Jose Luis "Chechu" Rubiera climbs the Sierra Road during Stage 3 of the 2008 Amgen Tour of California.
Photo: Doug Pensinger/Getty Images
Climbing is either one of your strengths or a "painful annoyance" to be dealt with on the way to the finish where you may be able to utilize your sprint (assuming you have some strength left). How many times have you heard a sprinter say they just need to get over a climb and get to the finish line with the main group? Or a climber say "I have to get away from the sprinters on the climb so I have a chance to win the race"?
How do the pros train for climbing? We quiz Burke Swindlehurst (Team Bissell), one of the top domestic pros well-known for his climbing prowess. We also talk with Jose Luis "Chechu" Rubiera (Astana), who we have seen for years and years at the front of the Postal/Discovery train stringing out the field whenever things got vertical in the Grand Tours.
Pez: Climbing is one of your strengths as a cyclist. Obviously there are many different types of climbs, ranging from short, steep climbs to longer sustained efforts. How do you approach your training program when thinking about improving your climbing? Or do you approach it by improving your weaknesses, so your climbing skills will be less affected?
Burke: That's an interesting question! It seems that I've always excelled on longer climbs at altitude. I'm not sure if that's just a function of genetics or more of a reflection of the fact that that is the kind of terrain I've had access to by virtue of living in Utah. I would guess that it's more the latter.
I recently finished up with my Team Bissell training camp in Santa Rosa, California, where we tackled multiple climbs every day that were more of the short and steep variety and found myself wondering if I really was a climber as I watched larger riders like Ben Jacques-Maynes and Tom Zirbel pedal away from me up the steep grades!
That being said, I believe that "you are what you train for." Knowing that short, steep climbs were a bit of a weakness for me, in my preparation for the (now defunct) San Francisco Grand Prix I would focus on doing big-gear repeats up steeper climbs similar in length to Fillmore street and reaped great benefit from it when the race came around.
Chechu: I do like to focus and try to improve my condition on the longer climbs of 30+ minutes, especially when I am getting closer to the grand tours (Giro, Tour and Vuelta). It's important for me to feel confident on those types of climbs because there are so many of them and they have such great importance during those races.
I also make sure that my body weight is down as I go into those races, as one to two kilos can make an enormous difference in my performance. But, at the same time, I don't train them as often as people may think, because the majority of our races have shorter climbs in the range of four to seven kilometers, like Paris-Nice or the Basque Country.
Pez: Specifically, when climbing, do you try to vary your cadence, or try to keep it at a certain level? What do you feel are the positive and/or negative effects of getting out of the saddle on the climbs?
Burke: I always like to change positions and cadences while climbing, particularly on longer climbs where it's important to give your muscles a break from time to time. Generally speaking, I pedal at a relatively high cadence while climbing. I think that has a lot to do with fact that I'm more of an "aerobic" rider than "muscular" rider, and pedaling a higher cadence seems to be more efficient in keeping my muscles from being overtaxed.
Chechu: I train varying the cadence on shorter climbs (four to seven kilometers long), but not as much during the longer ones. It is enough training to do the long climbs at 85 to 90 rpm cadence for more than 30 minutes where I work on smooth pedaling, relaxing and sustainability of effort.
Shorter climbs are faster and more aggressive, so I work on more acceleration, which of course helps me for those times during the longer climbs. In terms of standing versus sitting, I get out of the saddle mainly for relaxing the other muscles. I do feel like I use more energy when I stand, but like everything, you must train both to be successful.