to the top, I'm safe." I've seen riders do just that. They lose three bike lengths to the rider in front just as they begin the descent, or they get gapped by the rider in front of them and never catch back on. You've done the hard part. Don't do all that work just to get dropped on the descent.
To master the psychological aspects of getting over hills, read Mind Over Mountain: Mental Tips for Climbing.
Josh Horowitz is a USCF certified coach and an active Category 1 racer. For more information about his coaching services and any coaching questions you may have, check out his website, LiquidFitness.com.
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