Short Climbs and Power
Short climbs can be anywhere from 45 seconds to minutes in length. In the one-day classics on the European cycling circuit, there are numerous short, steep climbs that wear down the riders.
Some criteriums or circuit races in the United States incorporate short climbs. These short climbs often reduce the field by the end, and serve as an ideal launch pad for attacks.
The typical approach to a short climb in a race scenario is big-gear, out-the-saddle, near-maximum effort. The pros will ride at 10 percent to 20 percent-plus above their threshold power, and repeat this near-maximum effort many times in a race.
On short climbs, being a typical "pure climber" (slight build with an excellent power/weight ratio) is not always an advantage over a heavier but more explosive rider with a very high MS power. This explains why a race like the U.S. Pro Championships is never won by a "pure climber," but usually by a sprinter or so called "non-climber," even though there is a very steep, but short climb, repeated 10 times.
The physical attributes required to go up short climbs fast are the ability to sustain a very high MS (15 percent to 20 percent-plus above threshold) over the duration of the climb, and the ability to do this repeatedly (have excellent recovery).
Training for races with short climbs is about simulating the kind of effort required in training. This kind of training is very hard and should be done sparingly; it has its place in the final two to three weeks before an important, hilly race.
To simulate a race climb, do a short, steep climb (30 seconds to three minutes) as hard as you can for the duration of the climb (15 percent to 20 percent-plus above threshold), repeated three to six times.
Race-simulation hill repeats should only be attempted when fully recovered, and the day after this type of workout is best done at a low, recovery intensity.
Other components of going fast up short climbs are the ability to apply a high amount of force to the pedals, good explosive power, and an excellent capacity to recover.
To increase your ability to apply force to the pedals, do some very big-gear, seated climbs, repeated five to eight times. Stay well below your threshold power (75 percent to 85 percent of threshold), and focus on pure muscle force to the pedals at a very low cadence (50 to 60 rpm).
To increase explosive power, do big-gear, standing starts or hill sprints of six to eight seconds or 10 to 12 pedal revolutions, repeated eight times.
To increase the ability to recover do five-minute hill intervals comprising 40 seconds over threshold (20 percent-plus), then 20 seconds recovery, then again 40 seconds over threshold and 20 seconds recovery, repeated for the entire five minutes. The 20-second recovery periods are done at a very easy intensity, just turn the legs over, with no real force applied.
Long Climbs and Power
Long climbs can be anywhere from five to 60 minutes in length. Long climbs (or mountains) are typically found in the big three-week tours in Europe.
The average one-day race in the U.S. rarely has long climbs, although some, such as "hill climb" races or stage races such as the Tour of the Gila, the Redlands Classic and the Tour of Georgia, do include long climbs.
The typical approach to a long climb in a race scenario includes an initial big acceleration by the strongest riders to eliminate the weaker riders in the first few miles.
Once the damage has been done, there is a momentary break in the attacking (0 percent to 10 percent above threshold), as the front riders recover from their initial acceleration. The top climbers don't need much time to recover and soon the attacking will resume (10 percent to 20 percent -plus above threshold), as they try to break the rhythm of riders who prefer climbing at a constant rhythm or pace.
The physical attributes required to go up long climbs fast is an excellent power-to-weight ratio. A top climber needs a high MS power in relation to body weight and needs to be able to ride at MS power over long periods of time, typically 30 to 60 minutes.
Training for long climbs is about riding long climbs or mountain passes often, to train muscles for climbing. An excellent training drill would be 10- to 30-minute climbing intervals, seated, and at high cadence, slightly below or at your threshold power, repeated two to three times.
The maximum benefit in this kind of training is gained by reducing the intensity to just below threshold and increasing the duration of the interval.
Two to three weeks before an important mountainous race, introduce some shorter climbing intervals of five to 15 minutes, at 5 percent to 10 percent above your threshold, repeated three to five times.
To practice changing rhythm while climbing, alternate between climbing seated, spinning at threshold for one minute; then climbing out of the saddle in a big gear, 5 percent to 10 percent above threshold for one minute.
Tips to becoming a better climber
Increasing your maximum sustainable and threshold power output. The right type of training for the right type of climbs. A good coach will design the best training program to improve your climbing. Training for climbs should only be attempted once a rider has a well-developed aerobic engine.
Increasing your power-to-weight ratio by reducing your body fat (for those of you who can lose a few extra pounds). How serious are you about improving your climbing?
Mental training (visualization) to help approach climbing with the right mental attitude. How hard are you willing to push yourself?
Staying concentrated. Training to stay concentrated, relaxed, and focused in the present moment ("in the zone") while going all-out on a climb. It is pointless to contemplate how far you still have to climb when suffering terribly at the beginning of a climb!
Pack positioning. In a race, this means staying near the front of the pack to ensure you start a climb in a good position and reduce being caught out when riders start to leave gaps when dropping off.
Reducing bike weight. This won't have as big an effect as most cyclists would like to think. Most bikes are fairly light these days. What is far more important is the correct training and increasing your power/weight ratio.