Train to conquer little hills like a big-time rider

Bjarne Riis powers uphill in the Tour de France  Credit: Pascal Rondeau/Allsport UK
So-called sprinters' hills can be worse than mountains. You know the kind I mean 50 or 100 agonizing yards long. And they can keep coming at you, killing your legs bit by bit.

On a tour, they steal momentum and reduce you to a slogging pace. On a fast group ride, every one of these little bumps starts to feel like a Tour de France sprint finish.

You can conquer these pesky little quad-biters and use them to your advantage. All it takes is strategy, specific fitness and a little planning. To find out how to pop over hills like the Road Runner, we talked to Lance's coach Chris Carmichael — who excelled at such short hills during his competitive career.

The power program first
Carmichael advises, "be sure you have a good aerobic base, built with several weeks of medium-intensity rides to accustom your knees to hard efforts, because short climbs require abrupt accelerations."

Next build strength with "Power Starts." Warm up by riding at least 20 minutes in gradually increasing gears, then do a few short, sub-max sprints.

When you're ready, find a flat, clear road with little traffic. Choose a big gear, then accelerate from almost a dead stop for 10 to 15 seconds.

"Do these out of the saddle, keeping your upper body still and using your legs to drive," Carmichael says.

Remember that this isn't designed to be a taxing workout compared to intervals (extremely hard two to 20 minute efforts). It's a strength-builder, not anaerobic misery.

Spend four to six weeks on this drill, doing three to six repeats no more than twice a week. Take at least five minutes between each effort to assure full recovery.

Now comes the power phase, lasting another month.

"Find a hill that takes 10 to 15 seconds to climb," Carmichael advises. "Warm up, then hit the hill with good momentum and maintain a high cadence (more than 100 revolutions per minute) all the way up. Alternate sitting and standing. Keep your hands on the brake hoods (if you have combined brake/shift levers) so you can change gears if you bog down."

Do this workout two to three times a week in sets of three with one-minute rest between each effort as you roll down the hill.

Roll easily for five minutes between each set.

"Elite riders would do five sets," Carmichael says, "Recreational riders two or three. Stop when you can't maintain speed and cadence."

The final phase is to hone your speed. Spend a couple of weeks doing sprints twice a week on a road that's slightly downhill or flat with a gentle tailwind.

From a rolling start, jump out of the saddle and sprint hard for 10 seconds. Keep your upper body stable as with Power Starts. Use a gear that allows you a fast cadence that you can maintain to the end of the sprint so you're not bogging down by the end.

Shoot for five repeats with at least five minutes rest between.

"After two days of recovery, you'll feel a noticeable improvement in your speed and snap," Carmichael promises.

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