Defying Gravity: Climbing With the Pros

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.

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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.

Rubber on the Road

Let's summarize some key points:

You Are What You Train For

Burke making the statement "you are what you train for" is very important. He has taken an approach that he can overcome certain weaknesses through hard work. Too often we hear riders—both new and experienced—stereotype themselves as a certain type of rider before even giving themselves a chance of working hard and improving their weaknesses.

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Make no mistake about it, every rider will excel in certain areas and struggle in others. It's important not to box yourself into a classification without giving yourself a chance of improving.

Different Kinds of Climbs

Both riders focus on different types of climbs for different events. For Chechu, climbing the longer climbs in preparation for the Grand Tours not only prepares him for those races, but also gives him the opportunity to work on his aerobic capacity. It's much easier to train the aerobic engine in the hills.

In the hills, it's easier to control the intensity, where you usually find yourself "holding back" versus on flatter terrain where it's more about having to push harder to reach the intensity you are trying to improve (e.g. lactate threshold). The obvious message here is they train on the types of hills related to their goals.

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