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Five tips to improve your climbing

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Many riders struggle on climbs or want to ride them faster. Unfortunately, there are no magic bullets to improve your uphill prowess but, with some dedication and by following these tips, anyone can ride faster when the road kicks up.

Look up and anticipate

Make sure you keep an eye on the road ahead, so you spot the approaching hill in plenty of time.

Find your power position

To pull maximum air into your lungs, keep your back straight and your chest open. Position your hands on the brake hoods and relax your arms so your elbows sit wider than your hips. If you’re short, slide back on the saddle to generate more force through the top of the pedal stroke and to encourage your heel to drop through the bottom of the stroke. If you’re tall, slide forward, positioning your hips so they come close to lining up with the bottom bracket to generate maximum muscle force.

When you have to stand, click into the next larger gear and stand when one foot reaches the top of the pedal stroke (2 o’clock) to minimize momentum loss.

Gearing

Grinding up a climb in too big a gear is not only inefficient and draining on your energy reserves, it is also slower. Even top professional riders use compact chain-sets on mountain stages, so there is certainly no shame in fitting one yourself along with a wide ranging rear cassette.

A relatively short 5-8% gradient climb might be manageable on your current setup at home but, in the Alps or Pyrenees, where that gradient can continue for 20km plus, you might need something lower. If in doubt, always opt for lower gears than you think are necessary.

Climb it in your head

Sometimes climbing a hill is as much a mental battle as a physical one. Hills can look pretty intimidating, and it’s often tempting to just get off and not try the climb. However, if you drop to your easiest gear and give it a go, you’ll probably surprise yourself how far you get. And there’s nothing like the feeling of accomplishment when you get to the top under your own pedal power.

Practice to perfection

You’ll get better just by choosing a hilly route at least once or twice a week. Find a hill that takes 10 to 15 minutes to climb. Start climbing at your lactate threshold. After two minutes, stand up and attack at just below all-out sprint intensity for 20 pedal strokes. Sit and go right back to climbing at your LT. Repeat every one to two minutes all the way up the hill. Perform the drill one to two times.

To keep going strong through rolling terrain, practice two-minute attacks. Find a short climb or series of climbs that takes about two minutes to crest. Wind up before you hit the climb so you’re at LT as soon as the hill starts. Climb at LT for 90 seconds; then go as fast as you can for the final 30 seconds all the way to the top. Repeat four to six times.

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